Saturday, September 22, 2007

Wherever Injustice Rears Its Head, City Councilman Jarvis Johnson Will Be There to Loose His Terrible Swift Sword, Or at Least to Write an Op-Ed Piece

City Councilman Jarvis Johnson, who when last we noticed him was pitching on behalf of a no-bid contract extension for an airport concessionaire, and previous to that was knee-deep in December's raging CAFR controversy (you remember it, do you not?), was accorded 14 or so inches* on the opinion page of Friday’s Houston Chronicle to explain why he motored over to Jena for Thursday’s big march. We’re not sure that anybody asked for or needed a justification from the councilman, or even noticed him there among the estimated 10,000 (according to the New York Times) or “tens of thousands” (according to lefty Amy Goodman of radio’s Democracy Now!) of protestors who took to the streets (street?) of the Louisiana town.

But there it is, as they say.

The councilman, of course, was way too young for Selma and Montgomery or even the Herman Short-TSU riot, so it’s understandable that he’d be moved by the opportunity to make his bones as a front-line combatant against injustice. And right here, lest we find our humble blog being linked by David Duke’s Web site, we’d like to stipulate into the record that we do believe there was an injustice committed in LaSalle Parish and that the prosecution of the “Jena Six” has been way out of proportion to the crime. Alleged crime.

Yes, there is an allegation of a “crime” at the back of all this, and while it may have been only one small crime in a string of crimes large and small dating back to the beginnings of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, somebody got hurt. There’s a lot of murk in the entire story---here’s a quick summation by Meagan McArdle---but there doesn’t seem to be any question that the six black boys stomped a white boy’s ass, and if you get knocked unconscious in a brawl, or somehow “fall” into unconsciousness, as has been suggested, then you have indeed suffered an illegal ass-kicking, whether or not you’re up and about three hours later, as the victim is said to have been. But the councilman, who’s quick to invoke the Scottsboro Boys and Jim Crow, gives the crime the following passing mention:

… a schoolyard brawl ensued as a direct result of several white students hanging nooses on a tree that certain whites assumed was reserved for Whites Only…**
A schoolyard brawl … and that’s it. The crime is just an inconvenient fact that doesn’t fit Johnson’s assumed narrative, which seems to be that this one episode in a backwards and out-of-the-way burg*** somehow means the entire nation is a seething cauldron of double standards and racist motive.

Most of the information we’ve gleaned on the story has come from listening to Goodman’s show on KPFT-FM, 90.1. Goodman’s been on the story for months (by contrast, our local daily newspaper, the largest daily newspaper in the region, belatedly decided to parachute a reporter in for some undistinguished wire service-style reportage on the protest) and despite her biases has been talking to all comers and occasionally wandered into the realm of even-handedness. Today we heard her interview the mother of the white schoolboy victim, a manager at the local Super Wal-Mart, who asked whether the protestors believed the Jena 6 should escape any punishment at all for the beating of her son. This is a good question (although we personally think the kid who’s already done 10 months while appealing his conviction has done more than enough time). It’s a question that possibly Councilman Johnson could answer in his next op-ed contribution.

In the meantime, we must agree with the councilman’s explanation for his trip to Jena:

Some might say a Houston City Council member has no business meddling in the affairs of an issue in Central Louisiana. I beg to differ, because if an injustice can happen in Central Louisiana, it can also happen in Northeast Houston in District B.
Yes, it sure can. It can happen anywhere. It can even happen in Durham, N.C.

* Rough estimate.

**The nooses and the Honky Tree are the sort of phenomena that give us pause whenever we start fantasizing about moving away to enjoy our old age in a quiet little town.

***We attribute some of our own interest in this story to our having once worked with a girl from Jena who told wickedly funny stories about the place (she was a female Junior Samples), most of which we cannot repeat on a family blog.

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