Thursday, September 20, 2007

Some levity needed

Though I run the risk of sounding inadvertantly insensitive, what's all this hullabaloo over the 'Jena Six?'

The students did beat another student, right? Pretty severely, right? If the evidence points toward the accused committing the crime, isn't it the appropriate thing to charge them with battery?

Surely the white students who hung the nooses are stupid, prejudiced and ignorant, but they faced punishment from their school. Besides, being stupid, prejudiced and ignorant isn't grounds to be viciously beaten, is it?

34 Comments:

Blogger Polusplagchnos said...

From the article linked:
“What we need is federal intervention to protect people from Southern injustice,” [Al] Sharpton told the AP. “Our fathers in the 1960’s had to penetrate the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. We have to do the same thing.”

Except that, towards the end of King's life, even he realized that the problem with having "federal intervention"—which admittedly was successful in keeping the Alabama State Patrol from disrupting the earlier marches—is that the root causes of racism and political injustice are not dug up and removed, but mobilized to live a permanent, underground life. Why Sharpton has forgotten something he should have learned as a young man at the time can only be answered with hope for the young men of today to do what is right, just, and charitable.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

THANK GOD. Finally something we agree on, my friend. I've said this basically word-for-word.

(I understand if you now want to change your position).

10:40 PM  
Blogger Billy Merck said...

This is what I've been thinking too, and I wondered if I was missing something. Glad to hear someone else say it, so that I know that I'm not completely crazy.

11:49 PM  
Anonymous chuck said...

I'll be switched. First Andy Herod says something that makes sense, and now, not one day later, JMac and I are in agreement on something!

11:56 PM  
Blogger griftdrift said...

Uh yeah. You are missing something.

Take out all the hullabaloo (especially Sharpton) and the fact that yes there was a kid beaten. Fairly badly. But not badly enough that he was unable to attend a school function that night. Yet, the DA chose to initially charge those involved in the incident with attempted murder.

Later this was reduced to aggravated battery. In Louisiana, that charge requires the use of a weapon. The DA argued a sneaker was a weapon.

No one, at least no one with any sense, is arguing those accused did nothing wrong. The argument is the charges should match the crime.

There is no question there was stupidity here at every turn. This should have never got this far. But the DA has to take some responsibility as well.

1:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm impressed by all those Jena 6 marchers who are now planning to go to Durham to protest the treatment of those lacrosse players.

6:13 AM  
Blogger Jmac said...

But the DA has to take some responsibility as well.

Fair enough, but the charges were reduced to a much more appropriate sentence, right? Isn't that what happens through processes like this? As more evidence comes out, the charges adapt to suit the case?

Granted attempted murder would be too steep of charges to make, but battery would seem to me to be the most appropriate charge.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Jmac said...

And if Louisiana law stipulates that a weapon must be used for battery, then what would be the appropriate charge.

Granted I would argue that with or without a weapon, six people wailing on another is battery, but if the law requires a weapon to be used ... what would be the charge that suits that.

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some levity needed? That's exactly what the people with the big nooses were thinking.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the punishment is still not fitting the crime. Hanging a noose in a tree to deter black students from sitting under it is making a terroristic threat and should be charged as a hate crime. Three days suspension is a joke.

Yes, the six should face assault charges the way any group of teenagers should in such an attack. There is still an unequal administration of justice when the Principle declares the noose a "prank" but the DA tries to send kids away to prison for decades over a fight.

Sharpton and band are missing the point. The Jena six are responsible for their crimes and they should face the consequences. But the school administrators, noose hanging students, District Attorney and any other involved in the hanging of the noose or disproportionate response to the event should lose their jobs immediately.

jms

9:42 AM  
Blogger Stanicek said...

Of course I don't know all sides of the story but from what I've read and seen I think that most of the anger re: Jena has been caused by the way the DA and local officials handled the whole situation - the DA coming to the school to break up a non-violent protest of black students while being phalanxed by local police and telling them that he "could take away their lives with a stroke of a pen"...which only prompted more racial violence.

Obviously this is a volatile situation bred more out of heart and emotion than cold analysis and I doubt any of us can pass much judgment on it without being a member of the Jena community.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Jmac said...

Hanging a noose in a tree to deter black students from sitting under it is making a terroristic threat and should be charged as a hate crime.

But were they attempting to deter students from sitting under the tree? Arguably it was an incredibly offensive and awful thing to do and, as stated before, those students who did are stupid and ignorant (and I would have suspended them for a considerably longer amount of time).

