Silence Is Violence

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September 20 weekly update

Date: Sat, Sep. 22, 2007

September 20, 2007

SilenceIsViolence City Walk #12: Thursday, September 20. Departs Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church (Millaudon at Leake Ave.) at 7pm sharp and proceeds to Plum Street Snowballs. 1.2 miles total; transportation provided back to Mount Moriah.

This Thursday, there will be a demonstration in Jena, Louisiana in support of six African-American high school students: Robert Bailey, Jr., Jesse Beard, Mychal Bell, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, and Theo Shaw. They are accused of battery after a fight with a caucasian classmate connected with the hanging of nooses from a “White Tree,” referring to the race of students tacitly invited to sit beneath it, in the schoolyard. The nooses were a clear reference to lynching and interpreted as a threatening signal to a black student who sat under the tree one day. The charged students, aged 15-18, are facing the possibility of many years in prison for what was essentially a schoolyard fist-fight (the only weapon that has been named was a tennis shoe).

Somewhat bewilderingly, New Orleans talk radio is buzzing with questions over whether race is really the issue in the case. Obviously, every step of the case has been fraught with racial tensions and considerations, and the demonstrators who travel to Jena today are justified in highlighting the Jena incident as a civil rights issue. Their concern has already been validated, in fact, by the reduction in charges from attempted murder to battery, and the dropping of charges in the one case that had reached trial (that of Mychal Bell, still in prison). But unless protestors are also prepared to back up their protests with substantive, community-enriching actions, the outcry will fade quickly. Hopefully those who do travel to Jena will make a point of patronizing a minority-owned business while there, or will follow through back in their hometowns by volunteering in schools or other youth programs. We can best support and set examples for our young people by finding concrete, sustainable ways to address discrimination and lopsided resources in our own communities.

People often ask us what we mean by “Silence is Violence.” Silence is Violence is a call to citizens to testify when they witness crimes, but it is also much more than that. It is a call to speak up for our rights as citizens and to act in ways that respect our communities. Silence is Violence is just as importantly a call to our leaders—politicians, businesspeople, teachers—to speak forcefully against injustice when they witness it and to find ways to combat violence and injustice in the performance of their jobs and the running of their businesses. The “Jena Six” incident stands less as an indictment of an isolated small town than as a reminder to citizens and leaders that we must remain alert and continue to speak out and act in the name of safety and community respect.

Ken and Baty Landis