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Author: Subject: Strange Fruit Down South- The March On Jena, Louisiana

Zen Peach





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  posted on 9/19/2007 at 05:38 PM
quote:
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-09-18-Jena_N.htm


Civil 'Jena Six' town braces for rally

By Marisol Bello, USA TODAY
JENA, La. — In some ways, this town is still the same rural community it was a half-century ago, before integration pushed blacks and whites together in schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.
African-Americans, who are a little more than a tenth of the town's nearly 3,000 people, still live mostly in the two areas that have always been the black sections of town. They worship separately from white churchgoers. When they die, they are buried in the black cemetery.

Jena's residents, black and white, say such separation is typical of small towns — and some big cities — in the South. They say it doesn't justify a portrait of a town awash in racial hate, the portrait they think black activists and the news media have sent worldwide after a tense year that ended with six black teens charged with attempted murder for beating a white classmate in December.


IN-DEPTH: FAQ on the case - 'The Town Talk' of Alexandria, La.
Now Jena (pronounced JEEN-uh), which never experienced the marches of the 1960s civil rights movement, is about to see a replay of that movement. Tens of thousands of demonstrators, rallied by bloggers, newspapers and black radio hosts, are on buses heading for Jena from across the country. With leaders including Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III, and hip-hop artist Mos Def, they'll rally at the courthouse steps Thursday on behalf of the teens who have come to be known as the "Jena Six."

The case has been overblown, some people say.

"I work with blacks and whites," says Linda McCartney, 41, a white second-grade teacher who has lived here all her life. "The majority of people get along."

Carol Brown, 35, a black home health aide, says, "Jena is a good place to live and call home. … There are some people who are prejudiced, but those who are not outnumber the ones who are."

Jena at one time was known as the home of some of Louisiana's largest sawmills. It has been struggling since the mills began to close in the 1950s.

Now Jena is known for the Jena Six. The charges followed a series of incidents that began at the start of school in 2006, when nooses were hung from a tree, a traditional gathering place for white students, after a black student asked to sit under it.

Last week, an appeals court overturned the first conviction. Mychal Bell, 17, had been scheduled for sentencing on Thursday. The prosecutor, Reed Walters, will appeal. Charges for three others have been reduced to aggravated battery.

Now, on the eve of a rally that organizers say may bring 40,000 people from across the country, Jena is mired in misunderstanding and distrust.

"A lot of people are frustrated," says Eddie Thompson, 46, Pentecostal pastor of the Sanctuary Family Worship Center. He is white. "Basically, it's the story of another town. You can understand someone watching TV and hearing different reports about a town so blindly racist, with trees for whites only and such, joining a march. I would join that march, too."

Residents black and white worry about the sheer numbers of people expected.

"We're scared to death" that violence may break out, says Billy Fowler, 68, a white school board member, as he drives through the town's only two stoplights. He says schools are closing because of worries about traffic backups.

Around the courthouse, a gift shop, diner and other businesses have posted signs to say they will be closed Thursday.

Brian Moran, 25, the acting president of Jena's newly formed NAACP chapter, says the rally will be peaceful and will call attention to how the Jena Six have been treated.

Jena has come a long way from the days when blacks couldn't live outside of certain sections and the Ku Klux Klan was active, says Harry "Cuz" Roberts, the white owner of LaSalle Florist.

Some blacks in Jena, though, say racism is a part of daily life.

Jim Douglas, 65, a black retired electrical engineer who returned to Jena 17 years ago after living in Las Vegas, says race relations have not changed much since he marched in Baton Rouge in the 1960s.

He lives in the Tall Timber Quarters, where poor blacks who worked for the mills used to live. The section, a mix of ramshackle trailers and well-kept homes, is still predominantly black.

"You still have the sense of the old deep South," he says. "They still have the good ol' boy system."

Brown says she hasn't had many problems in Jena, except for one area: how the law treats blacks.

Two years ago, Brown says, her daughter was convicted of disorderly conduct for a school fight even though one of her teachers backed up her statement that she wasn't there.

"Criminal justice and race are inextricably intertwined in the South," says Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He says the civil rights movement never reached Jena and other towns in north-central Louisiana.

One place where blacks and whites in Jena mingle easily is the football field.

Last week during Jena High School's homecoming, graduates cheered the Jena Giants, holding up signs showing the years they graduated. Principal Glen Joiner pointed out that blacks and whites who attended school together sat next to each other at the game.

"Would they all have come back if we had bad racial problems?" he asks.

On Monday, a hot, humid Louisiana evening, parents gathered to watch the junior varsity beat the Caldwell Parish Spartans 20-to-8. After the game, black and white players held hands and prayed.

"See that?" Joiner says. "That's what we're about. You see whites and blacks together in prayer. They're a team. That's a bond these kids have."

 

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Zen Peach



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  posted on 9/19/2007 at 05:45 PM
quote:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/19/us/19jena.html?em&ex=1190347200&e n=5539c783f17b722d&ei=5087%0A



By RICHARD G. JONES
Published: September 19, 2007


JENA, La., Sept. 18 — They called it the White Tree. Not because of the color of its leaves or tint of its bark, but because of the kind of people who typically sat beneath its shade here at Jena High School.

And when a black student tried to defy that tradition by sitting under the tree last September, it set off a series of events that have turned this town of 3,000 in central Louisiana’s timber country into a flashpoint over the issue of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Three nooses quickly appeared on the tree a day after the black student sat under it, and not long afterward, the authorities said a white student had been beaten by six black schoolmates. The white student was treated at a local hospital and released; the black students were charged, not with assault, but with attempted murder.

Local civil rights groups objected to what they saw as a throwback to the worst kind of Deep South justice, and that protest has escalated into a nationwide campaign, through Web sites, bulk e-mail and instant messages, black radio stations and YouTube. The effort will reach its peak on Thursday, when thousands are expected to demonstrate here against what they say is the unfair treatment of the black students, who have come to be known as the Jena Six.

Lawyers involved in the case say the attention that the teenagers have received has prompted prosecutors to reduce some of the charges against the youths. And last Friday, an appeals court tossed out the conviction of the only student who has been tried in the case.

Even as Jena (pronounced GEE-nuh) girds itself for Thursday’s demonstration, the town — which has already undergone a measure of soul-searching since the case began — finds itself divided sharply over precisely what the case says about their town and themselves.

“Every year at Jena High School there’s a black-and-white fight,” said Casa Compton, 26, a Jena native, who is black. “It’s always been tense. There’s always been prejudice and bigotry here. Every day they’re throwing away a black man’s life down here.”

But Tina Norris, 45, owner of the Café Martin restaurant, said she was amazed at the kind of publicity her town was now receiving.

“They make it sound like the whole town of Jena is just one big K.K.K. rally,” said Ms. Norris, who is white. “It isn’t. We don’t have a lot of problems here. This is just a small town.”

Critics of how the case has been handled argue that the treatment of the black students is evidence of the persistence of corrosive attitudes about race and crime.

“I think a lot of people recognize that the criminal justice system grinds down people of color every day,” said J. Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the civil rights group based in Montgomery, Ala. “Oftentimes, it’s nameless, it’s faceless. We know the story in a generic way but not specifically. People see Jena as the tip of the iceberg and ask, ‘What lies beneath?’ ”

The legal case began on Dec. 4, when the authorities said that the black youths — Robert Bailey Jr., 17; Jesse Beard, 15; Mychal Bell, 17; Carwin Jones, 18; Bryant Purvis, 17; and Theo Shaw, 17 — beat a white classmate in a confrontation outside the school gymnasium. The charges of attempted murder have been scaled back to offenses like aggravated battery and conspiracy, of which Mr. Bell was convicted on June 28.

Last Friday, an appeals court found that Mr. Bell had been improperly tried in adult court on the battery charge and threw out that conviction. Another judge tossed out the conspiracy conviction earlier this month. School officials cut down the tree.

Reed Walters, the district attorney of LaSalle Parish, did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Bell is still being held in jail while prosecutors deliberate whether to file new charges against him in juvenile court. The case of Mr. Bell — the only one of the six who has been jailed since the fight in December — has struck a chord among many who have followed the case.

“In Jena, for those who have been under the illusion that changes have occurred, this is a wake-up call,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of Operation PUSH/Rainbow Coalition and an organizer of Thursday’s rally, said in a phone interview, comparing the case to seminal moments like the Montgomery bus boycott that began in 1955.

College students have been a driving force in promoting the Jena case, and some of those who study race relations say that it has galvanized a generation that is often criticized by veterans of the social activist movement as being too complacent.

“What my students say is, ‘It could be any one of us that could be in this predicament,’ ” said Jas Sullivan, a political scientist at Louisiana State University. “What I see in their eyes is that this could happen to them.”

