Michael Crawford posted last week about HRC's defense of the Jena 6, where Joe Solmonese gave a speech about how we know bigotry and bias, and the Jena 6 know bigotry and bias, and Black people in general know bigotry and bias, and we should all work together. Pretty basic stuff, right?
Well, it's not good news to Chris Crain, who's decided to heckle the HRC for jumping into the fray. Reading his attack on Joe, one has to wonder what exactly he's getting at. Buried beneath layers of "shame on"s, "I'm sorry but"s, claims to perpetual victimhood, and other annoying and obfuscating argumentation techniques is a rather bizarre rendition of the events in Jena that effectively erases about 90% of the story. His understanding of the events in Jena, in fact, is so erroneous and so biased that one has to wonder which axe exactly it is that he's grinding here.
The normative claims in Chris's post center around the idea that HRC should focus solely on (white, middle class, legal/textual, cis) LGBT issues. But his factual rendition that renders the Jena 6 uncontrollable and violent criminals who should be thrown in a trash heap, that hearkens back to fantastic nightmares and cultural fears of black men with all their "macho bravado", and that ultimately enables him to identify with the white victim of one of the beatings (he posts a picture of himself after he was beaten to secure his place as a victim as well, and, apparently, to posit himself beyond criticism) is what makes me question his motives as being something more than the usual blindness to the larger goal of shifting paradigms for social and criminal justice.
The only two facts about the Jena 6 item that Chris seems to be able to pass along are the parts about the nooses that the white kids hung from the tree and the six black kids who beat up the white Justin Butler. (Chris said that it required "hospitalization", although it definitely wasn't inpatient as Justin was at a school function later that same day. Not to say that the kid should have been beaten up, but that detail is quite important when it comes to deciding whether to charge the perpetrators with battery or attempted second-degree murder.)
Chris doesn't seem to recall the story the way NPR does, forgetting that the white kids who beat up a black kid at a party, the white kid who pulled a gun on several black kids, and the district attorney of LaSalle Parish who told students while addressing them after the nooses were hanged, "With one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear." Chris forgets the fact that the kid who pulled the gun on the black students at the convenience store wasn't charged with anything, while the black students who pulled the gun from him were charged with theft of a firearm and second-degree robbery. Chris forgets the fact that the white man who beat up the black person at the barn party was only charged with battery and got probation, while Mychal Bell was charged with the attempted second-degree murder of Justin Butler, a charge later reduced to "aggravated battery" (which requires the use of a deadly weapon, so the prosecutor argued that the tennis shoes worn by Bell were deadly weapons), was found guilty by an all-white jury, one member of which was a high-school friend of the father of Justin Butler, and was sentenced to 22 years in prison (which was later reduced).
This is rather different from Chris's description. But the point isn't that he's inaccurate, but why? Why change the events so drastically to prove his point? Is this an outgrowth of the conservative need for clean narratives with perfect victims and perfect victimizers, or just a chance to trash the HRC?
The rest of his column relies mostly on the former, constantly writing as if the victimization went one-way here (or that it can anywhere) and that when someone has broken the law, they pretty much deserve anything that the prosecutor can pile on them no matter what the crime. No one who's protesting the prosecution of the Jena 6 is saying that they shouldn't be punished or that they didn't do anything wrong. They're saying that the system was biased, very strongly biased, against the students of African descent, and that comparing the Jena 6's punishment to what the students of European descent received and didn't receive, is a story that very plainly shows that the criminal justice system in this country is soaked in racism.
His statements that this isn't an LGBT issue might make sense if we could somehow separate racism and homophobia, if our criminal justice system could solve systemic bias against queer and gender disconformist defendants and victims without addressing bias against defendants and victims of color, if our schools could stop the harassment of gay, bi, and trans boys and girls without addressing the harassment of non-white boys and girls, and if our understanding of difference and Otherness could be ameliorated for the LGBTQueer but not addressed for people of color. His understanding of focusing-on-our-own-issues might also explain this whole thing if it also weren't for his insistence that the "T" is silent in LGBT.
But Chris's "shame"s on Joe Solmonese and Donna Payne, HRC's associate director for diversity (seven total), his use of a "morality" that doesn't care much for factual accuracy, and his transparent attempt to get as much attention with this column as he can all point to the latter: that this is part of a long-standing grudge.
Not that there's anything wrong with a grudge. It's just that there's a time and a place for them, and, in this case, the Jena 6 come first.