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Jena 6 Protest Resonates in Triangle

Posted September 20, 2007

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— The largest civil-rights demonstration in decades resonated with some Triangle residents, prompting them to demonstrations and legal actions of their own.

Tens of thousands gathered in Jena, a small town in central Louisiana, to protest what they saw as racial injustice in the prosecution of six black teens. Known collectively as the Jena 6, the six are charged in the beating of a white teenager in the Jena High School cafeteria.

While many from the Triangle joined the busloads traveling to Louisiana, others protested closer to home. North Carolina Central University students collected donations for a legal defense fund for the six teenagers.

More than 100 students gathered at Shaw University, wearing T-shirts and holding signs that read "Free the Jena Six." Dr. William Barber, head of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, addressed the students.

Rallies were also held at the University of North Carolina-Chapel and North Carolina State University.

Much of the controversy surrounding the case was stirred up the symbols surrounding it, including one of the most hated symbols of Old South racism - a hangman's noose tied in an oak tree.

"The noose is a powerful and very frightening symbol, especially in the black community, because it's a symbol of lynching to many people," UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Harry Watson said.

The events leading up to Thursday's protest go back to August 2006, when a black student got administrators' permission to sit under the so-called white tree, where only white students sat. The next day, three nooses were hung in the tree.

To many blacks, a noose is as offensive as a Nazi swastika would be to Jewish people, Watson said, and the memory of a noose's symbolism is deeply ingrained in the African-American consciousness.

"It was there to remind people that there was a time when challenging white supremacy could cost you your life," he said. "That memory might have disappeared in the white community, but not in the black community."

Nooses have also made recent appearances in the Triangle. In 2002, seven black transportation workers sued the City of Raleigh's transportation department after a noose was hung over a workman's bench, allegedly by white workers.

A citizens' group says its working to prevent any further spread of racism associated with the noose.

The Raleigh Wake Citizens' Associating is pressing for displaying a noose to be classified as a hate crime. The group is circulating a formal proposal to state senators and representatives, among others.

"I think if burning a cross is a hate crime, then hanging a noose in this context is a hate crime," Watson said.

Daniel Coleman, with the RWCA, said the group is trying to avoid a situation such as the one in Jena. Three white students were suspended for hanging the nooses but not criminally prosecuted, and the local district attorney he could find no state law criminalizing the act.

"If you create a culture where it won't be tolerated, if not now, maybe one day, it will be outlawed or deemed an element of a hate crime," Coleman said.

Watson said it's important to keep in mind the noose's historical association with the lynching of black people.

"We have to remember that they're not making this up, that they're not blowing this out of proportion, that they're not making something out a whole cloth," he said.

"They're talking about real things that happened to real family members in many cases, and that has to be respected," he added.

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  • Angela_C Sep 21, 2007

    We have decided to stop allowing comments on the stories related to the Jena 6. After several days of moderating comments and posting various opinions, we have found that the conversations surrounding this topic simply have not remained civil and they do not seem to be improving in any way. Instead of agreeing to disagree or accepting the opinions of others as viable, what we've seen is vicious attacks and comments that do not lend themselves to civil conversation or that will help open the minds of others to possibly accept or even acknowledge a different viewpoint. We do understand that this is an important national story and one that the community wishes to discuss, but we cannot continue to allow comments that blatantly disregard others, make sweeping generalizations or that are meant to incite.

  • inquistitor Sep 21, 2007

    I have an idea. Let's remove the "black and white" from the issue and look at what this really is. Six guys jumped another guy and beat the garbage out of him.

    As far as the offensiveness of the noose? That was in poor taste no matter who did it. But this idea that only "African American" individuals can be terrorized by a noose is stupid. PLenty of White individuals have died by public hanging long before the "South" came along. In fact, death by hanging is still use in some countries. So this whole arguement makes no sense.

  • lovethecrazycomment Sep 21, 2007

    If this had been handled properly to begin with we wouldn’t be at this point. Where is the outrage that young white America would think it was acceptable to hang a noose in a public school facility. It may not be illegal, but you cannot PRETEND there wasn’t a message there. The school system should have sent a swift and clear message back to the guilty parties that it wasn’t acceptable. It should never have been allowed to “fester” so long. I don’t think the participants in the fight should get off scot free either, but do we really want to start charging high school students that get into a fight with attempted murder? If the boy was released from the hospital the same evening, I don’t think he was quite beat almost to death as some would imply.

    I agree that Jesse & Al seem to always turn up in the middle of controversy, but some of the comments on this forum have reminded me of why they stay around!

  • jetstream Sep 21, 2007

    Amen jhnewman,

    The Blacks have so many opportunities that I could never imagine getting. Free rides to college, exclusive membership to clubs, such as Black's Only colleges, Black Miss America,Black versions of awards shows, all kinds of things. And yet they don't take advantage and continue to blame the White Man. They can do so much to better their lives and choose not to.

    It is sad what I see walk in the door, looking for a job. How they dress is not my fault. They chose to look disrespectful. They choose to speak ebonics. I choose not to hire.

  • findoutthefacts Sep 21, 2007

    and please tell me what privileges I am afforded for being white?

  • findoutthefacts Sep 21, 2007

    WHO IS BEING PUNISHED TOO HARSHLY?

  • bronzegoddess40 Sep 21, 2007

    atozca= I am not held down in any way, and how do you know I am not one of the priviledged blacks that you speak of, you don't know me like I don't know you except through posting and what I get from your postings that you are naive as to what goes on around you and your seem to whining about not getting priviledges and I would like to know what priviledges that you are missing out on because of your skin color. And yes we do enjoy all different levels of economics. Everything that I have, I work for just like you do. There are probably more similarities and differences and just because a few bad folks are out here, it does not speak for a whole race. So don't you tell me that my mentality is sad until you take a reality check of yours.

  • bronzegoddess40 Sep 21, 2007

    I have never blame the "WHITE MAN" for anything nor I have laid blame. All anyone has ever wanted with equality and that should be for all. And once again my question is being avoided as to, if blacks are so easily let off for crimes etc... then why are blacks the highest population in the prison system?

  • jhnewman Sep 21, 2007

    I just wish Colin Powell would comment on all this. Or, perhaps Condolezza Rice, or Dick Gregory, or Oprah, or ....

    Imagine you are a Bank President interviewing prospective employees.

    One applicant is a very nicely dressed black in a conservative suit (either male, female or unisex), and has a resume' showing graduation from a respectable college (Howard University).

    The second applicant is also black. Comes in holding up his baggy pants down to his knees, has no resume' and, through his dreadlocks, say's "I want de' job."

    Who do you think is going to get RESPECT?

    Go Figure It Out!

    I have to go fishing early in the morning. I am taking a promising young black teenager with me. His Dad is in jail. This kid is a good kid and I don't want him lost.

    You make whatever comments you want, and you make any contribution you want. But remember this: Some people make things happen, some watch, and some just wonder what happened.

  • dhoggard2 Sep 21, 2007

    The guy is a criminal and brutally beat up a kid in high school. And it was 6 on 1.. They should be expelled . They should have been charged with Felony Assault.. and they should have been charged with a hate crime! Why do other black people want to support these thugs? I don't get it?

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