Scroll To Top

What’s in
the Jena 6 Case for "Us"? Nothing

What’s in
the Jena 6 Case for "Us"? Nothing


The six black Louisiana youths known as the Jena 6 have become a cause celebre for many civil rights activists, including the LGBT movement, who say the teens have been wronged. But are they really worthy of our support?

It says much about the state of the American civil rights establishment when its foremost organizations recast a group of brutal thugs -- the "Jena 6" -- as heroic victims persecuted by a racist judicial system. And it says even worse things about the country's preeminent gay rights group when it somehow contorts that dubious cause into its own.

But that's what happened with the Human Rights Campaign's endorsement of the movement to free the Jena 6, a group of black teenagers who beat and stomped a 17-year-old white boy into unconsciousness last December. Last week HRC president Joe Solmonese traveled all the way to Jena, La., along with thousands of other supporters and declared that "this injustice cannot stand." By "injustice," he was presumably referring to the prosecution and sentencing of the young men responsible for the beating, which critics have called unfair. On, HRC's associate director of diversity, Donna Payne, wrote that the group will be "standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with our coalition partners in the civil rights community, calling for the equal treatment for these young victims of discrimination." Yet it's unclear just what injustice has been committed against the Jena 6 -- and, more important, why HRC, or any gay people for that matter, should be defending them.

The story of the Jena 6 is long and convoluted. It's obvious that relations between black and white students at the town's high school have been strained, a fact highlighted by the very existence of a "white tree" on school grounds. But the hanging of nooses on the tree after some black students congregated there and the unprovoked beating of Justin Barker, 17, more than three months later are unrelated. And that's according to no less an authority than Donald Washington, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, who, it should be noted, is black. Washington has not found any evidence of unfair prosecution or sentencing, but the protesters clogging Jena's streets and the outraged commentariat claim to know the situation better than the federal prosecutor assigned to investigate the case.

That other white people did nasty things prior to the assault on Barker does not obviate the guilt of the Jena 6. In American law you are not entitled to beat a defenseless and innocent person because someone with the same skin color as that person offended you months earlier. Defenders of the Jena 6 have little to say about the group's mauling of Barker, which no one denies happened, even though the assault could be considered a hate crime and is reminiscent of a gay bashing. Instead, Payne and other Jena 6 supporters cast uninformed aspersions on those involved in the case, like the "white judge" and the "all-white jury," neglecting to mention that none of the blacks in the parish summoned for jury duty bothered to show up, as has been reported by many news sources.

As evidence of institutional racism, Payne also complains that five of the six teenagers were charged as adults. That's for the simple reason that four of the six are adults, as they were over 17 at the time of the crime. As for the fifth, Mychal Bell, an appeals court overturned his conviction on the grounds that he should not have been tried as an adult, so the justice system appears to be working.

How does HRC square its backing for hate-crimes legislation with its support of the Jena Six, who are themselves guilty of a racially motivated attack? And if the organization is going to criticize supposed racially motivated prosecutorial abuse, then how come it did not rally in defense of the three Duke University students who were irrefutably the victims of a racially motivated prosecutor, one since disbarred and censured?

As a mainstream, nonpartisan gay organization fighting for gay equality, HRC has no business associating with Jesse Jackson (who accused Barack Obama of "acting like he's white" for not joining in the racial grandstanding around the Jena 6) and Al Sharpton, charlatans par excellence who are taking advantage of a complex legal case by turning it into a national media spectacle. "Jena is a defining moment, just like Selma was a defining moment," Jackson has said. Apparently HRC agrees with this absurd comparison. While it makes sense -- both morally and strategically -- for the gay rights movement to side with black groups against actual discrimination (as in the Don Imus situation, for instance), the Jena 6 case simply does not qualify.

It is regrettable that an organization purporting to represent the interests of gay people would defend violent hooligans as an act of obeisance to the "civil rights community." Whether or not the saga of Jena, La., speaks to the racial disparities in our country's justice system, it is most certainly not a civil rights struggle akin to the Stonewall uprising or the Selma marches. The moral standing of the people involved in those historic events was absolute; the gay men at the Stonewall Inn and the marchers at Selma were violently set upon by police merely for peacefully assembling. The Jena 6 ganged up on a kid and sent him to the hospital. There is no good reason why gays should be party to this shameless display of historical ignorance and exaggerated grievance.

" >
Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Channel Promotion

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories