Saturday, June 27, 2009

Who are the Jena 6?

The Jena Six are a group of six black teenagers convicted in the beating of Justin Barker, a white student at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana, United States, on December 4, 2006. Barker was injured in the assault by the members of the Jena Six, and received treatment for his injuries at an emergency room. While the case was pending, it was often cited as an example of racial injustice in the United States, due to a belief that the defendants had initially been charged with too-serious offenses and had been treated unfairly.

A number of events took place in and around Jena in the months preceding the Barker assault, which have been linked to an alleged escalation of racial tensions. These events included the hanging of nooses from a tree in the high school courtyard, two violent confrontations between white and black youths, and the destruction by fire of the main building of Jena High School. The incidents were often linked in the extensive news coverage regarding the Jena Six.

Six individuals (Robert Bailey, then aged 17; Mychal Bell, then 16; Carwin Jones, then 18; Bryant Purvis, then 17; Jesse Ray Beard, then 14; and Theo Shaw, then 17) were arrested in the assault on Barker. One, Mychal Bell, was initially convicted as an adult of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. His convictions were overturned on the ground that he should have been tried as a juvenile. Prior to a retrial in juvenile court, he pled guilty to a reduced charge of simple battery. The other five defendants later pled no contest, and were convicted of the same offense.

The Jena Six case sparked protests by those viewing the arrests and subsequent charges, initially attempted second-degree murder (though later reduced), as excessive and racially discriminatory. The protesters asserted that white Jena youths involved in other incidents were treated leniently. On September 20, 2007, between 15,000 and 20,000 protesters marched on Jena in what was described as the "largest civil rights demonstration in years".[2][3] Related protests were held in other US cities on the same day.[4] Subsequent reactions included songs alluding to the Jena Six, a considerable number of editorials and opinion columns, and Congressional hearings.

Background to the assault - Noose hanging

Jena High SchoolAt Jena High School, about 10% of students are black and more than 80% are white, reflecting the population of the town of Jena, which has about 3,000 people. Some early reporting indicated that students of different races seldom sat together, although this has been disputed. According to early reports, black students typically sat on bleachers near the auditorium, while white students sat under a large tree in the center of the school courtyard, referred to as the "white tree" or "prep tree". According to some of the school's teachers and administrators, the tree in question was not a "white tree" and students of all races had sat under it at one time or another.

A school assembly was held on August 31, 2006. A black male freshman asked the principal whether he could sit under the tree. According to Donald Washington, United States Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, the principal stated that the question was posed in a "jocular fashion". The principal told the students they could "sit wherever they wanted". According to some reports, the freshman and his friends then sat under the tree.

The following morning, nooses were discovered hanging from the tree. Reports differ as to whether there were two or three nooses. A black teacher described seeing both white and black students "playing with [the nooses], pulling on them, jump-swinging from them, and putting their heads through them" that same day. Craig Franklin, assistant editor of The Jena Times, stated that the nooses were actually a prank by three students aimed at white members of the school rodeo team, and that the school's investigating committee had concluded that "the three young teens had no knowledge that nooses symbolize the terrible legacy of the lynchings of countless blacks in American history." The names of those who hung the nooses have not been publicly disclosed.

From Wikipedia.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Can the Obamas desegregate the Vinyard?

The rumors that the Obamas will be vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard this summer have been spreading since April. Locals are famously ho-hum about these kinds of things, but even they admit that this could be an unusually crowded August on the island, with three sets of Democratic Party royalty descending at once.

The Clintons are expected to return to Edgartown, where they have often stayed at the home of Richard Friedman, a Boston real-estate developer. Caroline Kennedy will be at her mother’s former estate in Aquinnah. And while the Obamas’ plans are still unannounced, most people expect the First Family to settle on Oak Bluffs, at the northeast end of Martha’s Vineyard.

A few Vineyarders say they know whose home it’ll be. “The rumor is that it’s Wayne Budd,” says one, referring to the prominent Boston lawyer who was associate U.S. attorney general under the first President Bush. “He has a very large house with guesthouses that would be perfect for the Secret Service and his staff.” Budd has denied this, and a wealthy friend of the Obamas who claims to have been provided a photo of the chosen house says that the Oak Bluffs rumor is wrong. “The picture I received looks like it could be West Chop,” this friend says, referring to a neighborhood across the harbor. “But West Chop is totally white—so totally white that it would be a surprise.”

Even if the Obamas do choose West Chop, they’ll surely spend considerable time in Oak Bluffs, a town known for attracting most of the upper-class black professionals who stay on the island. As liberal as it is, the Vineyard is about as racially integrated as a college dining hall—blacks and whites get along fine, but they generally don’t socialize. “There’s not a lot of overlap between black and white,” says radio executive Skip Finley, who started vacationing in Oak Bluffs in 1954 and has been living there full-time for the past decade. “I don’t think anybody’s insulted by it. I’m certainly not.” It’s an arrangement that springs largely from the self-segregating impulse among black Vineyarders, who have come to the island to connect with each other. “We have people here who are black and upscale and racist,” Finley continues. “They don’t want to be around white folks, and they don’t have to.” By choosing to vacation in and around Oak Bluffs, the Obamas would be throwing a spotlight on one of the most demographically unusual towns in America.

... here.

