Equal Protection Under the Law – What You Can Do

One thing I like about DocuDharma is that it is not just about party politics, about the Democrats, the 2008 elections, the usual drumbeat we all know too well.

This site is also about issues and ideas and values, and one of those values very dear to my heart is social justice.

I was over at Kai’s site, zuky – which by the way, is on our blogroll here, and who Nezua over at the Unapologetic Mexican (also on our blogroll) characterizes as the people of color (POC) blogosphere’s “Digby.”  In other words, her posts rank up there as a gold standard of POC blogging, and if you check out her site, you’ll see why.

The post I have linked above speaks about the phenomenal effort the POC blogosphere and grassroots communities made to put the story of the Jena 6 in the national spotlight — an extremely difficult task that the liberal blogs were late in covering, due to the above emphasis on party politics rather than issues and values and social justice — and helped create the amazing civil rights march in Jena that took place yesterday.

Kai writes about what should be done now, after the march, and there is indeed a great deal to be done.  We know now that mychal bell lost his case to be released from prison.  And we also know this story will not escape the usual racist spin.

I urge everyone to read the entire post as well as the links — it tells an amazing story of organization and commitment, one we all would do well to emulate and join.  Some of her reflections:

Now that most semi-conscious people out there have heard the basic outlines of the story, I see it as the job of (real) progressives to assert an anti-racist narrative frame in popular discourse. All too often stripped of historical and social context, the story can get fragmented and reduced to a random series of isolated incidents to be pondered like some cheesy Law And Order script, hyper-focused on legal technicalities and the minutiae of violence. But properly contextualized, the story neatly illustrates the fundamental realities of institutional racism in action: the white control of decision-making offices at all levels – school board, law enforcement, district attorney, judge and jury – and the draconian penalties which befall young persons of color who resist the racist social order, as hauntingly symbolized by the wide leafy oak tree in the center of the schoolyard whose cool southern shade was jealously reserved for white skin only.

In my view, the most striking element of the extensive CNN coverage I watched yesterday was the profundity of white denial of racism. Almost without exception, white Jena residents who were asked whether there was “racial tension” in their town suddenly looked as though a major chunk of their brain short-circuited and went dark, their eyes went flat, and they mass-hypnotically mouthed hollow statements such as “No we’re not that kind of people, we play football together.” And that’s because one of the effects of racism is precisely a sort of mass hypnosis which insidiously blinds people to the flagrant system of power and oppression under which they live by making the racist power structure seem as natural and invisible as the air we breathe.

Sadly, I had a personal experience at work today which illustrates quite well the “mass hypnosis” Kai writes about.  My comment to her post:

I think you are absolutely right that this is not the end of the story.

I took a call today for a lawyer (I’m a legal secretary), it was a fellow from Louisiana. I blog a lot about NOLA, so I asked him where he was from. He said Alexandria, and then made a comment about how that was near Jena. He made some sort of joke about how they all were making a lot of money because of all the folks going to Jena to protest.

Got a sinking feeling in my stomach, but tried to stay professional. I said I hoped things worked out for all, that justice was served. He made some comment that he didn’t like the “stereotyping” going on. The sinking feeling in my stomach grew worse — I responded, “well, I think a lot of folks in this country are getting sick of being stereotyped.” His voice became a bit colder and we quickly ended the conversation.

Equal protection under the law. That is exactly what this is about. Law makes no sense at all unless it is applied equally. In the case of the Jena 6, it is crystal clear that was not the case.

Thanks for the great work you have done — have signed the petition and will blog about this myself as well, to get more signatures.

Folks in the liberal blogosphere talk every now and then about “diversity,” as though it was sort of an optional value to Progressives.  I disagree — I think it is essential and it is not about party politics or the mechanics of same.  Sure, I will support local candidates I think are progressive, from Gilda Reed in Louisiana to Barry Welch in Indiana.  But there is more to being Progressive than supporting candidates.  There is something called solidarity, and we don’t read enough about that.

Read what you can do below!

There is a great petition that has been set up calling for an investigation by the Civil Rights Department of the DOJ (yeah, they could use some REAL work for a change!), as follows:

To: Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice
We respectfully request that the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice review events surrounding the prosecution of six Black students in Jena, Louisiana, to determine whether the civil rights of Jena residents have been violated.

In a May 20, 2007 Chicago Tribune article titled “Racial Demons Rear Heads,” Howard Witt reported that the six students faced prosecution for charges including second degree attempted murder — and possible prison sentences of up to 100 years — for allegedly participating in an unarmed school brawl that resulted in no serious injuries. The alleged brawl followed months of racial tension after hangman’s nooses were hung from a tree at the students’ school.

