FIST commentary: Jena 6 highlight right to self-defense
Posted by raleighfist on October 3, 2007
By Larry Hales
“I don’t favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good.
Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I’m also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are Black people.”
“Nonviolence is only preached to Black Americans, and I don’t go along with anyone who wants to teach our people nonviolence until someone at the same time is teaching our enemy to be nonviolent. I believe we should protect ourselves by any means necessary when we are attacked by racists.”
—Malcolm X, 1965
Surely no Black person, for that matter any oppressed person, considers the hanging of nooses a prank. Nor should any white per- son. Such a thing is never done in jest, but is a threat of an intended action, a threat meant to control behavior or actions. It is a threat of an oppressor to keep the oppressed in line. The racists who hung the nooses were very clear on what they were doing. Thousands of Black people have been lynched in this country, extra-legally and legally. There have been numerous studies of recorded lynchings of Black people, especially between 1865 and 1965. There are no really accurate numbers but most historians agree that these numbers range in the thousands, with the largest disproportionate number taking place in the South beginning with the end of Reconstruction.
The lynchings continued even after 1965. In 1981 19-year-old Michael Donald was lynched in Alabama. James Byrd was
dragged to his death in 1998 in Texas; though he was not hanged with a rope, this is still considered a lynching.
So a noose is not a benign symbol.
The young Black students, now known as the Jena 6, who sat under the “White Students Only” tree, challenging a racist code at the high school in Jena, La., took a bold action. Their action is reminiscent of the actions taken by SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
) and other groups at lunch counters during the Civil Rights era in the South.
When the oppressed resist or defend themselves, the state will seek to crush any inkling of resistance and defense before racist terror. This is so because racism is a weapon of the U.S. capitalist rulers. The virulent ultra-right racists, such as the KKK or Nazi skinheads, are small. It may be difficult to ascertain their actual numbers, but relative to the actual number of people in the United States, their numbers are very small. Even the Minutemen, racists who have doffed their in number. They have attempted, but failed, to ally themselves with oppressed nationalities who are U.S. citizens against immigrant workers—to divide the unity of the oppressed.
But, as Sam Marcy, the late chair pers
on of Workers World Party, wrote in “The Klan & the Government: Foes or Allies”: “The financing and the spread of neo-fascist and downright KKK and Nazi groupings is a logical supplement to the legal repressive and terrorist apparatus of the capitalist state in time
s of need. For that reason, a short-lived perspective in fighting the fascist menace is erroneous.”
Movements don’t spring up spontaneously. Marcy also pointed out, “Capitalism is the fountainhead of political reaction in general and of KKK and neo-Nazi terror in particular.” Reaction springs from the system itself. While ultra-right groupings may appear to be on the fringe and isolated, they never disappear and are never insignificant under capitalism. Groups like the Minutemen, in seething chauvinist fits, will try to appeal to the masses in aneconomic downturn, such as is beginning now, but they exist to confuse workers in general, to divide the oppressed from one another, but ultimately to maintain the white supremacist-dominated U.S. capitalist system.
The events in Jena highlight perfectly the racism inherent and endemic to the system. Many have and will continue to try
to minimize the impact of hanging nooses by labeling it as an isolated event or a prank.
Even in defense of the Je
na 6, some may say, “It was just a school fight. Why the ridiculous charges against the six young Black men?”
However, it should be stated emphatically that what the Black youths did was self-defense and that it is the right of the oppressed to defend themselves. Demonization of Black youth The state’s response is a symptom of the racist in-justice system. This can be seen in the criminalization of the poor, especially people of color. Black people make up half of the more than 2.2 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons. Add the number of people in jails and on parole or awaiting trial and the number is over 8 million.
Unemployment in the Black community has been consistently in the double digits and in major cities such as New York can be as high as 50 percent for young men in their twenties. The lack of health care, education and other disparities are all glaring in the and similar for a
ll the oppressed.
Black people are vilified and Black men in particular are made society’s pariah. These are the conditions the Jena 6—Robert Bailey Jr., 17; Theo Shaw, 17; Carwin Jones, 18; Bryant Purvis, 17; Jessie Rae Beard, 14; and
Mychal Bell, 16—lived with at the time of their arrest. When the nooses were hung from the tree, history compounded with the nature of racism today. If Jena was and is not a racist place, as some white residents have claimed—all while avoiding the mass march that symbolized an uprising of Black people across the country in response to the Jena 6 case—then the students responsible would have been dealt with by the white residents in solidarity with the Black residents.
This, however, is not what happened. A series of events occurred, including the light treatment of the white students who hung the nooses; the threat by the district attorney to make the lives of the Black students disappear with the “stroke of his pen”; the beating of Robert Bailey; the pulling of a shotgun on Robert Bailey and two of his friends, and subsequent theft charges after the young men
disarmed the white person.
Nothing was done. What were the young men to do in the wake of these attacks and threats? What was left to them in a small town that is more than 85 percent white? When Justin Barker was attacked for jeering Robert Bailey and calling the young men the “n” word, the young men were standing up and defending their fellow students, themselves and the entire Black community.
The response of the local state officials was an assertion that young Black men don’t have the right to self-defense—that they should cower and hide, because the officials already showed they would not act to stop the racists.
The Jena 6 are heroes and should be held in that light, as history will attest. Their actions of defense were for the oppressed of Jena, for the people of New Orleans, victims of police brutality and racist terror. Their actions and the reaction of the state have awakened the Black masses and have sparked an emerging uprising across the country.
It is up to the anti-racist, anti-imperial
ist movement to lift up the Jena 6. Their freedom must be demanded. All charges should be dropped and the D.A. strippe
d of his position and license to practice law. And the progressive and working-class movements should affirm and support the right of the oppressed to self-defense.
The writer is a leader of FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together) youth group.