In 1912, a former slave named Charles Shearer opened the first summer inn in Oak Bluffs that catered specifically to black patrons. Only a few dozen blacks visited the island at the time, but over the years Oak Bluffs has become the summer meeting place for scores of what could be called the Only Ones—black professional and social elites who travel in worlds where they’re often the only black person in the room. The Only Ones typically break into fields or companies that admit few blacks, move into neighborhoods where few blacks live, and send their kids to mostly white schools. They are not running from their own—they’re chasing after the best they can get. They aren’t assimilationist; they’re ascensionist.

Senator Edward Brooke, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Ethel Waters, Paul Robeson, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. all made visits to Oak Bluffs. The novelist Dorothy West moved to the island in the forties, working for the Vineyard Gazette first as a file clerk and then, for decades, as a columnist who wrote about the prominent blacks visiting the island. Today’s summer vacationers come from the worlds of academia (like Harvard professors Skip Gates, Charles Ogletree, and Lani Guinier), media (NPR correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault, former ABC News anchor Carole Simpson), film (directors Spike Lee and Reggie Hudlin), and politics (Valerie Jarrett, who hosted the Obamas in 2007). “If you’re upper-middle class and black, this is your spot,” Finley says. “You’re going to find a way to spend a little bit of quality time here on this island.” In Oak Bluffs, the Only Ones become one of many. “I went to a garden party last weekend,” Simpson says, “and you would not believe the occupations of the people I met there. It’s like all the African-American East Coast professionals have chosen this place to socialize with each other.”

Not all blacks stay in Oak Bluffs; Vernon Jordan lives about fifteen miles away, in Chilmark. And the social scene in Oak Bluffs doesn’t exclude white islanders. Craig Hockmeyer, who owns a bicycle shop in nearby Vineyard Haven, says he spent many nights at Lola’s, which was, until its recent closing, a central part of the Vineyard black universe. “A bald white honky like me could go in there and feel totally comfortable and dance the night away with all the rich black folks, not a problem at all.” Still, Vineyard whites understand that blacks in Oak Bluffs take their socializing seriously. “I think the African-American summer community is more active in terms of the social network,” says Ron Mechur, a local real-estate appraiser. “They do more things, host more affairs, and support one another as friends. The white community doesn’t do as much, and they’re not as connected.”

Read the entire article here...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive

Could this be in Peoria's future? If so, there are a few buildings in my neighborhood I would love to see razed:

The government looking at expanding a pioneering scheme in Flint, one of the poorest US cities, which involves razing entire districts and returning the land to nature.

Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40 per cent, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area.The radical experiment is the brainchild of Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint.

Having outlined his strategy to Barack Obama during the election campaign, Mr Kildee has now been approached by the US government and a group of charities who want him to apply what he has learnt to the rest of the country.

Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution, an influential Washington think-tank, as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes.

Most are former industrial cities in the "rust belt" of America's Mid-West and North East. They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis.

In Detroit, shattered by the woes of the US car industry, there are already plans to split it into a collection of small urban centres separated from each other by countryside.

"The real question is not whether these cities shrink – we're all shrinking – but whether we let it happen in a destructive or sustainable way," said Mr Kildee. "Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity."

Karina Pallagst, director of the Shrinking Cities in a Global Perspective programme at the University of California, Berkeley, said there was "both a cultural and political taboo" about admitting decline in America.

"Places like Flint have hit rock bottom. They're at the point where it's better to start knocking a lot of buildings down," she said.

Flint, sixty miles north of Detroit, was the original home of General Motors. The car giant once employed 79,000 local people but that figure has shrunk to around 8,000. Unemployment is now approaching 20 per cent and the total population has almost halved to 110,000.

The exodus – particularly of young people – coupled with the consequent collapse in property prices, has left street after street in sections of the city almost entirely abandoned.

In the city centre, the once grand Durant Hotel – named after William Durant, GM's founder – is a symbol of the city's decline, said Mr Kildee. The large building has been empty since 1973, roughly when Flint's decline began.

Regarded as a model city in the motor industry's boom years, Flint may once again be emulated, though for very different reasons.

But Mr Kildee, who has lived there nearly all his life, said he had first to overcome a deeply ingrained American cultural mindset that "big is good" and that cities should sprawl – Flint covers 34 square miles.

He said: "The obsession with growth is sadly a very American thing. Across the US, there's an assumption that all development is good, that if communities are growing they are successful. If they're shrinking, they're failing."

But some Flint dustcarts are collecting just one rubbish bag a week, roads are decaying, police are very understaffed and there were simply too few people to pay for services, he said.If the city didn't downsize it will eventually go bankrupt, he added.

Flint's recovery efforts have been helped by a new state law passed a few years ago which allowed local governments to buy up empty properties very cheaply.

They could then knock them down or sell them on to owners who will occupy them. The city wants to specialise in health and education services, both areas which cannot easily be relocated abroad.

The local authority has restored the city's attractive but formerly deserted centre but has pulled down 1,100 abandoned homes in outlying areas.

Mr Kildee estimated another 3,000 needed to be demolished, although the city boundaries will remain the same. Already, some streets peter out into woods or meadows, no trace remaining of the homes that once stood there. Choosing which areas to knock down will be delicate but many of them were already obvious, he said.

The city is buying up houses in more affluent areas to offer people in neighbourhoods it wants to demolish. Nobody will be forced to move, said Mr Kildee. "Much of the land will be given back to nature. People will enjoy living near a forest or meadow," he said.

Mr Kildee acknowledged that some fellow Americans considered his solution "defeatist" but he insisted it was "no more defeatist than pruning an overgrown tree so it can bear fruit again".

Building in photo: Western Avenue at West Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.; Peoria, Illinois