However, and I ask in all fairness, should that be a crime? I suppose because it was a noose, which is a symbol of a violent act, it could be considered a terroristic threat.

But, yes, jms you hit the nail on the head with your final paragraph. Part of the problem for me is not so much that Sharpton and the protesters are concerned about injustice, because injustice still abounds, but rather that there's this underlying attempt to make these boys out to be victims or martyrs.

Arguing against injustice is one thing. Arguing that these boys should be taken off the hook is another, because with the latter all we're doing is suggesting that responding to a possible crime with another form of a crime is OK when it clearly is not.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Stanicek said...

"all we're doing is suggesting that responding to a possible crime with another form of a crime is OK when it clearly is not."

Certainly I'm not condoning violence in any form - but have you seen the pictures from these fights? I saw kids look just as bad (black eye, scratch side of face) after coming out of tiffs in the cafeteria at my high school because someone cut in line. This was a high school fight and the DA tried to haul these kids on an attempted murder charge. That's preposterous. Hell, even the lesser charge is a stretch.

If we put teenagers in jail for aggravated battery for every fight in the courtyard of a high school we're going to need to turn Georgia back into a prison colony because there ain't gonna be room to house all the felons.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Jmac said...

This was a high school fight and the DA tried to haul these kids on an attempted murder charge. That's preposterous. Hell, even the lesser charge is a stretch.

If we put teenagers in jail for aggravated battery for every fight in the courtyard of a high school we're going to need to turn Georgia back into a prison colony because there ain't gonna be room to house all the felons.


Make no mistake, I'm wrestling with this aspect of it too, but ... had this happened outside of the school, the students most likely would be charged with some crime. And don't forget that five of the six were adults.

Or that most fights I saw at my high school resulted in one student typically being sent to alternative school or facing some aspect of juvenile charges.

Arguably charging them with attempted murder is ridiculous, but six students beating one student is pretty severe, regardless of how the attacked student appeared afterward.

10:43 AM  
Blogger griftdrift said...

Here's the problem JMac. Although they were juveniles they were tried as adults. Yes, the charge was reduced but the charge that was tried was one step below attempted murder. It carries a maximum of 22 years.

I agree with stanicek, a large responsibility falls on officials involved stoking the fire.

Another part of that angle?

Mychal Bell, the only one convicted, had his conviction thrown out on appeal because the appeals court ruled he shouldn't have been tried as an adult. Yet, he is still incoarcerated because he cannot afford bail. The bail? $90,000. For a school fight.

People are upset here because everything involved is a tremendous overreach. And people in the area at least perceive one side is being treated fair more harshly than the other.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prosecutorial overcharge? Happens every day. That's what defense lawyers are for. Plead the kid down and let him get on with his life.

Why hasn't that happened here?

11:07 AM  
Blogger griftdrift said...

Because he was tried as an adult which means the potential sentence was huge? Oh and by the way, the appeals court agreed that he shouldn't have been tried as an adult.

But prosecutors are always right, right? I mean why don't defense lawyers just do their job and accused people just accept their fate. Why are they so difficult?

11:16 AM  
Blogger Nicki said...

Yes, you're missing something -- unequal treatment. Al Sharpton is also missing something -- the kids who beat the other kid should be charged with and prosecuted for battery.

There are several preceding incidents -- including one in which someone brandished a shotgun at some black students. Who was charged? The black students. For taking the white guy's gun. That's fundamentally unequal. It's also fundamentally unequal to charge the Jena 6 as adults in a criminal matter when the previous incidents were handled in a manner that doesn't involve any kind of permanent record.

One wonders if all this could have been avoided if the prosecutor had merely been conservative in the initial charges.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Snowden Tatarski said...

A noose used to intimidate a young black person into not doing something the law otherwise allows he or she to do is as offensive as painting swastikas on synagogues. It is an action designed to provoke fear and sends to not too subtle message of “better get in line boy or we’ll do to you what you know we’ve done to generations of blacks in this very state”. It was wrong for those kids to hang the nooses. It was wrong for the administrators to not act and set the needed example.

It is this very situation that hate crime laws were developed for. The nooses we hung to intimidate and inspire fear.

They were nothing but hate.

Jms

11:43 AM  
Blogger Nicki said...

Argh. Man, was I incoherent regarding what SHOULD be done. Anyone involved in criminal matters should be charged as a criminal. Or all the offenses should be handled at a lower level that doesn't carry the threat of a permanent record.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Jmac said...

OK, I did a little research on it, and this thing is so much deeper and screwed up than the media has been reporting. I've been under the impression that you had the nooses hung and then this brawl broke out.