But even here in Jena, there is a sense of perspective and nuance about the case that is often lost in the larger debate. There are white people, too, who say the teenagers should have been tried in juvenile court, and many blacks who insist that the teenagersshould be punished if they committed a crime, though in juvenile court.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bell’s parents, Marcus Jones and Melissa Bell, and the mother of Mr. Purvis, Tina Jones, were approached by the Rev. P. A. Paul, 78, who is white and said he was a minister at a local Baptist church. A shouting match ensued when he dismissed the hanging of nooses as “kid’s play.”

“I’ve hung nooses around my neck as a child,” he said.

“Well, you didn’t pull it tight enough,” Ms. Jones shot back.

After the two sides were separated, Mr. Bell’s parents said their son was hoping to be freed from jail soon and resume a high school football career.

“But when he gets out, we’re moving out of Jena,” Ms. Bell said.


 

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  posted on 9/19/2007 at 09:39 PM
What was done when those nooses were put up? Was anybody punished or was it treated like a joke?

 

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  posted on 9/19/2007 at 10:10 PM
I don't think anyone treated it like a joke....but it's a cause that will keep Jesse and Rev. Al in front of the cameras and we can't let that pass.

Many years ago there was a black man convicted of rape and actually there were a number of us who thought he was innocent and that his brother was the guilty party. Anyway, a bunch of activists decided to make it a cause and the NAACP trucked in a load of protesters. The KKK decided they were going to make a showing....this was in the 70s....and in came a load of them. They had their little march, their little rally and a lot of speeches to themselves because the people who lived here, both black and white, stayed home. Everyone crawled back on their buses and left after a few hours and our legal system took over and took care of the problem.

I hope that's what happens in Jena.

 

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  posted on 9/19/2007 at 10:20 PM
The nooses were put up. The white kids fought the black kids. The white kids didn't get arrested. The black kids fought the white kids and were arrested for attempted murder.

I don't know why Derek is bringing the topic up. Do the folks in Cincinnati dig stringing up black folk?

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 03:47 PM
Wtf was that about, Billy?

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 06:23 PM
This article fills in a few more blanks for me...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12353776


Beating Charges Split La. Town Along Racial Lines
by Wade Goodwyn


All Things Considered, July 30, 2007 ·

As at hundreds of other high schools across America, black and white students at Jena High School in Jena, La., rarely sit together. The white students gather under a big shade tree in the courtyard, while black students congregate near the auditorium.

But last year, a few days into the first semester, a new student, a freshman African American, asked the principal at an assembly, if he, too, could sit under the tree. He was told he could sit anywhere he liked.

Three white boys on the rodeo team apparently disagreed. The next morning, there were three nooses hanging from the shade tree in the courtyard.

Anthony Jackson is one of two black teachers at Jena High School. He laughs ruefully, as he recalls watching the nooses swaying in the tree.

"I jokingly said to another teacher, 'One's for you, one's for me. Who's the other one for?'"

Many in Jena's black community wanted the three white students expelled. But when the white superintendent and other school administrators investigated, they decided the nooses were a prank. Instead of expulsion or arrest, the three received in-school suspension.

Blacks called the punishment a double standard.

"White students can do things and receive a slap on the hand," Jackson says. But authorities "want to throw the book at blacks," he adds.

An Incident Escalates

A few of the black athletes, the stars of the football team, took the lead in resisting. The day after the nooses were hung, they reportedly organized a silent protest under the tree.

The school called an assembly and summoned the police and the district attorney. Black students sat on one side, whites on the other. District Attorney Reed Walters warned the students he could be their friend or their worst enemy. He lifted his fountain pen and said, "With one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear."

That evening, black students told their parents that the DA was looking right at them. Walters denies that. Billy Fowler, a member of the school board, doesn't believe it, either.

"He said some pretty strong things," says Fowler, "but I don't think he was directing it to anyone in particular. I think he just wanted people to calm it down."

But things didn't calm down. Some whites felt triumphant; some blacks were resentful. Fights began to break out at the high school. But that year, the football team was having an unusually good season and the black athletes were a major reason why. So while there were fights throughout the fall, nobody wanted to take any action that would hurt the team.

When the season was over, so was the truce. On Nov. 30, somebody burned down Jena High. Whites thought blacks were responsible, blacks thought the opposite.

Charges and Public Outrage

The next night, 16-year-old Robert Bailey and a few black friends tried to enter a party attended mostly by whites. When Bailey got inside, he was attacked and beaten. The next day, tensions escalated at a local convenience store. Bailey exchanged words with a white student who had been at the party. The white boy ran back to his truck and pulled out a pistol grip shotgun. Bailey ran after him and wrestled him for the gun.

