Thursday, October 11, 2007

Letter to Jena Mayor from

(apologies for the length)

Complicity Has Its Cost:
An Open Letter to Mayor Murphy McMillin of Jena, Louisiana

By Tim Wise October 8, 2007

Dear Mayor McMillin,

I hear that you're angry.

Me too.

But it appears our outrage is directed at decidedly different targets.

I, for one, am angry at the three young white men in your town who, last year, hung nooses from a tree after a black student dared sit under it, thereby touching off several months of racial tension. And I'm mad at their parents for whatever it is they taught their kids--or failed to teach them--that would allow their children to believe such a thing appropriate.

But it is not these persons who have elicited your anger.

I'm mad at the school superintendent, who declared the noose hanging an "innocent prank," and refused to as much as criticize those responsible, let alone truly punish them.

But it is not the superintendent with whom you are upset.

I'm angry at the District Attorney, who threatened black students in Jena that he could make their lives disappear with a stroke of his pen, if they didn't stop all the complaining about the noose incident. And I'm even more enraged by his decision to charge six young black men with attempted murder for beating up a white student (one who had been taunting them prior to the attack and whose family recently had a leader in the white supremacist movement as a guest in their home), while only charging a white man with misdemeanor battery for beating up a black kid a few days earlier.

But the D.A. is not the target of your ire. Indeed, I'm told that you two are friends.

I'm angry about the conviction (since overturned) of one of the young black men, Mychal Bell, by an all-white jury, and by the utter incompetence with which his court-appointed attorney defended him--calling no witnesses to impeach the testimony of those called by the prosecution, even though there were several who had made clear they were available.

But neither the jury, nor the incompetent public defender seems to concern you, at least not enough to have inspired you to write or speak as much as one solitary sentence to that effect.

Yet, today you broke your silence and showed us all your anger, an anger that is aimed not inwardly at those in your town who openly express racism or at those who sit by silently and do nothing in the face of it, but rather, outwardly, at singer-songwriter John Mellencamp for daring to release a song about it.

You might have been a Mellencamp fan in the past. Lots of folks in small towns are, seeing as how he has long sung the virtues of such places. So long as he wrote about little pink houses, he'd have been alright by you. But with his latest release, in which he implores your town to "put away your nooses," Mellencamp has, apparently, gone too far.

I guess you feel it isn't fair, all this negative publicity. You (and most whites in Jena) think your town is getting a bad rap. The actions of a few, you insist, shouldn't be allowed to paint an entire community with the broad brush of bigotry.

That's understandable, I suppose.

Of course, I do find it interesting that neither you nor any white elected official in Jena have seen fit to label the noose-hanging a racist act and its perpetrators racists. It's as if you can't come to say the words, no matter how obviously they fit. Oh sure, you said the act was "hurtful," but nothing more. And you wonder, dear sir, why 20,000 people descended on your town to let you know what they think of you?

Does it not give you pause that two-thirds of Jena's white folks voted for neo-Nazi, David Duke in 1990 and 1991, when he ran for U.S. Senate and Governor?

Or perhaps you were among those two-thirds? After all, you did recently tell white supremacist leader Richard Barrett that you were grateful for the counterdemonstrations he's been seeking to foment in Jena, in answer to the mostly black protests of last month.

Maybe you too supported Duke: a man who not only led the nation's largest Ku Klux Klan group in the 1970s, but who, as head of the National Association for the Advancement of White People (with which he remained affiliated until the early 90s), called for dividing the U.S. into racial sub-nations and breeding a master race of high-IQ whites. From the back of Duke's newsletter, he even sold books praising Nazi Germany and denying the Holocaust, but perhaps that wasn't a big concern of yours.

Perhaps you voted for Duke, as most of your white brethren in Jena did, even though you must have heard the radio ad that was airing right up until the Gubernatorial election in 1991: the one featuring a tape recording from just five years earlier, in which Duke responded to a fellow Nazi's boast that "Hitler started with just seven men," by noting, "We can do it here too if we just put the right package together."

Yes indeed, how dare John Mellencamp besmirch the good name of a town like yours, filled with such stellar exemplars of racial amity as could vote for someone like that. How dare he, and how dare we--those of us who have spoken out against the perverted system of justice you dispense in your hamlet--offer our opinions about people and places we don't know.

But here's the thing Mr. Mayor: we do know you.

Oh sure, Jena is not any worse than a lot of other places. And yes, it's always easy to beat up on some little southern town, making it the presumed seedbed of everything racist, rather than seeing the racism therein as symptomatic of a larger national problem. I'll give you that much. As a proud southerner that burns me up too.

But we know you just the same.

The one thing we know for sure, that I know as certainly as I know my own name, is that your town is filled with good Germans. The kind who, irrespective of their own racism, almost uniformly refuse to condemn the racism of their fellow citizens, fellow churchgoers, neighbors or family.