Actually, this whole thing was months in the making and featured attacks and retaliatory attacks from white students and black students, both on campus and off campus.

The nooses were hung by three white students on Sept. 1, and the principal, upon identifying those guilty of doing so, expelled the students. The board of education, however, overturned the sentence and gave them the meager three-day suspension.

In response, a group of black students organized a peaceful protest at the tree on Sept. 5, which was dispersed by police. However, a U.S. attorney could never confirm the protest occurred or that the police were summoned. The police, however, were called to the school several times that day to assist with numerous interracial fights involving large numbers of students (which was unusual).

To address this, the next day the principal called an assembly of the entire student body and asked the police to participate in easing tensions. The police asked the DA to attend, and this is where Tim (Stanicek) makes some valid points. J. Reed Walters, the DA, is alleged to have threatened the protesters for getting upset over a prank and then threatened the entire student body, black and white, by saying that he could erase their lives with the stroke of a pen.

Arguably, that's stupid of him, and he needs to make amends for that.

On Sept. 7, police were asked to patrol the halls of the school, and on Sept. 8 the school got a report that a gun was brought on campus, causing a campus-wide lockdown, but no weapon was found.

On Sept. 10, a group of black students asked to address the BOE to express their concerns, but were refused the right to do so because members felt the issue had been put to rest.

Things calmed down for a few months, but on Nov. 30 there was a fire at the main building on campus, and blacks and whites accused each other. No one knows who was behind the blaze, which appeared to be intentionally set.

Things moved rapidly downhill from here. On Dec. 1, a private party was held off-campus that was primarily attended by white students. Five black students, including 16-year-old Robert Bailey, attempted to come to the party at the Fair Barn. The woman at the door said she didn't recognize the students, said it was a private party and wouldn't let them in.

The students grew agitated, prompting a white man from inside to confront them. A fight ensued between the students and man. When it ended, the woman asked all of them to leave. Once outside, the black students got into another altercation with a group of white men (not students). A white man, Justin Sloan, was arrested and charged with battery for his role in the fight.

The next day, the violence spilled over from the party as a white student, who had attended the party, confronted Bailey and his friends outside a convenience store. The white student, according to reports, pulled a gun from his truck, but was attacked by Bailey and his friends, forcibly taking the gun from him. The same group later attacked another white student, who responded by getting a shotgun, before police arrived and charged Bailey with disturbing the peace and theft of a firearm (both true, but somewhat dubious based on the circumstances).

All of this finally leads us to the 'Jena Six' incident, where Justin Barker spent the morning bragging that Bailey, who had fought him earlier, had been beaten up by a white man during one of the earlier cited instances. Barker was then attacked by six black students from behind, with reports indicating he was struck in the back of the head from behind by some type of object, though police couldn't find one.

Barker was beaten and kicked until he was knocked out and taken to a local hospital. He did attend a function that night, but it was to receive a class ring which he had been looking forward to and was against his doctor's wishes. He left the ceremony early due to pain.

And that brings us to our current point, with six black students charged with battery. It's interesting to note that they were initially charged with assault, which is reasonable. However, that was changed by the D.A. to attempted murder which, as I stated earlier, is absurd.

Interesting to note about the now-overturned conviction of Bell, is that he was convicted by an all-white jury ... but 150 people were called for the jury, including 45 percent of those called being African-American. However, no African-Americans reported for jury duty, resulting in the all-white jury.

What's the point? Lord, I don't know. This thing is terribly confusing and seems more the fault of, putting in mildly, an overzealous DA who ridiculously overreacted to the outbreak of racial violence in the community, and the foolish, immature actions of both white and black students.

12:20 PM  
Blogger griftdrift said...

That last paragraph is a pretty nice summary.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous bill overend said...

You forgot the very begining, JMac, in which this all started becasue some of the black students decided to sit under what the entire school community referred to as "the white tree." It was SO established as such that the black students actually asked school officials if it would be ok to sit there. The school officials responded they could sit anywhere they wanted. They sat under the "white tree." The next day the nooses were hung from the "white tree," presumably as a warning (later referred to as a "prank").

That's really the "Don't tase me. bro" moment of this whole mess.

The White Tree.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

"...should be charged as a hate crime."

Oh, Jee-zus.

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh. I'm sorry Josh. You're right. This situation was not racially motivated at all. There was no attempt to threaten or intimidate people because of their race.

Those weren’t even nooses; they were special bows supporting the troops hung in the friendship tree. Now that's something we can all support.

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Stop!theBS said...

Actually, this whole thing was months in the making and featured attacks and retaliatory attacks from white students and black students, both on campus and off campus.

