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Voices of Trinity: Jena Six, Part III


On Thursday, September 20, some Trinity students will be heading to the U.S. Capitol at 7 am to join a march in solidarity with the Jena 6; others will be wearing black. Many comments continue to cross my desk about this case from throughout the Trinity community. These were posted on the message board in the Well:

From Sr. Patty Chappell, SND, a member of the SND Anti-Racism Team, and also a member of Trinity’s Board of Trustees:

“The Sisters of Notre Dame Anti-Racism Team will be heading to Jena, LA on Wednesday. Please pray that the vigil and march will be without violence. Let us stand in solidarity with these young men and their families.”


“As a senior here at Trinity it warms my heart to see an effort being done here to keep the flow of knowledge and injustice in check. I wish so much that I could board a bus and head to Jena on the 20th. Jena is a town just a few miles from where I have family and spent a family reunion this past June! I will wear black in support of the solidarity of this important cause, and use my communication skills to keep others informed…”


“The Jena 6 organization is great. There are so many forces out there in the world that are going to challenge us. We must stay strong and focused on Human Rights.”

A different point of view, unsigned:

“Personally I feel like those boys should have known better than to beat a person within an inch of their death. The case in my opinion is not an issue of color, it’s an issue of right from wrong. So, yes, you do the crime be prepared to do the time… The Jena 6 case is just another unfortunate case in which yet another young minority is sent to prison over a stupid decision.”

Another point of view:

“The issue of the Jena Six brings many questions to mind, including — have we accomplished so little in the past fifty years? — did the sacrifices of so many mean so little?”

From Shantae J. Elliott:

“As for the ‘Jena 6’ receiving due process and equal protection of the laws, it’s a 50/50 situation. The Jena 6 are being charged for their violent acts of crime, in which it is proven that they took part. However, there were young men (of the white race) who committed some of the very same crimes… yet they have not been charged or convicted. Do we propose that this is equal?…Could it simply be that even though the Jena 6 should pay consequences for a school fight, should their consequences be equal to that of an attempted murderer?”

Comments also continue to arrive via email. From Pathenia Proctor:

“I did a paper on Jena 6 in philosophy class during the summer. In addition, I signed a petition a about a month ago because these black teenagers’ punishments are harsh. They were provoked to engage in a fight to defend themselves (hanging noose on a tree — to me and anyone who can read through symbolism knows that this is a threat and action is soon to follow considering that this took place in the deep south) over sitting under some tree called “the white tree.” Their white counterparts did not get the same treatment. They received a slap on the wrist and were sent home. What an insult!! Anyway, these black teenagers are looking at during some serious time and it is nothing to sneeze at at all. To add insult to injury, the first teenager tried for the so called crime, did not received due process under the constitution. Not to mentioned, he was not allowed to have any witnesses to speak in his defense and his family was not allowed to be in the court room. … It goes to show that racial issues as far as hate and discriminatory practice are alive and thriving …”

Additional comments from faculty:

From Dr. Ray Adomaitis, Associate Professor of Counseling:

“Having lived and worked not far from Jena, Louisiana recently the sad news about this event raced through my heart and mind like one of my past multicultural counseling classes in which African American and White students sometimes squared off nervously because of their respective cultural and racial backgrounds. My black students cheered me for encouraging and supporting a debate on racial themes long overdue — as I recall one student said to me privately at first “finally, we’re reading and talking about how I feel.” I noticed her quietly crying in the hallway during a break during the following week’s evening class — several of the white students in class spoke up strongly in class that evening expressing their displeasure with the concept and any related emphasis on “white privilege” past and present. There it was right in front of us our inherited and ongoing racial struggles filled with stereotypes, misunderstanding, apprehension, fear and anger just below the customarily suppressed and relatively calm surface.

“I recall asking myself then as I still do in these situations the rhetorical question I once heard R.D. Laing, the renowned psychiatrist from Glasgow, pose: What do you do when you don’t know what to do? He paused and said, “To heck if I know.” I paraphrased Laing in class and during the rest of the semester as they say “a whole lot of shaking” went on, and in the end we saw the crisis among us, and lived through it with newer understanding and sensitivity. So, I say the Jena 6 is a sad reminder of our collective experience that finds and needs open thoughtful expression in class, in the media, at lunch and work, and in our minds. If we face the reality of our experience as it is (“what to do when we don’t know what to do”), I’m fully confident we can make further constructive strides toward learning about others and ourselves. That’s my hope. I don’t know what else to do just now, as I listen to the incoming news and as my own thoughts race through me, but I have hope and confidence.”