After some scuffling, Bailey and his friends took the gun away and brought it home. Bailey was eventually charged with theft of a firearm, second-degree robbery and disturbing the peace. The white student who pulled the weapon was not charged at all.

The following Monday, Dec.4, a white student named Justin Barker was loudly bragging to friends in the school hallway that Robert Bailey had been whipped by a white man on Friday night. When Barker walked into the courtyard, he was attacked by a group of black students. The first punch knocked Barker out and he was kicked several times in the head. But the injuries turned out to be superficial. Barker was examined by doctors and released; he went out to a social function later that evening.

Six black students were arrested and charged with aggravated assault. But District Attorney Reed Walters increased the charges to attempted second-degree murder. That provoked a storm of black outrage.

"Jena has always been a racist town," says Bailey's mother, Caseptla Bailey. "We've understood that….It has been that way since I've lived here."

But school board member Billy Fowler disagrees.

As far as racial problems, our community is no different than any other community," Fowler says.

Fowler is one of the few leaders with the school administration or local law enforcement willing to talk to the media. The principal, the school superintendent and the district attorney all declined repeated calls for comment.

Fowler says he is appalled at reports by outside media outlets that he claims portray Jena as a racist community. But he and many other white leaders agree that the charges are unfair.

"I think it's safe to say some punishment has not been passed out fairly and evenly," Fowler says. "I think probably blacks may have gotten a little tougher discipline through the years.

"Our town is not a bunch of bigots. They're Christian, law-abiding citizens that wouldn't mistreat anybody."

But the black students and their families feel mistreated. The first to go to court was Mychal Bell, the team's star running and defensive back. Bell's court-appointed lawyer refused to mount any defense at all, instead resting his case immediately after two days of government presentation. An all-white jury found Bell guilty.

A talented athlete, Bell had a real shot at a Division I football scholarship. He now faces up to 22 years in prison. The other five black students await trial on attempted murder charges.

Over the weekend, Jena High School had the big shade tree in the courtyard chopped into firewood.

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 06:35 PM
From the article it appears that much of the racism is on the part of the people who are supposed to be keeping the peace. I'd be furious over the disparity of treatment too. I'm ashamed to admit it, but there are some small towns through out the south where the man in charge is Bubba, a 'good ol' boy' and Bubba doesn't like blacks. Really sad.
 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 08:43 PM
I don't understand. Why it's ok to gang up on someone & beat them unconscious, but hanging a couple of nooses in a tree is a no no?

What am I missing here? As the state attorney said, there is no violation of law that he could find for hanging a noose in a tree. Hence, no charges. But I'm pretty sure, and correct me if I'm wrong (I'm sure you will ), that assault, particularly assault with intent, is still a crime, regardless of the amount of melanoma in one's skin.

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 08:57 PM
The next night, 16-year-old Robert Bailey and a few black friends tried to enter a party attended mostly by whites. When Bailey got inside, he was attacked and beaten. The next day, tensions escalated at a local convenience store. Bailey exchanged words with a white student who had been at the party. The white boy ran back to his truck and pulled out a pistol grip shotgun. Bailey ran after him and wrestled him for the gun.

After some scuffling, Bailey and his friends took the gun away and brought it home. Bailey was eventually charged with theft of a firearm, second-degree robbery and disturbing the peace. The white student who pulled the weapon was not charged at all.

The following Monday, Dec.4, a white student named Justin Barker was loudly bragging to friends in the school hallway that Robert Bailey had been whipped by a white man on Friday night. When Barker walked into the courtyard, he was attacked by a group of black students. The first punch knocked Barker out and he was kicked several times in the head. But the injuries turned out to be superficial. Barker was examined by doctors and released; he went out to a social function later that evening.


Seems like a festering mess with nothing being done to stop the escallation until the blacks retaliated. Someone sees a noose in the south and you know what it means. Kids get into trouble in school today when they're 12 years old for popping a girls butt....there is no way anyone should have let the noose incident go unpunished. By not doing so, I believe it indirectly condoned the subsequent actions.

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 09:05 PM
quote:

Seems like a festering mess with nothing being done to stop the escallation until the blacks retaliated. Someone sees a noose in the south and you know what it means. Kids get into trouble in school today when they're 12 years old for popping a girls butt....there is no way anyone should have let the noose incident go unpunished. By not doing so, I believe it indirectly condoned the subsequent actions.


Retaliating? Beating someone unconscious for some stupid remarks is 'retaliation'? I'd call it a crime.

Guess your idea of 'justice' is different than mine.

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 09:12 PM
The next night, 16-year-old Robert Bailey and a few black friends tried to enter a party attended mostly by whites. When Bailey got inside, he was attacked and beaten.