The nooses were hung by three white students on Sept. 1, and the principal, upon identifying those guilty of doing so, expelled the students. The board of education, however, overturned the sentence and gave them the meager three-day suspension.


There is a detailed argument in today's (Sunday) AJC that raises serious questions about the "facts" that have been reported and relied upon by Sharpton and friends.


For example, the virtuous honor student languishing in jail has an extensive criminal record.

The white boys that Jmac reports only got a three day suspension apparently were required to go to an alternative school.

In fact one of the more interesting scenarios near the end of the AJC piece are some comments from a black couple about young Mr. Bell being a thug, but the police didn't take action against him until he did something to a white.

But were they attempting to deter students from sitting under the tree?

Not according to the AJC. The tree was used as a resting place by persons of all races, confirmed by comments from persons of all races, and the "nooses" were taken down to prevent the kids of all races from playing on them.

Can we say "overblown"?

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Stop!theBS said...

Note to editor:

"argument" in above post should be "article".

Duh.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Stop!!theBS said...

but 150 people were called for the jury, including 45 percent of those called being African-American.

Be interesting to know the source of that data, because AJC says the parish is 10% black, so the jury commission must really be pushing the envelope on inclusion.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course it's overblown.

Sharpton, Jackson, et al are the overblowers.

Can you think of a single situation either of them have ever made better? They don't show up to defuse things; they show up to for the express purpose of making things worse. It doesn't hurt that they have an entire media universe at their every beck and call.

"Jena 6" is the Duke Do-Over. Sooner or later, the facts will let them down here, as well.

Til then, party on, Garth. Party on, Wayne.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh. well since you put it that, it must be ok.

Are you really saying that the nooses were such a big deal that the students who hung them were sent to an alternative school but you are also arguing that the nooses were only taken down to keep people from getting hurt playing on them.

What exactly are you arguing? I said the situation included racially motivated violence and intimidation. It is my opinion that due to the race themed threats and motivated attacks, these act should be classified as hate crimes.

are you saying that because a couple called a kid a "thug" that he should face harsher penalties for a crime?

3:36 PM  
Blogger Xon said...

"It is my opinion that due to the race themed threats and motivated attacks, these act should be classified as hate crimes."

I can't speak for Josh (who origianlly pooh-poohed the idea), anonymous, but the objection to 'hate crime' classifications is not usually rooted in a denial that some crimes are "race themed and motivated", but that this fact does not warrant "upgrading" the crime into another classification.

If three white guys beat up a black guy, that is assualt. It doesn't need to be called a 'hate crime'. Assault is bad enough. The particular motivations, whether racism or greed or anger or something else, need not matter (except as they are necessary to prove the crime in court).

Perhaps the three white guys are not punished because of racial bias in the ones administering justice? If that happens, then that is a travesty too. But passing laws that deem racially motivated crimes to be a special case doesn't seem like much of a solution.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Polusplagchnos said...

Why wouldn't the motivations matter?

From a different perspective, is there anything more or less pernicious in a person beating up a spouse rather than a stranger in a bar? The crime of battery is the same, but the law regards domestic situations differently. Should the family violence statutes be dismissed because there's no need to worry about the motivations or tendencies, but treat each crime as only an isolated event? Should there be no regard for the difference, say, among the molestation of a stranger, the molestation of a prisoner, the molestation of an elderly person, the molestation of a spouse, and the molestation of one's child, since each one is the same "act" on a victim? Why should the status of the victim matter, at all?

A crime that has a motivation of hatred for a group within society has the detrimental effect of further tearing at the social frameworks in place to keep such criminal acts as criminal. Jena is a perfect example of how these acts spiral out of control and polarize the sides into a stinking pool of satanic destruction, and no amount of individualizing the crimes into isolated events can stop the unweaving.

10:51 PM  
Blogger Xon said...

"A crime that has a motivation of hatred for a group within society has the detrimental effect of further tearing at the social frameworks in place to keep such criminal acts as criminal. Jena is a perfect example of how these acts spiral out of control and polarize the sides into a stinking pool of satanic destruction, and no amount of individualizing the crimes into isolated events can stop the unweaving."

I didn't know we were trying to "stop the unweaving", though. Is this what "hate crimes" legislation actually accomplishes? Doesn't seem like it.

I don't think that those who are skeptical of 'hate crime' laws are 'individualizing the crime into isolated events.' Some crimes tear at the fabric of society more than others. Okay. But the question is whether a. giving such more-pernicious crimes (assuming we can so neatly identify them) a special categorization in the law is a solution (and I don't see how it is).

