Friday, September 28, 2007

To Understand Where You Are...You Must Know Where You've Been.

Jena's Tree of Division has been cut down...but the roots are deep, and its seeds have scattered about...

Ever put a pot of sauce on the stove?

You put the flame on low, and it simmers there, with the occasional wisp of steam to let you know that things are actually heating up—but it's actually quite benign for a while. You can look away...maybe start preparing some other things...sip at a glass of wine as you gather yourself. Perhaps you take a phone call, and drift away from the stove for a few minutes—but hey! Just for a few minutes.

And when you come back to the stove, that pot of sauce isn't simmering anymore.'s a bubbling, spattering cauldron of goo. What happened? the heat was on low! Never mind, you turn the burner off, but it's too late—the stove and floor is stained with just-spattered-from-the-pot sauce. It looks like a crime scene. You move to snatch the pot away from the stove, and it's still bubbling—big, fat, steam filled bubbles a' popping away. Pop! POP!

“Owwwww! Goddamn!”

Yes, the boiling sauce has bubbled up and popped a spray of superheated liquid right onto your hand, scalding you—but you can't drop the pot. Take the pain, deal with the mess.

How did this happen? The flame was on low. How did I get burned?

The Jena Six case is just like that pot. The incident itself is a year old, occurring last September and simmering long and low on the stove of America's racial discourse. Simmering until the contents of the pot—the ugly, Jim Crow 2.0 lashing-out, the ensuing reaction of the not-docile local Black citizens, the naked prosecutorial injustice, and the outrage following that, boiled over with the protest of some 15 to 20 thousand defiant people marching on the town of Jena, in a show of solidarity against the “Shhhhh! We don't talk about that 'roun civilized folks” institutionalized racism in the area.

Spatters everywhere, even with attempts by certain parties to douse the flame. On the stove. On the floor. And most painfully, on our hands as we try to “handle it”.

It's got our attention, now.

I was on the phone with Jesse on Wednesday night when the bulletin broke over CNN about the last imprisoned “Jena Six” member Mychal Bell having his case downgraded to the status it should have been in the first place—as a juvenile court case (he was a juvenile when he arrested for the “crime” he is alleged to have committed), and his being released on $45,000 bail after nine months in jail.

Bell you'll recall was jailed initially on attempted murder charges, for being part of a “mob” that beat a White classmate so badly that he went to the hospital, and then to a party later that day. Bell's co-defendants had all had their charges downgraded considerably, and his were too—but the prosecutor, Reed “Extra Starch in Mah Sheets, Please” Walters found it absolutely necessary to see to it that “with a stroke of his pen, he could make (a Black) someone's life disappear.” Thus, his (mis)treatment of Bell. Until that is, 20,000 people descended on his town and shamed him into backing off from his egergious over-stepping.

Of course, having to sit down and eat a heaping plate of Jim Crow kind of made Mr. Walters gag a bit. Actually he regurgitated a helluva lot, especially at his petulant press conference announcing the downgrading of the charges—flanked as you would expect by a bunch of his pasty, fundie pals.

It wasn't “talking in tongues”, but it was pretty damned close:

“I firmly believe that had it not been for the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened,” Walters said of a protest in support of the teens which drew thousands last week. “The Lord Jesus Christ put his influence on those people, and they responded accordingly,” he continued.

Walters' remarks came during a press conference during which he announced he would not challenge an appellate court ruling that 17-year old Mychal Bell, one of teens accused in the attack, should be tried as a juvenile. Bell had originally been convicted of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy charges, but the verdict was thrown out by a Louisiana appeals court earlier this month. Earlier in the news conference, the prosecutor had thanked local Christians for their support.

“The only way -- and let me stress that -- the only way that I believe that me or this community has been able to endure the trauma that has been thrust upon us is through the prayers of the Christian people who have sent them up in this community,” he said. Rev. Donald Sibley, however, a minister from a local Jena church, took exception to Watlers' comments that Jesus was solely responsible for maintaining order.

“I think everyone handled themselves very professionally," he called out from the assembled crowed. "I think it's a shame for you to say only Jesus Christ caused what happened there last Thursday. I think it was behavior of 30,000 people.”

“The only point I was trying to make is that both sides pray,” Sibley told CNN following the news conference.

“I can't diminish Christ at all,” he continued, “but for him to use it in the sense that because his Christ, his Jesus, because he prayed, because of his police, that everything was peaceful and was decent and in order -- that's just not the truth.”

“Obviously, we're serving two different Gods here," he added.” My Bible says that we should be loving.”

Did Prosecutor Walters and Bill O'Reilly take the same “This Is How N*ggers Act” class from an online diploma mill? Where there is—“gasp!”, shock!—and hosannas to the Almighty when Black folks aren't chucking spears and roasting people on a spit in fits of melanin-fueled anger?

