Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pick Your Scenario

One day, a young woman wanted to sit under a tree. Normally, only the boys sat there, but she didn't think that was fair. After all, it's a free country. So she gathered some friends and went to sit under the tree. The next day, someone had spray-painted the sexist word "C**t" on the tree. The boys responsible for the spray-painting were briefly suspended from school.

Several months later, six different girls were hanging out at school when a boy walked by. He called them sluts and insulted one of the girls in a sexual fashion. One girl hit him in the back of the head, then the six beat and kicked him while he lay on the ground. He had to go to the ER for treatment of his injuries.

Were the women justified?

What if the tables were turned? What if the graffiti had said "D**k" in response to a boy sitting in the girls' spot? What if six boys had attacked a lone girl after she laughed at them and accused one of having a small manhood? Would those six boys be justified in attacking her? Most of us find this scenario more offensive than the first, but I think they're approximately equal.

Is six against one ever fair, no matter what the offending person said about your gender, your sexual orientation, your mother, or your race?

I'm sure you know where I'm going with this. The group called the "Jena 6" did exactly that, attack a lone victim 6:1 (some reports say 5:1) after the victim bragged that one of the attackers had been beaten up by a white man.

If the Wikipedia article is truthful (and I take Wikipedia with a grain of salt), then Jena High School and the town had some racial tension preceding the tree incident (involving three nooses), which got worse in the four months before the assault. The principal recommended expulsion for the noose hangers, but was overridden by the school board, who felt it was a "harmless prank." Perhaps expulsion would have been an appropriate punishment, but some people are calling for felony convictions for commitment of a hate crime for this incident. I'm not sure that this meets criteria for federal conviction, disgusting (and racially-motivated) though this action was.

The sentencing for the six attackers is what troubles most of us. Assault, yes; attempted murder is a bit of a stretch. Conspiracy to commit murder only holds true if they planned the attack, and it sounds spontaneous. Saying that kicking the victim with tennis shoes meets criteria for "assault with a deadly weapon" may be a bit of a stretch, although getting kicked in the head could certainly be deadly enough. The one attacker who has been tried and convicted was only 16 at the time of the crime, yet was tried as an adult. His conviction was overturned on this basis, but he has not been released.

I'm willing to buy possible racism in the prosecutory over-zealousness. It could also be an attitude of "I'm going to crack down on crime so I'll get re-elected", in which case ANY highly publicized violent crime would have been over-prosecuted. Who knows?

What bothers me are statements like this:

JoAnn Scales, who brought her three teenage children on a two-day bus journey from Los Angeles, California, to Jena, made the same point.

"The reason I brought my children is because it could have been one of them" involved in an incident like the one in Jena. (

Um, lady, this could only happen to your children if you teach them that violence is an appropriate response to someone calling you a bad name, and if you teach them that 6:1 (or 5:1) is a fair fight.

I realize Jesse Jackson is an extremist with an agenda, but I disagree with him that "Punishing the teens with probation would have been sufficient" (also These guys committed a violent crime, sent a kid to the hospital, and several of them have prior records. These guys deserve a few months in juvenile detention, if properly convicted.

Therefore, I'm not necessarily all about standing behind these guys. I know our justice system is screwed up, and I'm all for changing it to be more fair. I'm all about charging these guys appropriately, and sentencing them appropriately. If there's no evidence that one of the boys participated, then don't charge him. If they're too young for adult sentencing, then don't try them as adults.

But don't tell me that their crime was "okay" because the victim called them a bad name. "He's an asshole" is not an acceptable defense.


Phalanx said...

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I'm a black student, at a historically black university mind you, and the rallying behind this has been a bit boggling to me. It's a shit situation, no doubt, but it's sort of difficult for me to share some of the views of my classmates here.

I was expressing to one of my roommates this morning that I didn't think it was fair the white students hadn't been properly punished, but I didn't think the black students should be removed of any guilt either. You would have thought I said they should be immediately executed. Not to mention the fact I decided to wear a yellow shirt on the "wear black in support" day.

Aside from all of that, I just wanted to say I've been sort of lurking around your blog for quite awhile now. I'm a premed interested in psych, so ever since you decided to become a psychiatrist your blog has seemed even more interesting/relevant to me.


Tiny Shrink said...

Thanks for delurking then, and I appreciate your views on this matter.

enrico said...

I've been following the Jena 6 case since before the first kid's trial was done. I'm disappointed to say I wasn't surprised at the ridiculous sentencing.

The problem, IMHO, isn't that anybody REALLY doubts that the Black students don't deserve punishment, but that there is NO WAY IN HELL that any of them can get a fair trial within 180 miles, at least. There is a stack of evidence, paper and 1st-hand-witnesses, that show a systematic pattern of discrimination that's so woven into the fabric of society there that what little that is reported is grounds enough for a mistrial and change of venue, much less what isn't reported.

My best friend just moved to Monroe, not far away, to start teaching at ULM. Direct quote: "Blacks know to stay south of I-20, period. Oh sure, they work in North and West Monroe, but for them to be here, especially at night, is all the cops need to follow them until they see them back south of the interstate."

Obviously, a group beating deserves punishment, but one that fits the crime. No community in north-central Louisiana is in a position to impartially determine what "fair" is for these boys, in my opinion.

Midwife with a Knife said...

I have to agree. It was wrong for the school to not punish the noose hanging students; that doesn't mean that it was ok for the Jeana 6 to beat them. It's a terrible situation, and I'm not sure what the solution is.

It does sound like the town has a very bad race relations problem.

Tiny Shrink said...

It's precisely because of attitudes like those that I do think racism could have played a part in the sentencing. I also think most of the uproar has been over the unfair sentencing, as you said.
What sucks is that the guy who was beaten wasn't even one of the students who hung the nooses, that I know of.