A comparison between the six Jena African-American male youth and a Fort Worth boy
Another early morning phone call, another crying grandmother, and young black man went to jail last night. The grandmother was in a murderous rage as she described how “they took my baby to jail… and he’s never been to jail in his life… he’s never ever been in trouble with the law”. But a Macy's security guard swore that the young man was trying to steal a pair of shorts.
The recent high school graduate was on lunch break when he decided to look at buying a pair of swimming trunks. He worked inside the Hulen Mall down the hall from Macy’s Department Store. He had $500 in his pocket, having just gotten paid. A security guard claimed that he was attempting to steal the item, so they detained him until the FWPD arrived.
He was taken to the downtown jail and interrogated. They promised him that if he gave a statement of confession, they would not lock him up- a story that sounds all too familiar. And, when he signed the paper, they locked him up anyway. It would $100 to walk out the door with a Class D Misdemeanor, but not until the next morning.
Don’t worry, Son… a Class D Misdemeanor is nothing… it won’t cause you to lose your job, which is what will happen if we keep you locked up… and no, you cannot call anyone on the jail phone because phone privileges start at a certain time in the morning… not even a lawyer. This is Texas.
What I cannot understand is “Attempted Theft”. How does a person attempt to steal something and never go outside of the store with the merchandise? Was it because he was black, and black people look suspicious in the eyes of the security guard? This was why the grandmother sounded so hysterical when she called me at 7:30 am.
She cried and sobbed and shouted at me. What she wanted I could not deliver. She wanted someone to undo her grandson being locked up all night with other harden criminals. She wanted a Do-Over. She wanted an unsigned confession, because he was coerced by fear. It took everything I knew to calm her down.
GOOD MORNING to you too, World- This is the way I started today. As I prepared for another strategy session, on another side of town, on a whole different set of issues, I had to keep running, so I gave the grandmother a list of things to do- I’d get back with her later. ANOTHER BLACK BOY on the bubble of trouble. Why is it the story of our lives?
JENA, Louisiana -- Tears streamed down Melissa Bell's face Monday as the judge ruled in favor of LaSalle Parish District Attorney J. Reed Walters' motion to continue her son's trial more than a month. (“Racial demons rear heads”, Chicago Tribune, May 18, 2007)
Racial tensions in the small lumbering town of 3,000 residents erupted when three hangman’s nooses were dangled from the school’s courtyard, after African-American students had requested to sit under the tree.
Howard Witt, the Chicago Tribune reporter who unveiled the story of the little Paris, Texas girl named Shaquanda Cotton who was sent to prison for up to seven years of her life for pushing a teacher’s aid, has discovered yet another small southern town teeming with racism and charges of disparity in justice.
According to the story, the white students guilty of the rope incident were suspended for three days. Black parents, who felt that the nooses signified a greater danger and threat, protested the ruling. It should have been treated as a racially motivated hate crime, in light of these subsequent events and chain reactions:
First, a series of fights between black and white students erupted at the high school over the nooses. Then, in late November, unknown arsonists set fire to the central wing of the school, which still sits in ruins. Off campus, a white youth beat up a black student who showed up at an all-white party. A few days later, another young white man pulled a shotgun on three black students at a convenience store.
Finally, on Dec. 4, a group of black students at the high school allegedly jumped a white student on his way out of the gym, knocked him unconscious and kicked him after he hit the floor. The victim—allegedly targeted because he was a friend of the students who hung the nooses and had been taunting blacks—was not seriously injured and spent only a few hours in the hospital.
But the LaSalle Parish district attorney, Reed Walters, opted to charge six black students with attempted second-degree murder and other offenses, for which they could face a maximum of 100 years in prison if convicted. All six were expelled from school.
What I see is the Charge of Crime. What is “attempted second-degree murder”? In Texas, they like to stick the prefix “aggravated” upon everything blacks are charged with.
I would assume that “second-degree murder” is a lesser offense than “first-degree murder”, but note that the maximum for “attempted second-degree murder” can run up to 100 years (a nice round number, similar to Texas infamous sentence of “Life and One Dark Day”).
But no- it was not “second-degree murder” or manslaughter- but “attempted” manslaughter, “attempted second-degree”. (How can we tell the difference between first and second when neither actually physically occurred?) In both cases, there is no intent to cause death (if there were intent, it would be first-degree). So, by connotation: Attempted Second-Degree Murder an attempt to cause an “unintended” death. It’s an oxymoron… a self-contradiction.
The Fort Worth African-American youth has already received punishment for “attempted theft” that never occurred as an actual theft. But with $500 in his pocket, why did they make him sweat it out until morning? Why would they assume culpability when he had proof of his ability to make the purchase?
I can almost hear grandmother Rosa scream when she first got the news. Knowing her as I do, it must have been as heartbreaking as the news of the death of a close love one.