"Adolescents Play Pranks..."

| Thu May 24, 2007 2:37 PM EDT

Last November, someone set fire to the central wing of a high school in Jena, Louisiana. Then white students beat up a black student because he went to their party. Soon after that, a white adolescent pulled a shotgun on three black adolescents in a convenience store, and then four black students jumped a white student as he came out of the school gym. Following that incident, in which the student received minor injuries, six black students were expelled and were charged with attempted second-degree murder. They face up to a hundred years in prison.

Conversely, the white boy who beat up the student at the party was charged with simple battery, and the boy who held three others at shotgunpoint was not charged with anything. However, his victims were charged with aggravated battery and theft after they grabbed the shotgun in self-defense.

If this sounds like scenes from a 1950s newsreel, that's because Jena is stuck in time when it comes to the issue of racial equality. Enter Jena mayor Murphy McMillian, who says that "Race is not a major local issue. It's not a factor in the local people's lives."

No kidding--he said that.

The latest incident at the high school involves some black students who attempted to sit on the "white side" of the school yard. There, they saw three nooses hanging from a tree. Enter school superindendent Roy Breithaupt, who says that "Adolescents play pranks. I don't think it was a threat against anybody."

Again, he really said that.

The Jena community isn't alone in dismissing violence and threats against women, people of color, the disabled, and members of the LGBT community as "pranks" and "jokes." But this particular piece of denial is so over the top, it would probably shock most reasonable people. The local ACLU calls Jena a "racial powder keg."

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.