Your own examples in your comment reflect not 'motivations' but relationships. We treat a man who beats his wife differently than a man who beats a stranger (though both are serious crimes) b/c the relationships are different. A man has different obligations to his wife than those he has to a stranger. Whatever motivates a man to assault his wife or a stranger, the assault is the real problem and the thing that needs to be punished. This is not 'indivudualizing' the crime; it is dealing with the only part of the crime that can be dealt with in the real, physical world: the action itself. How can the law 'deal with' the general break up of society that results from racial animosity? I don't know if it can; but if it can, I'm skeptical of categorizing the racially-motivated crimes into a special place is going to be a significant part of the program.

12:28 AM  
Blogger Polusplagchnos said...

Law itself is meant to prevent crime and the dissolution of society. Does it seem as though it is accomplishing this? Is legislation making driving while too intoxicated to do so safely putting an end to the practice? I find this kind of complaint about hate crimes to be timid. If the goal is to only have those laws which result in complete obedience, the Lord Almighty himself can tell you about how his best laws aren't that well-obeyed neither.

Even so, it sounds as though free-market language is unduly making its entrance into your appreciation of law. Solutions? Practical effects? Accomplishment? Should we talk about the efficiencies of state law versus private law to properly and justly distribute justice? I'm being facetious, but I hesitate any time someone questions whether law or legislation is accomplishing something or producing a solution for some problem or not. Rehabilitated criminals are not the object of a Fordist legislative system, the mass-produced cogs and cars of a branded economic process. Nor should executions or prison terms be such either. People spout the cliché "the justice system is broken," but leave unanalyzed what they mean to say a working justice system accomplishes.

It seems to me you're perfectly fine with the criminalization of abortion because it makes a political statement about the fetus and who the state considers as a person, even as the law itself does not stop women and men from killing them. Should the law make any statements that hatred and disgust and bloodlust for whole groups of people is not tolerated, while at the same time the law make statements that whole groups of people who happen to be in wombs are respected and not to be killed? Again, what is the importance of the status of the victim?

Of course a relationship is what we have between mothers and sons, corrections officers and prisoners, nurses and elderly patients, roommates and lovers. But you say we can only deal in law with that aspect that is a part of the "real" and "physical" world. What part of any of these relationships and the differences among them is "real" and "physical"? Assault or a sexual battery may be defined in a specific way, but how the incident is punished differs according to these relationships, given the status of the victim. You accept this on the grounds that the law respects the different obligations existing (in a "real" and "physical" existence, no less) among persons with different relationships.

But my suggestion is that we recognize in these relationships a dimension to crime where the commission extends beyond the act itself to what this crime accomplishes in the social through the victim. If we accept that crime is more than an act, and which was the point of my individualization comments, then we do accept that crime's potential produce is not its insults and harms against the one, but against the health and well-being of the social itself. A sin against Uriah is a sin against God, a rejection of everything he has given to us. Modern law lives in a secular age, and taken this simple insight of David's and opened it up.

Crime does produce. Crime does accomplish. And the crimes that are motivated by violence towards a perceived rival are crimes whose efficiency always triumphs over the slow and just inefficiency of the legal bureacracy. As I said, these sorts of crimes rapidly disintegrate culture, as any one caught up in gang violence can tell you about the escalation of cruelty. Go and watch The Godfather again, since you like it enough. Democracy of our sort needs its patience in order to recognize right, for its only in the most brutal of totalitarian states where justice is decisively swift that it has no need for lawyers, papers, juries, or the burdensome abstraction of law. The two paradigms must remain separate and opposed, in an opposition where the one does not emulate or imitate the other.

I don't share your doubts about the law's ability to address the mechanisms of gang violence, whether motivated by race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, &tc. If the law already addresses itself to the status of the victim as an important distinction, then we already accept that the law has an interest in where that victim fits into the social. To put it another way, we've moved into second-order calculations in the social network. A judgment about the potential of legislation here to stop this or that crime is no different from a judgment about legislation stopping commonplace acts we have already outlawed. But, you already accept that the goal of law is not always to put an end to the actions of some people, but also to take a stand on behalf of a victim, even future victims.

Or, you know, let's take an even more different approach. You believe the eventual goal of a Christian state (not just any state) is to ground its laws in the commandments, new and old—which are all really the old anyway—right? Is "Love your neighbor as yourself" a commandment or a principle, and can it be translated into a law if either? Or do the laws come to approximate, asymptotically, this commandment? (Or are there no laws anymore, in the end?)

6:41 PM  

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