09/21/07 — No violence: That’s the message protesters should be sending in Jena

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No violence: That’s the message protesters should be sending in Jena

There is a time when you can no longer keep silent about a perceived wrong — when nothing will do but circling the wagons, gathering up protest signs and being physically present to stand for what’s right.

And thousands of people thought they were doing just that this week. They packed up their suitcases and headed for Louisiana.

They were there to support the Jena 6 — a group of black teenagers whom they feel have been mistreated in their community.

The issue is complicated. It started with an argument over a spot under a tree, escalated when nooses were placed in that tree and ended in a white student being beaten up. After that, attempted second-degree murder charges were filed against the students involved. Later, the charges were altered, but the damage had been done.

Many say there was an overreaction to the crime — and not enough of a reaction to the initial incident that prompted the action — the nooses.

And there is no question that the students involved in the noose incident deserved more than just a slap on the wrist. This is not a youthful prank or a silly mistake by a group of well-meaning teenagers. Those young people knew what those nooses signified and chose to send a message with them. That sort of behavior should not be tolerated.

But those who traveled hundreds of miles in some cases to head to Jena did not get it either.

They were there to support a group of teenagers who chose to beat up a classmate as a reaction to a perceived wrong.

That is not the kind of behavior anyone should support.

The town of Jena might have been trying to send a message — violence of any kind will not be tolerated, no matter what they motivation behind it. Officials sure seem to have gotten the attention of the community.

Those who gathered to protest should be making sure their voices echo that same message. They should not be there to support the actions of the Jena 6. They should be there to spark a campaign of awareness and to make a statement about justice, tolerance and why neither group handled itself with dignity or honor.

They should not make these six young men heroes. They are thugs who chose to beat up another young man rather than going through the proper channels. They should not be greeted with cheers. Their actions were wrong — no matter what the motivation.

Changing views in any community starts with leadership — and that cannot be accomplished with guns or fists. Jena has an opportunity to send a message to its young people on what’s right and what’s wrong — and to lead a discussion about tolerance and the future.

Let’s hope the protests have not obscured that vision, and city and school leaders understand the responsibility that they now have to stand for what’s right.

Published in Editorials on September 21, 2007 10:50 AM