From the same Chicago Tribune article:

“There’s been obvious racial discrimination in this case,” said Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who described Jena as a “racial powder keg” primed to ignite. “It appears the black students were singled out and targeted in this case for some unusually harsh treatment.”

The prosecution of these young men represents a gross miscarriage of justice, punishing Black students for opposing segregation of their schools while ignoring the threatening and provocative acts of those engaging in segregation.

We respectfully request that the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice launch a full investigation into events in Jena, Louisiana, beginning with the noose incident of August 31, 2006, and culminating in the alleged fight of December 4, 2006 to determine whether the civil rights of Jena residents have been violated.

I ask everyone who reads this to go over and sign the petition.  It’s the right thing to do.

You know, the last time I really heard the phrase “equal protection under the law” — oh I will NEVER forget that day — was in the “Bush v. Gore” case in front of the Supreme Court — lawbreaker in chief George W. Bush decrying that his rights were being harmed by the horrible sin of votes being counted in Florida.  Yeah, he was complaining he was a victim of unfairness.  It was an obscenity that the Supreme Court affirmed Mister Bush’s case.  And of course now he is merrily breaking every law he can stomp under his little booted foot.

Equal protection under the law is a cornerstone to social justice in America.  What good are laws that only apply to some but not others?

Please sign the petition.  And please keep an eye on what’s happening with this case — the underlying issues will not be going away, and Progressives everywhere should join in solidarity to see that both truth and justice is not lost in America.


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  1. … to see different perspectives, widen my view.  I hope others feel that way as well.

    And that a whole HERD of ponies stampede over and sign the petition.

    It’s been a long time coming down, so many folks have divided and fragmented the American body politic.  I think it’s time to come together.  Right now.  (well you know the rest …)

  2. is the only refuge left for racists. It is a “face saving” measure that allows white Americans to both be racist without stating or holding overtly racist views. As a white person living in the South, it is my antedoctal experience that this is the dominant prism through which the majority use to “prove” to themselves they are not racist. When I call people on it I receive this typical response: you are contributing to racial tension/hatred. The idea is that if one even tries to start a dialouge that in itself is destructive to white self importance.

    • Armando on September 22, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    I think this characterization is problematic for me:

    “I was over at Kai’s site, zuky – which by the way, is on our blogroll here, and who Nezua over at the Unapologetic Mexican (also on our blogroll) characterizes as the people of color (POC) blogosphere’s “Digby.””

    Why the need to compare a non-white writer to a white writer?

    I can not say it is offensive per se, but it is troubling.

  3. … and one of the assignments I gave myself was to read Anne Frank’s diary in the original Dutch.

    At one point my host and I were talking about her family’s part-Jewish background and their wartime experiences. She said, “It’s a reflex, I automatically classify everyone I know into ‘Would hide me’ and ‘Wouldn’t hide me’.”

    Having grown up an “Oriental” in Hawaii and later in North America, I realized that for many years I had done the same thing whenever I thought about Japanese-Americans during World War II. The question had always bothered me, “Where were the Nisei families’ white friends while all this was happening? Why did no one try to hide a Japanese family or even make sure their property was taken care of while they were gone, so they could recover it after the war?”

    Is that irrational? For a person of color to worry about who “would hide” and “wouldn’t hide” him or her, if push came to shove?

  4. I’m trotting over now to sign. Solidarity is essential, as splintering off in our political worlds, we are putting the cart before the horse. Social justice doesn’t even exist unless it is equally applied. I also think we need solidarity globally, as globalization works two ways, our common interests, lie in equality and solidarity for all including those outside our boarders. Hugo Chavez one of the heroes of my youth was a great organizer and solidarity was the princple that made his movement sucessful.

    • Caneel on September 23, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    Why? The diary’s link to the AP story on Mychal Bell is on an AOL Web site with comments below. Those comments are enough to make me wonder, “what country am I in?” THIS is our society we have built?

    Well, we sure need a new model.

    I’m glad I’m returning home to St. Thomas, USVI, on Oct. 3. I’d rather live in a society of 85 percent US Census-described as African-American. At least I feel it’s a society more honest about its feelings and attitudes.

    My prescription: Don’t just befriend; learn about the culture of another. That is when they cease being the “other.”

    I even adopt what I call “Caribbean speak” — out of respect, for it alludes to a great deal more loving, hearing and feeling than the “culture of our whiteness.”

    Obviously, we need more and more diaries, more and more conversations on this.

    Thanks for this one.

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