Thursday, September 20, 2007

Intolerance in the News

I opened my paper this morning and front and center on the front page was an article about the thousands of people gathering to march in protest in Jena, Louisana. The vast majority of what I know about that situation I have learned from the media - I have no doubt that there are details of which I am unaware. Of some details there seems to be no dispute.

There was an oak tree on the high school campus that was for whites only; A black student asked a school official if black students could gather under the tree and the next day there were three nooses in the tree; The principal recommended that the students responsible for the nooses by expelled, but was overruled by the school board - they were given 3 days of in-school suspension instead; There were multiple confrontations between black and white students; A black student was beaten by a group of white students and former students at a Friday night party; A white student was beaten unconscious by six black students the following monday; One white former student was charged with battery in the Friday incident; The six black students were charged with attempted 2nd degree murder in the Monday incident; The charges were reduced to aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery for Mychal Bell, the first black student to stand trial; Bell faced an all-white jury; The 150 people called for jury duty included black citizens, but only 50 people appeared, and none of them were black.

The obvious perception is that justice in Jena is different for blacks than for whites. As I mentioned, there may well be details that might shade that perception a little, but the overwhelming evidence is that overt racial discrimination is alive and well.

What does that have to do with tolerance? The easy answer is that a lack of tolerance fostered an environment where these things happened. The more difficult questions are how can tolerance develop in an environment of injustice and so lacking in trust? What responsibility do we have to refuse to tolerate such an environment? Perhaps more to the point, how can we justify that we continue to tolerate it?

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