Racial enmity is hot again in Washington D.C. and Jena, La. This latest installment in the grand tradition of racial flashpoints began when three nooses were hung on a tree’s branches in the yard of Jena High School in central Louisiana. Tensions between black and white students rose until a white student named Justin Barker-who allegedly taunted black student Robert Bailey, Jr.-was assaulted by a group of black students including Bailey in early December. The local District Attorney subsequently prosecuted six black students, five of whom were initially charged as adults for attempted murder. Four of those five had their charges reduced to battery and were released on bail while the fifth, though his charges have been thrown out by a state appeals court, was denied bail.
Several thousand protestors from across the country came to Jena on Sept. 20 to protest the imprisonment of one student, led by the familiar faces of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton. It is a familiar story: A case in a small town with racial implications is seized on and becomes a rallying point for civil rights activists all over the country who descend on the small town in an attempt to.what? What purpose can that kind of protest serve in 2007? Sharpton seems to believe this is 1963, and that protests are needed to “penetrate” the current administration so it will bring forth “federal intervention to protect people from Southern injustice.” Indeed, it was necessary in the contentious days of the 1950s and 1960s to hold protests in order to gain federal clout that could protect and aid minorities across the county where the prevailing societal norms held them down. It was a necessity, then, to use physical protests to tell the federal government that there was a bloc of voters who cared about the rights of non-whites and wanted their concerns aired; it was crucial then to get that point across physically. It is neither crucial nor necessary today.
Are there racial disparities in the justice system? Is there racism in the United States? Sure there is, but that comes as a shock to no one. The public does not need protests to see that civil rights are not applied equally to all citizens. The federal government certainly does not need prodding to notice that perhaps there are voters who care about racial issues. Putting effort and thought into staging a demonstration with thousands of people is a waste of time and a misallocation of resources. If Sharpton, Jackson and all of those demonstrators really want to press for more progress toward racial equality in this country, they’re best off voting and lobbying for their goals. In today’s America, no one needs a demonstration to see that justice is not always served.
Andrew Hamner is a freshman majoring in journalism and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org