From Dr. Eric Fontaine, Adjunct Professor in SPS:

“I believe that the Jena Six have had their constitutional rights trampled on, and that the underlying cause is racism. I say ‘underlying’ because the Jena Six were treated much more harshly than their white counterparts, and there does not appear to be any other distinguishing factors between the two groups of school children other than race. Had the matter not touched off such a firestorm of media attention; it is possible to imagine a scenario where the Jena Six would already be serving time for their ‘infractions’. Our constitution promises each citizen certain rights, and among those rights are equal protection under the laws and due process, meaning procedurally, we can all expect to be treated the same. That was not the case with the Jena Six. Fortunately, our court system can make amends, and rectify this matter. It seems to me however, that only an exoneration of the Jena Six of all charges will make them whole at this point. They have already been sullied and mistreated and shown the underside of the American legal system. Complete exoneration would demonstrate a significant step towards righting the wrongs already visited upon these six children. What better way to uphold the importance of Constitution Day?”

From Dr. Suzanne Goodney Lea, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice:

“My SOCY 306: Law Enforcement class talked about the Jena 6 case this week. I wanted to share a few themes that emerged from the students’ impressions:

– The
idea that the U.S. claims segregation and racial issues are a thing of the past when they really aren’t. Racism isn’t over and it won’t be for a long time. When will more people stand up for what’s right?

– The knowledge that racism is alive and well in this country tempered with surprise at such a blatant example.

– How color still determines so much about one’s life in the U.S. and how some people of color who were foreign-born experienced this color-force only on arriving here.

– Concern that our ancestors fought to eradicate racism, only to have it still alive and well — the feeling that this is not what people want their kids to experience in this life.

– The observation that the judicial system would take such an extreme approach to what was a schoolyard fight — why isn’t something taking place on the schoolyard handled within the confines of the school?

– Why weren’t the white students prosecuted criminally for doing the same thing with which the black students were charged?

– Such racial situations happen up north, too.

“Being a student of criminal justice myself, I am no longer surprised to find such blatant abuses within the criminal justice system. While the Jena 6 case is a powerful example of due process violations, there are so many other examples of inequalities within the CJ system: the fact that inmates of color represent 60-70% of all inmates in many of our nation’s state prison systems; the fact that a black male is about six times more likely than his white counterpart to be killed by a police officer; the fact that there are no national statistics kept on police use of force — even in cases in which the officer kills a civilian. Localities keep statistics, of course, but there is no federal-level data collection maintained (such as the Uniform Crime Reports data). On the other hand, if an officer is killed in the line of duty, hundreds of data points are collected and compiled into a national database for each incident. Since police killing of a suspect is relatively rare in any particular locality, it is hard to analyze those cases without national-level data.

“I believe that some of these inequalities might be more seriously addressed if there was greater representation of non-whites within the CJ system — especially within the higher echelons of that system (judges, state administrators, high level administrators at the Department of Justice, etc.). Many white people in this country do like to think that racism is a thing of the past, but — as I discussed recently with one of my colleagues over lunch — the U.S. has never dealt with its racialized past in the way that, say, South Africa has. And so, skin color continues to determine so much about a person’s life chances but is now framed as a non-issue, which makes things arguably worse. If racism is no longer an issue, what do you do and who do you call when you see it? While there are protections in place within workplaces, even there it is often a matter of one person’s word against another’s. These forces are often now quite subtle and thus difficult to “prove.”

“Of course, the bottom line with racism is ultimately power and position. If one looks at workplace statistics, one finds that there is more equality of employment by racial and ethnic breakdown in many sectors — until one gets to the top administrative positions or to the Fortune 500 boards. There, nonwhites are much less represented. White women now have more representation in higher administrative positions, but their non-white counterparts do not (see this chart which looks at race/ethnicity breakdowns for federal employees; if one looks carefully at the distribution by race/ethnicity of people in positions at the GS 11-15 levels (the highest federal positions), there is still a very low representation of non-whites—and the federal government is one of the more “progressive” employers in that they are highly regulated as to their observance of affirmative action protocols). And while women still only comprise about 12-13% of Fortune 500 board membership, their non-white female counterparts comprise just 3.6%. Until we see more integration in positions of power and authority, discriminatory practices such as those evidenced in Jena 6 will continue to be tolerated.”

From Dr. Robert Redmond, Associate Professor of Education:

“It reminds me of the Emmett Till case back in 1955 in Money Mississippi. I thought we, as a nation, had moved past that kind of inhumane treatment. It is outrageous that they would charge those boys with second degree murder.”

See this Washington Post article today…

See this CNN.COM article…


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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: