From Diverse Online
Protesters Stand Up For Jena 6 and More
By Tracie Powell
Sep 20, 2007, 04:47
A Black West Virginia woman was sexually assaulted, stabbed and tortured, with one of her White abductors telling her, “That’s what we do to niggers around here.” Hate crime charges are yet to be filed in the case because the penalty isn’t as stringent as state-level kidnapping, assault and rape charges.
Genarlow Wilson, a Georgia teen, was convicted of rape and received 10 years in prison for having consensual sex with another teen. The state law was later changed to make the crime a misdemeanor and a federal judge ordered Wilson freed, but the now 21-year-old remains in prison today.
Six Black teens in Jena, La., were arrested and charged with attempted murder for what amounted to a school-yard fight that resulted from months of racial tension that built up after Black students sat under a “Whites-only” tree at the town’s high school. Most of the charges have been reduced, but the teens still face years behind bars if convicted.
This isn’t the 1950s, these events all happened in the past year.
What is happening in Jena is not an anomaly, says Dr. Gregory Carr, assistant professor of Afro American Studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
“Many Whites believe that ‘the system’ is color-blind, which is true,” he says. “It cannot see beyond its own invisible whiteness.”
Meanwhile, several conservative court decisions coupled with the federal government’s anemic enforcement and unwillingness to bring forth race cases have set back civil rights advances and protections, advocates say.
In June, U.S. Supreme Court justices limited the use of race in school desegregation plans. Last summer these same justices made it harder to prove discrimination in voting rights cases. And at the moment, the constitutionality of the newly reauthorized Voting Rights Act is already being challenged; its future, if it lands before a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court, might be in jeopardy.
The judicial system most certainly is not color-blind, adds Angela J. Davis, a professor of law at American University. Davis also wrote about Genarlow Wilson’s case in her new book, Arbitrary Justice.
For Davis, the injustice visited upon Genarlow Wilson and the Louisiana teens, more commonly referred to as the “Jena Six,” raise a more profound question about the abuse of prosecutorial power, she says. “In the Jena Six case alone you have a district attorney who prosecuted African-Americans for behavior that he didn’t prosecute Whites for,” Davis says. “That’s race-based selective prosecution.”
At first glance the casual observer may view the Jena Six and Wilson cases as having nothing to do with the savage torture of a Black woman in West Virginia. Some may even say that they are an unfortunate series of isolated incidents. But those who follow race issues in this country more closely will say that they are all interconnected. In fact, many of the estimated 60,000 marchers who plan to peacefully protest in Jena today at least have a sense that there is something much greater at stake — overcoming a legacy of racism and unequal justice, not only in Louisiana, but also across the country.
“We have seen in the last 10 years a roll-back and a retreat from strong enforcement and prosecution of race crimes. It’s looking pretty grim,” says Julie Fernandes, senior policy analyst and special counsel for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.
“At the same time we’re seeing a series of bad court decisions that make it harder to get into court and harder for people to prove that they are victims of racism,” she says. “It’s a double whammy.”
In addition to faulting the Bush administration for not acknowledging that racism is still a problem in America, Fernandes blames the U.S. Justice Department for not prosecuting high-profile race cases and Congress for not enacting legislation that will help prevent and punish racist acts. To make matters worse, she says, the U.S. Supreme Court has shown little to no interest in protecting civil rights.
In response, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights is working to get an enhanced federal hate crimes law authorized that will include additional protected groups, such as homosexuals. President Bush has vowed to veto the legislation. The organization also wants to see a federal racial profiling law and renewed civil rights act passed, Fernandes says.
Both pieces of legislation have been languishing in Congress since 2001 and 2004, respectively.
“This isn’t about politics,” Fernandes sums up. “It’s about civil rights and court fights that impact our everyday lives.”
For now, people like the marchers in Jena will have to raise their voices and their dollars to help right the wrongs perpetuated on Wilson, the Jena Six and the woman victimized in West Virginia.
