Jena 6 Update: On Good Samaritans And What Happens Next

Was wondering who actually posted the bond to get Mychal Bell out of jail; figured it would have been Al or Jesse finally taking heed of Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s words of wisdom (to summarize: show Mychal the money!)

Well, I figured wrong:

Dr. Stephen Ayers didn’t join a massive civil rights march to support the so-called “Jena 6,” but he played a unique role in freeing one of the six black teenagers charged with beating a white classmate.

Ayers, who lives about 135 miles from the small central Louisiana town where more than 20,000 protesters gathered last week, posted the bond that let 17-year-old Mychal Bell go home for the first time in 10 months.

Ayers, 42, of Lake Charles, said today that he isn’t politically active and isn’t one to “get into things like this,” but felt compelled to help Bell’s family.

“I was concerned about what was going on up there and thought the district attorney was a bit harsh in his treatment of Mr. Bell,” Ayers said. “I really thought it was overkill.”

[…]

[One of Bell’s attornies, Carol Powell] Lexing, who called Ayers a “good Samaritan,” said she thanked the doctor over the phone. Many people offered to donate money for Bell’s bail, but Lexing said they accepted Ayers’ help because he and a friend, Lawrence Morrow, were willing to handle all the logistics.

Morrow, a magazine publisher and host of local radio and television shows, met Lexing when he went to Jena for Thursday’s march. Morrow went home to Lake Charles with swollen feet, so he called his friend and family doctor for a prescription.

Ayers asked him about the march and offered to help Bell and his legal team. “He said, ’Whatever the cost is, go get him out,”’ Morrow recalled.

Ayers said he isn’t helping Bell because he thinks he’s innocent.

“What he did was in no way right, and he should be punished for this,” he said. “We’re not condoning his behavior. We’re just saying he needs to be punished appropriately.”

Elsewhere: Dr John Carlos laments the fact that there is a need for a modern civil rights movement in this day and age, cautioning that the significance of the 09.20 solidarity march shouldn’t be overestimated, nor should it be a singular undertaking:

“I can’t believe we still have to be marching,” he said. “I can’t believe how injustice has taken root and has become normal. It appears that there is a message being sent that we can’t go anywhere, aren’t worth anything. And that’s not just black people. It’s brown people. It’s poor white people. It’s the millions of our kids who go to school every day in the wealthiest country in the world and don’t even have books. We are raising a generation with no knowledge, no chance. If people are products of their environment, we are in a great deal of trouble. We see no money for books but they keep building these prisons.”

[…]

“Now [thousands] marched and that young man [Mychal Bell] is still in jail [at the time this interview was conducted – mb],” Dr. Carols said. “We need to have our eyes on the prize. We need our young people also hitting them where it hurts. Not just marching, but figuring out ways to do the unexpected. In 1968, that’s what we did. You have to do what’s contrary to the norm to give them something to think about. We have to give them something to think about because we had the audacity to act. I want to see people marching on the courthouse. I want them using their minds to do the unexpected, to make people in power think long and hard about the weight we are carrying.”

Erin Aubry Kaplan says that civil rights and social justice activists shouldn’t wait for ‘moments’ like Jena 6 to occur before confronting injustice, but acknowledges that ‘selective agitation’ is a universal phenomenon:

Of course the Jena Six campaign hooked neatly into broader complaints against the racial inequalities of the whole criminal justice system, which is a biggie — it imprisons young black males at an astronomically disproportionate rate — and Jena provided a good moment to express that. But agitation and organization shouldn’t wait for a moment. That would be like waiting for the entire Ross Ice Shelf to melt into the sea to sound the alarm about global warming. It’s a good photo op, but it probably comes too late.

This is not just a black thing. We’ve all been conditioned to agitate selectively, especially in matters of race. Americans of all colors have come to think of news as only moments — a plane crash, an election, a lofty acceptance speech. With race, the “moment” is almost always violent or criminal, like the beating of the white student in Jena. Yet here’s the irony: The worst things happening to black people are not only not moments but are things not happening at all — not getting a good enough education, not getting enough jobs, not getting equal treatment. It’s a public relations quandary that nobody’s been able to fix since the ’60s, when we had plenty of visuals — that is, moments — to illustrate complicated historical grievances that were finally making it to television. Demonstrations, riots, flag burnings, resistance to arrests, concerts, ceremonial signings of landmark legislation — these all fed a narrative that the public understood, whether they agreed with the particulars or not.

There is no such narrative now. In this age of deconstruction, what’s missing in the Jena case is a cumulative understanding and connecting of dots on racial issues, something that would prevent every American from asking stupid questions like, Are nooses hanging from trees really that bad? (Another version of the wearisome question: Is “nigger” really such a negative word?) We’ve detached racially charged incidents from a racial context, which sounds liberating but actually skews the racial balance of power even further: Without context, blacks always seem reactive and overreaching, while whites seem calm and fairly neutral. So in Jena, the black citizens say the Jena Six experience confirms pretty much every aspect of the racism they’ve experienced; whites admit to some lingering problems but insist that things have changed in Jena for the better. The facts are not in dispute as much as what the story of the Jena Six means — a manifestation of institutional racism that’s never gone away? An isolated case of prosecutorial excess in an otherwise idyllic town? The media tends to settle into a noncommittal, “fair and balanced” discussion that avoids conclusions and judgment of any kind, at least on the surface. And that’s where we leave things until the next moment hits. If we’re lucky.

2 Responses to “Jena 6 Update: On Good Samaritans And What Happens Next”

  1. Laura says:

    Thanks for Mavis Staples “Eyes on the Prize”.

  2. matttbastard says:

    You’re very welcome, Laura. Is a very inspiring song (and tied in nicely with both the theme and what Carlos said).

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