Your town is filled with people who never expressed any concern about this case until it brought them, and you, bad publicity. Some white folks now are saying that those attempted murder charges were extreme, but where were they a year ago? Nowhere to be seen or heard from, Mr. Mayor, that's where. Mychal Bell and the other five could have rotted in jail for the rest of their lives for all you could have cared, and so long as the media never made mention of it, everything would have been fine.

Thus the lesson for today, Mayor McMillin, and please make note of it: complicity has a cost.

And here's the sad irony embedded within that lesson--one which you and your compatriots utterly fail to recognize, and which whites have failed to understand going back to the days of slavery, when most whites didn't own slaves, but also never spoke out against or challenged those who did: namely, that all of this could have been avoided. You and yours could have prevented it. You could have made it all go away: the angry denunciations, the demonstrators, the Reverends Sharpton and Jackson, the T-Shirts reading, "Free the Jena Six," Mellencamp--all of it.

If you had only taken racism seriously from the beginning, none of your current embarrassment would have been made necessary. Had you stood up as whites, after those nooses were hung at the high school--had you stood up and said "We as whites are offended by this act of racial intimidation"--and called for the expulsion of the students, your town could have remained an obscure outpost, familiar to no one beyond central Louisiana.

Had you stood up to the school board--had you demanded that black students be allowed to speak at a board meeting in September, after that body refused to let them raise concerns about racial tensions at the school, because, in the mind of the white-dominated board the noose incident had been "adequately resolved"--then perhaps the issues in Jena could have been addressed, productive dialogue furthered, and you would have been able to avoid the public spotlight altogether.

Had you stood up in December of last year when that white man beat up a black student outside a party, breaking a bottle over his head, only to receive probation--had you stood up and demanded that the assault be treated like the serious crime it was--perhaps you could have remained anonymous to the rest of the world forever.

Had you stood up when a white student pulled a gun on black students outside a convenience store the next day and yet wasn't charged (while the black kids who got the gun away from him were charged with stealing the white kid's firearm)--had you stood up and demanded that the charges be dropped and perhaps that kids shouldn't ride around with guns in their pickup trucks--none of this would have happened.

And had you risen up in opposition to your D.A. buddy when he charged those six young black men with attempted murder, claiming with a straight face that their tennis shoes were a deadly weapon--had you risen up and said, these charges are ridiculous, and had you sought to recall him perhaps--I assure you, Jena would have never come to the attention of anyone. And if it did, it would only have been to praise it, for having so many whites willing to stand in solidarity with their black neighbors, and demand equity and justice for all.

But you did none of this. You did nothing even remotely like it. Good Germans never do. They remain silent in the face of such things and then complain when others give them a hard time about it.

There is a cost to pay for your silence, Mayor McMillin. A cost that grows in direct proportion to the degree of your complicity. It has always been so. Had whites stood up and demanded better of our own, of ourselves, beginning centuries ago, so much about this nation's history could have been different. Had more whites chosen to be allies to black and brown folks, joining them in resistance to oppression and domination, all the anxiety we feel now--the fear of being called racist, or thought of as such by folks of color--could have been mitigated.

That tradition, the tradition of resistance, is there Mr. Mayor, for the joining. It has always been there. And the fact that you know nothing of it--that none of the whites in Jena likely do--merely suggests the glaring failures of the American educational system, which has spent years teaching us even the smallest, most insignificant detail of our history (so long as it serves to boost the patriotic mood) but which has told us next to nothing about white antiracism through history. No wonder whites in Jena feel under siege. You don't even realize that the fight of those 20,000 people who visited your town is your fight too. It is a fight for human liberty and justice, and one in which whites have joined with folks of color for generations. Not enough of us, to be sure, but some just the same. What's more, it is a fight to break out of the boxes in which we as whites have been placed by our own collaboration--it's a chance to say that we will not be defined and have our humanity limited by the weight of history and the fear of forging a new path.

You could choose to be a part of that fight. Your entire town could. If it does, you will be welcomed to the struggle, I assure you. But if you don't, if you choose instead to remain on the side of white denial and silence and obduracy, then please know, you will pay a price. You will not escape judgment, and you will have to get used to many an article, many a speech, and many an unflattering reference in the songs of artists, all condemning your community to a special place in hell, whether viewed in literal or metaphorical terms.

And your protestations of innocence will fall like raindrops in the Seattle autumn: so common as to not even be noticed or justify so much as a moment's consideration.

Here's hoping that you make the right choice.


Anonymous said...

tim wise makes excellent points.
jena sounds like benton harbor/st. joe.

Anonymous said...

Tim;You are so right;living in
St Joseph reminds me of my birthplace in Louisana.Which is where i first experienced the hatred associated with racism,however,this disturbing behavior should not exist in Berrien County 2007.


Anonymous said...


