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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.

Liberty and justice for some

By Anastasia Niedrich

America has many traditions. Sadly, one of them is the oppression of minorities (racial and otherwise) because of perceived differences and supposed superiority of the majority over the minority.

A current situation in Jena, La. (aka the “Jena six” case), is another unfortunate instance of members of the majority (Caucasian) oppressing the minority (blacks).

Tragically, racism (previously embodied in the form of slavery and other means) has been prevalent in America since colonization. While there are laws in place to protect racial minorities, they are often not followed or even ignored by racist members of the majority in power.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That being the case, right now injustice in Louisiana’s Jena six matter is threatening justice everywhere.

I take issue not only with racism, but also the inequity in the legal system in the Jena six case. I believe that discrimination in any form (racial or otherwise) is absolutely wrong. All persons should be treated equally — especially under the law.

The background of this matter is a long story that is unfortunately all-too typical. Sparing many relevant details that I would encourage you readers to investigate from credible news sources, the Reader’s Digest version of the facts is as follows: a black student asked permission in an assembly to sit beneath a specific tree on campus — a privilege reserved for Caucasian students at this school in Jena, La. In retaliation, some Caucasian students hung nooses up at the school, presumably to intimidate the black students in a show of racism. A fight ensued between all involved students. A Caucasian student was beaten by the black students, but not seriously harmed. The Caucasian students were merely suspended for their actions, while the black students were charged with high-penalty crimes. The Caucasian district attorney prosecuting the case stated that his reason for not prosecuting the Caucasian students was he could find no law under which to charge them with a crime.

These events, now known as the “Jena six matter” have worsened already-poor racial relations in Jena. The charges and cases filed by the D.A. against the black students are still pending further outcome.

To put it frankly, the District Attorney’s claim that he could not prosecute the Caucasian students for their actions because there are no laws to prosecute the Caucasian students under is bull excrement. I am an undergraduate student who is not an attorney yet (but aspires to be) and even I was able to find several laws under which the D.A. could have prosecuted the Caucasian students. Such laws include Louisiana Revised Statutes (LRS) sections:

LRS 14:225 governing institutional vandalism (hanging of nooses on school property);

LRS 14:122.1 governing interference and intimidation in the operation of schools (on school property);

LRS 14:8 and 14:36 governing criminal conduct and assault in the form of intimidation; and

LRS 14:107.2, Louisiana’s hate crimes law; which increase the penalties for offenders upon conviction for other crimes.

Perhaps Jena’s D.A. needs a refresher on legal research, or alternatively, a course on how not to racially discriminate when prosecuting crimes.

As Harper Lee said in To Kill a Mockingbird, “the one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow.”

Unfortunately for the Jena six, black students and millions of others, what ought to be — judicial equality and equal treatment under the law — is not the actuality. Racial iniquities in the legal system and elsewhere abound.

According to the non-profit organization Human Rights Watch, blacks comprise 13 percent of the national population, but 30 percent of people arrested and 49 percent of those in prison. If the Jena District Attorney had his way, I’m sure the Jena six students would be an addition to this statistic.

Fortunately for the Jena six, a great deal of attention and aid has been brought in their defense. We can only hope that this support will result in a legally and otherwise fair outcome for all students involved with the Jena 6 matter. Only time will tell.

The Jena six matter is regrettably far from the only unfair, racist situation happening in America or our legal system today. Although anti-racism laws have been in place for around 70 years, racist events still happen in every U.S. state every day. Racism rears its ugly head in everything from prejudicial legal practices to the maltreatment of minority races in innumerable everyday situations.

Thomas Jefferson (who fathered children with his black slave Sally Hemings) once said, “Bigotry (racism) is the disease of ignorant and morbid minds. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both.”

While this column has been an attempt to facilitate “education and free discussion,” I encourage all of you to obtain more information for yourself on the Jena six matter and other racial iniquities in the U.S. legal system. I also encourage you to do anything and everything you can to fight for “justice everywhere,” in the form of equal treatment, liberty and justice for all Americans, no matter their race.

By educating ourselves and working together, and by acting to affect positive change, perhaps someday Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream can be realized: that all people “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

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