They called it the White Tree. Not because of the color of its leaves or tint of its bark, but because of the kind of people who typically sat beneath its shade here at Jena High School.
And when a black student tried to defy that tradition by sitting under the tree last September, it set off a series of events that have turned this town of 3,000 in central Louisiana’s timber country into a flashpoint over the issue of racial bias in the criminal justice system.
This is a fascinating -- and disturbing -- case of soured race relations in the United States, and how far the country still has to go to see that events like the one that took place in Jena. More importantly, one can see the bias of much of the local and national mainstream media -- mainly TV and radio -- in action. Often consumed by celebrity gossip, and usually turning a blind eye to important or non-sensationalist stories, many stations have been covering stories like that of the Jena 6 from a slanted angle.
Fear sells -- whether it's an Arab terrorist or a black criminal. Another recent racially-related story is a story that has not received very much coverage. An African American woman was tortured and raped by six men in West Virgina (allegedly). Why is it that when several black teens beat up a white student, it Channel X Local News goes nuts, but when a clear hate-crime is committed it barely breaks into the national news mainstream?
The other extreme of a race connected crime is the assumption of guilt of people accused of a crime against a black person, and the perceived injustice. Case and point: the Duke lacrosse player case, in which political correctness and the assumption of guilt by the public and news media (the same thing happened in the over-covered Jon Benet Ramsey case with people assuming the automatic guilt of John Mark Karr) ended up leading to false accusations and perhaps a sort of racism of its own.
The 'Jena 6' case shows more flaws in the American criminal justice system, and society in general, especially in the South. However, it is good to know that there are appeals courts out there that expose these flaws, and people willing to take action in defense of these boys. For now, the protests continue, raising the level of awareness of this racially-divisive incident (I only learned about it yesterday).
It's a fairly confusing chain of events; NPR has a good wrapup of the Jena story, starting with the 'White Tree' and ending with the current legal action being taken.