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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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More Injustices Than Just Jena
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Right now Al Sharpton would love to lead everyone to believe the most important case going on in the country is that of the Jena 6. The case of the Jena 6 is, of course, the much talked about charging of six black teenagers with the attempted murder of a white youth. Their weapon of choice, a shoe. The case reeks of potential racial ties, especially being that it’s taking place in a small southern town, but a recent AP story lays out a lot of inconsistencies between what we’re being told by talking heads and the actual facts of the case which means we should probably sit down and gather all the information we can rather than immediately stand up and create a racial divide. I would love to see some more folks stand up for another set of people, however, who were imprisoned when they were in their teens and are still, nearly fifteen years later, jailed, with one on Death Row, for a crime they didn’t commit, and that’s the West Memphis Three.

I don’t have the space here to recreate the entire case of the West Memphis Three, but the gist of it is as follows. Three Arkansas teens were arrested for the mutilation and murder of three eight year old boys. There was no evidence linking them to the crime, but the townspeople weren’t fond of the young men’s actions, which included dressing in black, reading horror novels, creative writing and listening to heavy metal. These actions, according to the townspeople, meant the teenagers were part of the occult. This was used in court and, along with a forced admission that came from one of the young men, who happened to be mentally handicapped, after 12 hours of questioning without counsel or parental consent, landed the trio in jail; one on death row, one getting life without parole and one getting life plus forty years. There is a fantastic book written on their case titled Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt that I highly recommend.

Clearly we have injustice due to one’s standing in the community based on their outside appearances in this situation, doesn’t this sound like something any and every rights activist should be involved in? It’s the system failing the people. Henry Rollins, after reading up on the case, decided to spread awareness and raise funds for the young men’s cause by creating an album and a tour. He then wrote a book on his experiences doing both. The book, entitled Broken Summers, includes a fantastic section where he met the parents of the one of eight year olds who had been murdered and they told him how happy they were he was trying to help find out who really killed their child because even they felt the wrong people were convicted.

Now I don’t want everyone who reads this to think that I’m taking the case of the Jena 6 lightly, because I’m not, but before anyone jumps onto an Al Sharpton bandwagon let’s not forget he has a long history of being very wrong about high profile cases (Duke Lacrosse, Tawana Brawley), inciting terrible racial divides, never apologizing when he’s wrong, just moving on to the next event he can put his face on. The man, at times, does much more harm for race relations than good. Clearly attempted murder via a shoe is ridiculous and that’s what people should be focusing on. Sadly the race angle is where everyone is going with it. Is there a race angle? Yes, of course there is, but is that what’s most important? No, what’s most important is that these kids are on trail for attempted murder rather than the assault and battery they committed. If you think race has something to do with it that’s fine, there’s a very good chance you’re right, but the facts of the situations are that in Jena, LA, six kids did commit a crime of some sort and could land in some trouble (one was convicted to assault and battery, along with the conspiracy to commit it, but that was overturned when an appeals court ruled he shouldn’t have been tried as an adult), while in West Memphis, AR, three young men have been forced to grow up in prison for a crime they clearly didn’t commit. If Sharpton, or anyone, wanted to start a march, or wanted to start a protest, he should have done it for those who need it most, not for those who would get him the most press.

Related Links

AP: Local’s Dispute Growing Story of Jena 6
WM3.org: WM3.org
Wikipedia: WM3 on Wikipedia
Ark Times: New Evidence in West Memphis Murders
Amazon: Devil’s Knot
Amazon: Broken Summers

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