Carol Platt Liebau: "Racism" in Two Different Eras

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Racism" in Two Different Eras

Shelby Steele writes movingly of the courage of the young people who integrated Little Rock schools half a century ago -- and the larger meaning of the whole ugly episode for American society.

The contrast between the dignity of those children and what's happening now in Jena couldn't be greater. For too many black leaders, "civil rights" has gone from ensuring that every citizen, regardless of skin color, is assured equal opportunity to achieve and live the American dream to defending and even glorifying six African American boys who viciously beat a white boy.

Don't get me wrong -- the noose-hanging and other racist behavior on the part of the whites in Jena was inexcusable, reprehensible and can't be condemned in strong enough terms. And if, as Clarence Page writes, whites had gone free for the same kind of attacks that led to attempted murder charges against the six black youths, that, too, is worthy of the utmost condemnation.

No one could (or should) disagree with citizens of all races speaking out against the administration of justice when there's disparate treatment on account of race. There is no excuse for that kind of injustice.

But what is disturbing is to see the thuggish youths elevated to celebrity status, dubbed "the Jena 6" (as though they're illegitimate political prisoners) rather than to hear people calling for the prosecution of white youths who behave in the same thuggish manner.

In other words, a protest that calls for the punishment of guilty whites, as well as blacks, is absolutely legitimate. Protest that demands that youths who've engaged in criminal behavior be set free is not.


Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

Your specific complaints are:

1. That the accused have been elevated to celebrity status. The error here is the belief that notoriety is the same as idolization. The accused are the focal point of a notorious case. They represent the personification of injustices against blacks. De gustibus non est disputandem -- if people want to fawn over a rock star, a fashion model, or six accused youths, that's their business.

2. That they've been "dubbed 'the Jena 6' (as though they're illegitimate political prisoners)". Have you a better term for this group? Would you prefer to refer to them by their individual names? That might be a bit clumsy. It's a shorthand, nothing more. It doesn't imply anything.

3. Lastly you complain about "Protest that demands that youths who've engaged in criminal behavior be set free". Actually, from my reading of the news reports, the protest is against the severe charges brought against them. They were initially charged with second degree attempted murder.

Remember, their crime was as follows: they punched the white fellow hard enough to knock him out, then they kicked him in the head when he was on the ground. The victim was treated at a local hospital and released, and attended a party that evening (but left early). He had a swollen face and a concussion. He testified that he was unable to see out of one eye for three weeks. Obviously, the charges were all out of proportion to the crime. Later, all but one of these charges were reduced to second degree assault and battery. Battery requires the use of a deadly weapon -- which was in this case alleged to be the gym shoes worn by the defendents. Gym shoes as deadly weapons? That's taking it a little too far. And the fact that the victim was not permanently injured certainly suggests that the crime was undeserving of such strong charges.

Even more galling to the protesters is the fact that there were several violent incidents between blacks and whites during that time, with asymmetric results for whites and blacks.

As I understand it, the protest is against the harshness of the charges, not the existence of charges. It appears to me that, had the defendents been charged with some lesser crime calling for a few weeks or months in jail, there would have been no protest. But some of the defendents have already spent months in jail because the bail was set too high for their families to afford, and several of the defendents are facing the possibility of imprisonment for many years -- all for a non-injurious attack. Would you consider it to be fair to send these defendents to jail for, say, five years for this attack?

1:59 PM  
Blogger One Salient Oversight said...

So what you're saying is that all those African-Americans who turned up in Jena demanding justice were misguided and wrong.

Telling off African-Americans for doing the wrong thing is something that whites 30 years were doing too.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Earth to Carol said...

To suggest this is not a case of discrimination please identify those young white boys (by name) who are serving a life sentence for similar acts. If no one can do so, then it seems a protest march is justified and rightfully necessary.

4:38 PM  

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