- Tracie Powell
2 thoughts on “From today’s Diverse Issues in Higher Education – Jena6 Protests & more…”
Short on time, so rather than try to be eloquent, I provide this quote from Dave Neiwert, an author/reporter/blogger with some considerable experience in the area of bias crimes and hate crime laws. His blog is at http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/
“First: The principle of proportionality in sentencing is a fundamental aspect of criminal law. Society has always chosen to punish crimes more or less harshly according to the culpability of the perpetrator, particularly the level of harm he inflicts. This is why, in the case of the death of another person, someone may face charges ranging from first-degree murder to third-degree manslaughter.
The principle responsible for the difference here is mens rea, or the state of mind of the accused. Mens rea involves both intent and motive. Harsher sentences traditionally have been assigned to crimes committed with intentions and motivations considered more harmful to society at large.
Now, you may ask, are hate crimes more harmful than the crimes for which, as the editorial points out, there are already laws on the books? Well, ask yourself this: Is a swastika painted on a synagogue the same thing as graffiti scrawled on a downtown wall? Is an assault in which the perpetrators sought out gay or black people to send a “message” the same thing as a bar fight?
Are hate crimes truly different from their parallel crimes? Quantifiably and qualitatively, the answer is yes.
The first and most clear aspect of this difference lies in the breadth of the crimes’ effects. Hate crimes attack not only the immediate victim, but the target community — Jews, blacks, gays — to which the victim belongs. Their purpose today, just as it was in the lynching era, is to terrorize and politically oppress the target community. The laws against them resemble anti-terrorism laws (which, it must be noted, are also predicated on enhancing the sentence based on the motivation of the perpetrator) in this respect as well.
But this is only one aspect of how different hate crimes are from their parallel crimes. There are several more, and they are substantial. Bias crimes are far more likely to be violent than are other crimes. They also may be distinguished by their extraordinary impact on the victim. As bias-crimes expert Frederick Lawrence notes, “Bias-crime victims have been compared to rape victims in that the physical harm associated with the crime, however great, is less significant than the powerful accompanying sense of violation. The victims of bias crimes thus tend to experience psychological symptoms such as depression or withdrawal, as well as anxiety, feelings of helplessness, and a profound sense of isolation.”
Finally, bias crimes cause an even broader injury to the general community, both local and national. They create racial distrust and misunderstanding within the immediate communities where they occur, and their occurrence can cast a shadow over an entire community’s reputation. (Just ask folks in Jasper, Texas.) Perhaps just as important, they violate basic principles of equality of opportunity and freedom of association by threatening and intimidating targeted segments of society, and widen the not-insignificant racial divide in this country.
Not only are bias crimes substantially different in nature from their parallel crimes, there is no question that they cause substantially greater harm, so a harsher punishment is fully warranted.”
While I approve of, and support, the inclusion of homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender and transsexual folks as protected from discriminatory business practices (hirings and firings most specifically), I oppose the use, and expansion of use, of hate crime laws.
I understand the sentiment that hate based crimes have an increased reprehensible nature. I also understand the idea (true or not, I don’t know) that those who commit hate based crimes are more likely to repeat their actions than other types of criminals. I get this.
My problem is that we already have a system of punishment that acknowledges motivation. We do not need to criminalize specific thought forms. This is, in essence, an attempt to control thought. Instead of applying a degree oriented punishment system, we are tacking on extra time because of the motivation. Motive has itself never been the subject of punishment in our system, only the act. This is why I have a problem with hate crime laws. We punish the action, not the thought.
With hate crimes, we also punish the thought. In doing so, we also elevate misdemeanor crimes into felony crimes. We do this not because the action was any different, but because of the thought control we are trying to implement.
I don’t want to be miscontrued as supporting hate crimes or racism. I don’t. I find these sorts of actions to be morally repugnant. I just have a problem with punishing thoughts because we don’t like the thoughts. I generally disregard all “slippery slope” arguments, but I am genuinely concerned that the real possibility exists that such legislation can and will be expanded to include other thoughts that the majority disagrees with. It may not be a slippery slope, but the potential is there for it to become so.
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