And for the record, it shouldn't be lost on you that Walters is sadly, not alone in his proud and nutty abuse of Christian imagery and scripture in the defense of craven, racist misdeeds. You see, the Klan is also plenty fond of debasing the cross and scripture to put their ideology across.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE—if you must)

The backlash against people daring to protest this injustice, which shamed this pissy little bigot and his supporters in the wingnuttosphere has been something to see. They can't believe that the world has changed so much from the un-punished racist idyll their moms and dads reveled in, a mere generation or so ago. And thus, they lose it, spewing JV-level racist nonsense that doesn't even rise to a tenth of the level of the “Deadwood”-class language of their venom spitting forefathers. We're left with the empty equivocating of a Reynolds, and the snarly hisses of the toothless Malkin—who to her credit, has inspired some of her lesser, yapping peers to take a page from her book of personal destruction and give that damned Jena Six “Whut Fer!”

The white supremacist who posted the home addresses of five members of the so-called “Jena 6” on a website says he also plans to reveal the personal information of Rev. Jesse Jackson. He has already posted what he claims are addresses for Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III on his blog, which also carries the Jena addresses.

“I know where Sharpton lives,” Bill White, head of the American National Socialist Workers Party, said in a phone interview late Sunday night. "Jesse Jackson, too.”

On his blog, which is part of Google's Blogger network, White published four separate addresses for Sharpton, including a listing that purported to be the home of the reverend's mother.


“That addresses for my residencies and offices are now publicly listed on the web page of the Neo-Nazi group that continues to list the addresses of the Jena Six and their families is outrageous,” said Rev. Sharpton in an email statement on Tuesday to RAW STORY. Sharpton added that the new development “shows they are now tagging leaders that have come to the aid of the Jena Six.”

“This illustrates why FBI efforts aren't taken seriously,” he continued, referring to a recent announcement from the FBI that it was launching a probe into White's website. “We are in Washington, DC, today asking for intervention by the federal government because this is tantamount to mocking them. It also jeopardizes me and those that travel with me.”

During the call, White stopped short of directly calling for violence against the three civil rights activists, saying only that it was important that those angered by the leaders' support for the Jena students “knew where to find them.”

“I'm just going to put the information up there so people can tell them how they feel,” he said, adding that he had just spoken with members of his “Illinois unit" about "going outside of Jesse Jackson's house.”

White was far less cautious in discussing his posting last week of address and phone information for the five teenagers charged with beating 17-year-old fellow student Justin Barker.

“If they're acquitted,” White said of the black teens, “they should be murdered. Hang them in the public square.“

“Like dingbat, racist, violence-mongering mom, Like dingbat, racist, violence-mongering son”, I guess.

The spatters from the boiling Jena pot landed other places, too. The U.S. Coast Guard is dealing with some tolerant swabbies who “all in good fun” left nooses in the bag of a cadet on board a cutter stationed at the New London, Connecticut base, and in the office of a White superior who held a race relations seminar after the incident.

A Coast Guard probe was unable to determine who left the nooses, said Chief Warrant Officer David M. French, a spokesman for the Coast Guard Academy.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, on Tuesday urged Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen to address the full academy and asked for a more intensive probe.

"Racial discrimination and intolerance have no place in either the Academy or the Coast Guard, and these incidents run directly against the efforts being made to increase diversity throughout the Coast Guard," Cummings said in a statement.

"I have asked Admiral Allen not only to conduct a thorough investigation into the incidents, but also to address the entire academy to convey that such behavior will not be tolerated in the service," he said.


The first noose was left in the cadet's bag July 15 on board the Coast Guard cutter Eagle, French said. The second was found in early August on the office floor of a female officer who had been conducting the race relations training in response to the first incident, he said.

Let me address something here to those who want to compartmentalize things and go “Hey, it's just a piece of's not like somebody got killed or anything”, in their attempt to diminish the depth of feeling that White folks brandishing nooses at Black folks prompts in America.

The noose is not a benign, ironic symbol like the peering eyes and clutching hands of a “Kilroy Was Here” scrawl. The noose, thrust in the face of Black Americans is the ultimate message from a murderous racist.

What it screams to Black folks is, “You will silence yourself. You will cede whatever rights I want you to cede. You will behave, move, walk, stand, work, eat, live where I say you will, or I will kill you and get away with it, as this punishment is extra-judicial

It is the curlicued, bow-mouthed cousin of the hard-sided swastika—both sharing the same evil DNA—death to the perceived inferior because the wielder says so.

The nooses on the now cut-down tree in front of the school in Jena were a message. “Bad things will happen to you if you step out of line and demand equality”. It flies in the face of the democracy and equality America preaches to the world about. This great, and painfully flawed country that we call “home”. My antecedents gave their slave-worked blood, sweat and tears to this land, and for that reason alone, I'm not going anywhere. We're not going anywhere. In spite of what evil people like Prosecutor Walters and his ilk will visit upon us.