Jena High School, like most other schools in the country, was once pleasant
and segregated. Then, Earl Warren demanded that N-words be forced in and
there wasn't much joy in Jena -- or anywhere else -- as a result. Instead
of halls of learning, schools became dog-fights, with white kids having to
scrap, every day, just to stay alive. Prior to integration, the worst offenses
in school were chewing gum in class, being late for class and yelling in the
halls. After integration, it was rapes, assaults and murder.

Jena broke into the news because the kids had finally had enough. Mychal
Bell, Theo Shaw and Robert Bailey and their gang had bragged about their
"black-power" on their websites and about how they were big, bad "Black
Africans." But, bragging wasn't enough. They had to act their jungle-savagery
out by ganging up on Justin Barker, knocking him unconscious and beating him
nearly to death. Six of them. As predicted, the N-words all stuck together,
blaming everybody but themselves.

What made matters worse was the "wiggers," whites who talk, dress and act
like N-words, who immediately took up for Bell and company. Although Jena
turned its back on the N-words, some parents seemed to throw up their
hands in helplessness or, even, offer to "unite" with the N-words. The Jena
kids protested by hanging nooses on a tree, but were suspended from school.
So, with the staunchest resistance out of commission, Jena girls became easy
prey for the N-words.

The puzzle then became, "How to keep your girl-friend away from the N-words?"
The object of this game is to place five N-words (each represented by an
N-word fist) and three Jenans (each represented by a Jena-fist) on the grid, so
that none of the N-words can get his vile hands on any of the Jenans (or on any
of the girls which the Jenans are protecting). An N-word can move any number
of spaces in any direction in a straight line (horizontally, vertically or diagonally).
To place an N-word on the grid, click once on an empty square. To place a
Jenan on the grid, click once on an N-word. To make a square empty again,
click once on a Jenan.

The goal, already set out, long ago, by the "Chicago Defender" in 1946, is
for "white boys to date Negro girls." By "Father Divine," to propagate "the
virtue of inter-racial marriage." And, by James S. Logan, a Communist, in his
pamphlet "Negro Liberation," referring to the red, green and black flags, later
to be flown during the invasion of Jena:

"The Negro people of the Black Belt, where they have formed the majority of
the population for many generations and where they have developed as a
people, have the right to set up a Republic of the Black Belt in which the
Negro would exercise governmental authority.... The Communist Party of
the U.S.A. strives to unite the Negro."

But, this game answers the puzzle-question, "Can the Jenans -- indeed, can
the American people -- win against the N-words?" Are there enough like Justin
Sloan, Ben Gaines, Lonnie Chevallier, Jeremiah Munsen and Marlon Hopkins
to carry the day? The answer is, "Yes." There are Jenans -- indeed,
Americans everywhere -- who have the stamina to stand up for their school,
blood, nation and honor. Even, as the puzzle shows, if they are outnumbered
by the N-words.
© 2007 Skinheadz

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment skinhead... totally racist and biased, but then again so was the original article.

It is really easy to take such an issue and slant it whichever way you want to. Truth is both accounts were reprehensible racially biased trash.

The Jena situation has idiots on both sides of the issue and it has blown up ridiculously.

At this point the kids will probably get off and rightfully so because what they did should have had consequences, but they should have been in line with what they did. The kids who put the noose up should have been suspended... which they were. The kids who were violent should have probably gotten probation, but the prosecutor got angry then things balooned.

Now you have all these race baiters trying to light the match and start a fire.


Anonymous said...

The leaders,the organizations and
the heroic and hard-struggling masses who made years of yearning and fighting for freedom possible,they remain an unerasable
reference for critical issues of
Benton Harbor, Mi and Jena.The right and rebuilding in New Orlean,resistence to genocide in America.we must rebuild the civil rights movement.

Richard Peree

Anonymous said...

Often not mentioned as a weapon in the arsenal of war on Blacks and the poor Whites,along with Hispanic`s is the economic exploitation that is ingrained in our country.Economic exploitation
has slowly and begrudgingly,become
part of recent political discourse.
While it struggles to rise to the forefront of mainstream discourse.
It moves swiftly and unquenchably
in communities of color and proverty across the nation.Tim you
makes several excellent points Jena
sounds just like Benton Harbor/St Joseph.

George Schultz

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

My country the United States of America is the greatest purveyor of violence and injustice in the world;;

K Arthur

Anonymous said...

How did the request for a new trial go? I thought I saw something about that in the paper.

Anonymous said...

Yeah they found that his first trial was sound and his counsel competent. In other words DENIED. :-D


Anonymous said...

How did a court like Berrien County fail to arraign a person.
Who is the juror who is bragging about, how she falsely accused your attorney of making a drug deal in the parking lot and three black people came up to her and requested money.Corruption rolls
on in Berrien County.when Butzbaugh die.he will be with Jim Cherry in berrien county hell court burning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Milton Wiley