The Justice that Jena Demands

Published on Dissident, by Xochitl Bervera, September 29th, 2007.

4 excerpts: I want to tell you about Emmanuelle Narcisse. He was a tall, slim, handsome young man who was killed by a guard at the Bridge City Correctional Center for Youth — a Louisiana juvenile prison — in 2003. Apparently, he was “fussing” in line, talking back to a guard. The guard punched him in the face, one blow, and Emmanuelle went down backwards, slamming his head on the concrete. He took his last breath there behind the barbed wire of that state run facility. The guard was suspended with pay during the investigation. No indictment was ever filed against him …

… There are hundreds more. Thousands. Every day in the state of Louisiana (and in most states in this nation), injustices of epic proportions are taking place in our criminal and juvenile justice systems. We, those of us who live here, fight here, and organize here, know hundreds of families and young people — often our own — who’ve endured almost inconceivable levels of violence, abuse, neglect. And despite efforts to get someone, anyone to care and to act, these young people most often end up statistics in somebody’s dismal report, or an anecdote in an article just like this. Because people don’t care. Because these young people are not just poor, they are not just Black, they are criminals …

… What the Future Holds:

I believe that this moment in history can be a pivotal one if we make it so. Up to 50,000 people marched in the streets of Jena yesterday — the majority of them Black, many were from the South. All were outraged by the blatant racism evidenced by the criminal justice system. This could be the beginning of the end for a system that should have been dismantled years ago.

But what we fight for and how we fight will make all the difference. The most obvious principle is that we cannot fight for the system to expand — in any way. Asking for the white kids who hung the nooses to be charged, calling for Hate Crime Legislation — these “solutions” just strengthen the system and give the same players — the DA, the judge, the jury — more powers and more validation. If we understand that the system, at its core, is not designed to promote justice, then why would we ask for anything that expands its reach or powers? At the very least, we must only call for things which shrink the system – closing prisons, freeing prisoners, cutting correction budgets, eliminating the death penalty and Life Without Parole, prohibiting juvenile transfers, and implementing sentencing reform …

… FFLIC is a membership based organization consisting primarily of mothers and grandmothers. These mothers and grandmothers have seen all sides of the farce known as the criminal justice system. They have been victims of sexual and physical violence who have either kept quiet or endured the humiliation and neglect of the DA’s office and the so-called victim’s advocates. They have been forced to call the police on their children when mental illness or addiction has made them violent and no other services exist. They have visited their children in prison and seen boot marks on their faces. They have walked home alone through dark streets in poor neighborhoods where there are no programs, no services, no activities to keep young men busy and hopeful. They have seen their children beat by police officers, by prison guards, sometimes even by judges and district attorneys.

Standing on both sides of the system, these mothers will tell you that justice exists nowhere in the vicinity. It may sound radical, but its time we start listening to those who have been through it all and tear down the disgrace that is the U.S. criminal justice system. (full long text).

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