And in spite of what his forebears tried to do as well. While reading the Times this week, I stumbled across a review of what looks like a stunning, new documentary. It's called “Banished” and deals with, in light of recent events— you say, interesting subject:

There are ghosts haunting Marco Williams’s quietly sorrowful documentary “Banished”, about the forced expulsion of black Southerners from their homes in the troubled and violent decades after the Civil War. Dressed in what looks like their Sunday best, in dark suits and high-collar dresses, they stare solemnly into an unwelcoming world. A couple ride in a cart along a pretty country road, and others stand awkwardly before houses with peeling paint. There are few smiles. Photography was then a serious business, though being a black landowner, part of a fragile, nascent Southern middle class, was more serious still.

It’s stunning how loudly the dead can speak, and with such eloquence. I couldn’t help comparing these images with those in one of my own photo albums of a large family of stern-looking Midwesterners dressed in what looks like their Sunday best.


Unlike the young men in Mr. Williams’s documentary, my grandfather raised a family and ran a business not far from where his photographs were taken — an upstanding white citizen in a nearly all-white land. The young black men in “Banished” never had the chance to take root. Some were falsely accused of molesting white women and were lynched. We see a few of these dead in other photographs, hanging from trees and lampposts, their bodies sometimes surrounded by a visibly excited white crowd. (A crude sign under one corpse warns not to wake him.) As Mr. Williams explains, his measured voice-over calm as ever, lynching was an instrument of terror, used against blacks as a means of control and “racial cleansing.”


In late 2006 The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., published a series about an 1898 white riot to destroy a political alliance between blacks and poor whites in Wilmington, N.C., where the literacy rates for black men were higher than those for whites. One agitator, a former Confederate soldier and the future mayor of Wilmington, vowed that he and other like-minded whites would never surrender “even if we have to choke the Cape Fear River with carcasses.” What followed was a coup d’├ętat, possibly the only time that a municipal government was toppled in American history. Black residents were murdered; the local black newspaper was torched, and survivors exiled. Reconstruction died, and Jim Crow moved right in.

The Lord moves in mysterious ways...and sometimes he just steps up and slaps you dead across your grille. You may recall in my previous post on Jena: “Do You Understand Where You Are?”, I cited an incident that happened at my Family Reunion in a small town in North Carolina. I noted the following:

There was a note about the local nightspots. Namely, that there were none. Save for the juke joint down the road a piece across from the “Fish Shack”, and of course, the few spots some 35 minutes away in Wilmington. But one of the note's points of interest got some of the young people going. It stated, that after 8:00 P.M., NO ONE WAS TO GO DOWN ACROSS THE RAILROAD TRACKS, PAST THE GREEN HOUSE (an actual green-colored house), AS THAT WAS THE DEMARCATION LINE BETWEEN FREE-GOING COUNTRY, AND KLAN TERRITORY.

Doing so was, according to the note, “tempting fate” and “taking your life into your own hands”.

Yes. It was the same Wilmington mentioned in the review. My breath caught in my throat when I read that. “A coup d’├ętat, possibly the only time that a municipal government was toppled in American history. Black residents were murdered; the local black newspaper was torched, and survivors exiled.”

My grandfather was 15 years old when it happened. My father was born 21 years later. Some 200 yards from that “green house”, just a ways west of those railroad tracks. This “ethnic cleansing” occurred a mere 20 or so miles from where my parents grew up. Black folks. People, being told “you do not belong”, “you can not be here will be killed.

I asked my mother about this incident last night. Whether she knew anything about it, or whether it was something that was discussed “down there”. She sighed, and asked with a worried tone, “Why are you asking me about this? What? How did you hear about it?”

I told her that there was a movie out that dealt with it.

“Oh, Lord.” she said. “Really?” She sighed again. “I'm not the person you should be talking to about this. Your Uncle R. can tell you what happened. It was like the boogeyman story for us kids. (Mom is 65 years old) But for your uncles and aunts on your daddy's side...well...they're a little older. They can tell you about it. But I don't think they'll want to. They knew people who were involved.


My Uncle R's table-pounding “Do You Understand Where You Are?” resonates a lot deeper for me now. The family elders warning about the Klan's doings down there carries extra weight. The scalding spatters from the boiling pot that is The Jena Incident have landed everywhere—and now, burned my hand, too. It resonated personally before when I recalled the reunion tale, but in studying the case more, and in my heightened sensitivity through researching it, I have walked headlong into the thicket—at this late day, 2007—of an incident from this country's past I had no idea occurred. A apparition...a haint—that's drifted to and fro for a a hundred-plus years, with its cold, bony hand touching us still.

Touching Jena. Touching us all.

I'll be talking with Uncle R. some time next week. I'll have to frame the discussion carefully. But...I'm going to talk with him. I'll see what comes of it.