A careful look at the narrative of the Jena Six reveals a great deal of oversimplification on both sides. The story of "hangman's nooses dangling from a shade tree; a mysterious fire in the night; swift deliberations by a condemning, all-white jury" is all-too-familiar and easy to construct. But many of the key elements are not as they seem, according to one AP reporter:
* The so-called "white tree" at Jena High, often reported to be the domain of only white students, was nothing of the sort, according to teachers and school administrators; students of all races, they say, congregated under it at one time or another.
* Two nooses — not three[believed to be a code of the KKK] — were found dangling from the tree. Beyond being offensive to blacks, the nooses were cut down because black and white students "were playing with them, pulling on them, jump-swinging from them, and putting their heads through them," according to a black teacher who witnessed the scene.
* There was no connection between the September noose incident and December attack, according to Donald Washington, an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department in western Louisiana, who investigated claims that these events might be race-related hate crimes.
* The three youths accused of hanging the nooses were not suspended for just three days — they were isolated at an alternative school for about a month, and then given an in-school suspension for two weeks.
* The six-member jury that convicted Bell was, indeed, all white. However, only one in 10 people in LaSalle Parish is African American, and though black residents were selected randomly by computer and summoned for jury selection, none showed up.
Which isn't to say there's not a racist element in the town:
There are no black lawyers, no black doctors and one black employee in the town's half-dozen banks. (The employee is male, an accountant who works out of public view.)...
Here and across the "crossroads" of Louisiana, there are Klan supporters, to be sure; David Duke, the former KKK Grand Wizard, carried LaSalle Parish in his 1991 run for state governor. And Jacqueline Hatcher, a 59-year-old African American, remembers when, as a ninth grader in 1962, she saw a large cross burning out front of the all-black Good Pine High School.
More of your thoughts on Jena here.