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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jena, LA: Strange fruit

Because the mainstream media was slow to cover the story, the blogosphere has launched a grass roots campaign to spread the word about what happened in Jena, Louisiana. It's another example of the uneven justice that gets executed here in the United States, despite the best propagandistic efforts of TV dramas and government whitewashers to tell us otherwise.

Very briefly, six African American youths were charged with attempted murder for beating a white teenager in retaliation for various racist attacks on blacks in the town. The victim was knocked unconscious, but recovered in a few hours and was released from the emergency room. The extreme charges were in contrast to judicial inaction against white youth who had hung nooses in trees in Jena, as well as carrying out beatings against African Americans.

There was a large convergence of protesters in Louisiana today (see MSNBC's coverage: Louisiana protest rekindles civil rights movement), and the story has now garnered enough attention to spur the Democratic Presidential candidates to posture on the topic (see the Washington Post's blog post: Candidates Voice Outrage on 'Jena 6'). Continuing their large role in the media blasting, concerned bloggers have created a virtual march to coincide with the real one (see the press release at PR.com). The blog community has also been circulating an online petition calling on the US Department of Justice to investigate possible civil rights violations in the case.

All of this political pressure has forced the charges against the six to be reduced, but most Americans are still blissfully unaware of what happened in Jena. Many will assume that such injustice was a thing of the past in the deep south, but our legal system has never served the poor, disenfranchised and propertyless with the same fervor and inquisitiveness as the rich and powerful. As people of color have historically fallen into the former category in large numbers, they've always experienced the short end of the tipped scales of the American justice system.

Hanging nooses from trees may seem like a joke to the twisted minds of some southern kids, but no one who knows the history of lynching in the US is laughing. Those in Jena who need a history lesson, should read up on Emmett Till to gain a little perspective. They should also watch the video of Billie Holliday's haunting performance of Strange Fruit at YouTube.

Strange Fruit
by Lewis Allen

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
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