In your haste to flog me with your sarcasm, did you miss the above part of the article?

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 09:14 PM
quote:
The next night, 16-year-old Robert Bailey and a few black friends tried to enter a party attended mostly by whites. When Bailey got inside, he was attacked and beaten. The next day, tensions escalated at a local convenience store. Bailey exchanged words with a white student who had been at the party. The white boy ran back to his truck and pulled out a pistol grip shotgun. Bailey ran after him and wrestled him for the gun.

After some scuffling, Bailey and his friends took the gun away and brought it home. Bailey was eventually charged with theft of a firearm, second-degree robbery and disturbing the peace. The white student who pulled the weapon was not charged at all.

The following Monday, Dec.4, a white student named Justin Barker was loudly bragging to friends in the school hallway that Robert Bailey had been whipped by a white man on Friday night. When Barker walked into the courtyard, he was attacked by a group of black students. The first punch knocked Barker out and he was kicked several times in the head. But the injuries turned out to be superficial. Barker was examined by doctors and released; he went out to a social function later that evening.


Seems like a festering mess with nothing being done to stop the escallation until the blacks retaliated. Someone sees a noose in the south and you know what it means. Kids get into trouble in school today when they're 12 years old for popping a girls butt....there is no way anyone should have let the noose incident go unpunished. By not doing so, I believe it indirectly condoned the subsequent actions.


The article said they got an in-schoool suspension. That sounds like punishment even if it wasn't as severe as some wanted. From what I read, the black kids beat the crap out of that white kid. Why should they be defended? It makes no sense. Up here in New York, when mob action by whites led to the death of black persons, the whites were convicted of murder. There's no double standard but I will tell you something, this sort of thing fuels racial tensions. Maybe I am missing something.

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 09:17 PM
It's a small town rural Southern thing.
 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 09:32 PM
quote:
The next night, 16-year-old Robert Bailey and a few black friends tried to enter a party attended mostly by whites. When Bailey got inside, he was attacked and beaten.

In your haste to flog me with your sarcasm, did you miss the above part of the article?


Not at at. Injustice is injustice. And I'm not privy to the circumstances of the party fight. The article says 'mostly attended by whites', which means that those of other 'races' (gawd, I hate that term; we are all of the human race) were already in attendance at the party. Young Master Bailey's beating may, or may have not been racially motivated. The article does not elaborate. It just inflames. Just as the article doesn't elaborate on whether or not Bailey's 'few black friends' were assaulted. One must conjecture that if the assault on Bailey was racially motivated, then his 'black friends' must have either been assaults as well, or left Master Bailey to his fate.

Unfortunately this is what passes as 'journalism' these days. They would rather inject their point of view into the story than report all the facts and allow the reader to draw their own conclusions. Much too dangerous to allow the Prols to think for themselves.

P.S. Apologies if you perceive sarcasm. It was not my intent. It's just my way of rubbing people the wrong way. I've become quite proficient at it.

[Edited on 9/21/2007 by crossroad_blues]

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 09:46 PM
Hey, we're cool.....I tend to have that same quality.
 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 09:51 PM
quote:
Hey, we're cool.....I tend to have that same quality.


Great mind think alike.

Scary, ain't it?

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 09:53 PM
About time they chopped the tree down....

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 10:03 PM
quote:
quote:
Hey, we're cool.....I tend to have that same quality.


Great mind think alike.

Scary, ain't it?




Very

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 10:21 PM
If somebody spray painted a swastika on the school wall, it would be a hate crime. If a gay kid was beaten up, it would be a hate crime. Three nooses placed on a tree a black kid asked to sit under is a prank? I think not.
 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 10:30 PM
I agree.
 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 10:35 PM
quote:
but hanging a couple of nooses in a tree is a no no?



All those black students have a right to get an education, and to be treated like a human beings, not subjected to a hostile and intimidating environment.

The states attorney is an ass it most certainly is a violation of their civil rights....

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 10:43 PM
What is most unfortunate in this whole situation is that the adults and school adminstrators let the racial issues at this school get to this point. It was obvious that a problem exisited and no one tried to bring these kids together to work through these issues. It really required someone to take a leadership role as adults to teach these kids acceptance and understanding and focus on what united them rather than what divided them.

 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 10:52 PM
I agree completely Patty
 

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  posted on 9/20/2007 at 11:23 PM
What's most unfortunate is that the school adminstator's and adults in leadership roles in this community don't seem to know any better themselves...how can they teach what they still don't understand?

 

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