Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Policing the Ranks - Faithful readers will recall a recent entry that brought attention to the plight of two 13 year-old boys, Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison, who were arrested, strip searched and charged with sex abuse and harassment for slapping two of their female classmates on the buttocks. Despite what we may feel about the wisdom of preteen males making horseplay with their female peers, this appeared to represent an unseemly form of misconduct by law enforcement, particularly on the part of the district attorney, Bradley Berry. Thanks to the involvement of the community - which by now includes much of the right-of-center blogosphere - the boys may be eligible for a "civil compromise" which would allow them to avoid a criminal trial.

While the case involving Cory and Ryan may well reach some sort of satisfactory ending, another circumstance involving alleged misconduct on the part of elected officials continues to progress, albeit without the possibility of the defendants avoiding prosecution. The racially incendiary case of the Jena Six, as they are now known, involves the events leading up to the beating of Justin Barker, a white teenager who was attacked by six black students in the central Louisiana town of Jena. One of the six, 17 year-old Mychal Bell has been convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit battery; he faces 22 years in prison and is to be sentenced in September.

The Jena Six trial has become something of a cause celebre in progressive circles. Given that it involved three nooses tied in the "white tree" in the courtyard of Jena High School, a white district attorney who reportedly told black students at the school that he could be their "worst enemy" and a trial before a white judge and an all-white jury, liberal personages and organizations including
Al Sharpton, the NAACP and have made their presence and thoughts known. As we might expect, the Left sees this case as an indictment against the judicial system, and makes the argument that this represents American racism writ large.

In the situations involving the Jena Six and the "Oregon Two", it is difficult at best to gather perfect information with which to call balls and strikes. For example, as reported in the Statesman Journal, besides slapping the arses of their classmates, Mashburn and Cornelison were reportedly engaged in "grabbing girls' breasts on
at least two occasions, teaming up to 'dry hump' girls from both sides, poking girls' breasts and engaging in what's known as 'party boy' dancing mimicking sexual intercourse." I suspect that much of the support that these boys received would have dried up were it widely known that their behavior was this crude.

Similarly, it is difficult to get a complete picture of what happened in Jena, especially given the length of time over which the precipitating events took place and the varied accounts of said events (as described in the Washington Post and the Broward Times.)
My gut told me that whatever was going on was not entirely free of a racial bias against the black students, all of whom had no prior criminal records. However, in the absence of perfect information, I was hesitant to make any comment.

But I also acknowledge a certain discomfort with the whole affair based on the fact that this flew in the face of my deeply-held belief - isolated racist events aside - that America is indeed not a racist country. For a while, I attempted to justify this as the typical behavior of "Dixie-crats", especially given that Louisiana has a Democratic governor. Sadly, the fact is that Jena is nestled in LaSalle parish, which voted Republican in the last two presidential elections. It is safe to guess that the power structures in Jena and in LaSalle Parish are Republican by party affiliation.

In our efforts in preparation for the 2008 elections, Republicans must be careful not to create too large of a tent such there is room for those who carry the detritus of racial prejudice. In a country as multifaceted as ours, we cannot build a majority party based on contempt for the minority. Without commenting on the merits of the case against the Jena students, it is clear that Republicans must do all we can to remain true to our roots as a party dedicated to fairness, inclusion and equal justice for all.

We can do this only by sanitizing our ranks of those who by way of their verbiage or behavior - public or private - betray the principled stances that led to our party's formation. Simply put, we must anathematize racism and racists in the same manner that we eschewed the John Birch Society. The righteous outrage of Republicans - particularly white Republicans - over racially motivated miscarriages of justice must thunder accross land and country such that our position on the matter is clear.

In as much as we do this, doing good is its own reward. But there is a collateral benefit as well. As Republicans move toward center stage in matters of race, and as the message of equality of opportunity displaces the false promise of equality of result, Jesse and Al will become surplus to demand, and will (hopefully) disappear as but a vapor. Such is devoutly to be wished, and worth the effort in its own right.

Inquiries about donating to the Jena Six Legal Defense Fund can be addressed to:

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