Politics & Policy

Sham on the Hill

Today, Congress will shine its spotlight on the racially torn town of Jena, La. Yet any hope for a serious inquiry into what took place there vanished the moment that the House Judiciary Committee released its roster of witnesses for this morning’s hearing. At the top of the list: Al Sharpton.

The so-called Jena 6 became a national story — and a cause célèbre of the left-wing civil-rights establishment — last month, when some 10,000 protesters descended upon their hometown. “The case reminds us that the scales of justice are seriously out of balance when it comes to charging, sentencing, and punishing African Americans,” said Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The reality is a little more complicated. It’s true that blacks are disproportionately entangled in the criminal-justice system. It’s also true that they commit a disproportionate number of crimes. Last year, according to the Manhattan Institute, blacks were responsible for about two-thirds of New York City’s murders, rapes, robberies, and assaults, even though they make up only about a quarter of its population. If something is out of balance, it isn’t the scales of justice — but rather the conduct of a segment of the population in which out-of-wedlock births and family breakdown have become the depressing norm.

The case of the Jena 6 buttresses this painful reality. Several aspects of the story remain in dispute, but at the center of the controversy lie half a dozen black high-school students who are being prosecuted for assaulting a white student ten months ago. The initial charge of attempted murder perhaps overdid it: The beaten student, Justin Barker, spent only a couple of hours in the hospital and attended a school function later in the day. Yet there can be no doubt that a violent crime was committed and that Mychal Bell, a black student with a rap sheet, was a ringleader.

Rather than take a hard look at these distressing facts, the NAACP has chosen to massage them. Its website would have people believe that the story of the Jena 6 revolves around “a white student who . . . got into a fight with black students.” That’s true, if being outnumbered and ambushed, knocked unconscious from a blow to the head, and repeatedly kicked while lying immobile constitutes “getting into a fight.” It appears as though Barker did nothing to provoke the attack from Bell and his hooligans, except to have been wearing the wrong skin color at the wrong time.

The assault didn’t exactly come out of nowhere; race relations in Jena are far from ideal. One morning at the start of the 2006–07 school year, black students were greeted by nooses hanging from a tree on campus — an obvious and horrific message of intimidation. The white culprits probably should have been expelled, but they weren’t. The failure to expel, however, hardly justifies the violent actions of the Jena 6.

A myth-busting news report on events in Jena, written by Todd Lewan of the Associated Press, quotes a resident who complains that the police don’t respond quickly to calls of distress from black areas. This is an anecdotal claim and it may or may not be true. At its heart, however, is a demand for proper and aggressive law enforcement. If police and prosecutors refuse to crack down on the likes of the Jena 6, it’s not white high-school students who will suffer the most, but law-abiding blacks.

This is not the message that Al Sharpton will deliver at the sham hearings organized by House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers. He’ll carry on about racism and try to place Mychal Bell into the pantheon of civil-rights martyrs. He may also call for a pardon of the Jena 6, as some Democrats in Congress already have demanded. If anything close to that were to happen, Mrs. Clinton’s scales of justice indeed would tip decisively out of balance — in favor of the thugs. 

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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