Workers Vanguard No. 978
15 April 2011
State Vendetta for 2007 Protest
Jena, Louisiana: Free All Victims of Racist Cop Roundup!
Before dawn on 9 July 2009, more than 150 cops from nine federal, state and local agencies, complete with a SWAT team and helicopters, raided the black neighborhood of Jena, a small town in rural Louisiana with barely 300 black residents. A dozen people were arrested on drug charges solely on “evidence” provided by a convicted dealer acting as a police informant. No drugs were found in the raid. But under the threat of rural Southern “justice,” most of those arrested recently pleaded guilty and now face years-long prison terms. One man who was convicted of drug distribution was sentenced to 25 years’ hard labor.
The racist crackdown was more than just the vicious repression that is regularly meted out to black people in urban ghettos and Southern towns in the name of the “war on drugs.” For the local sheriff’s office and other government authorities, it was payback for the mass protest for black rights that shook Jena in September 2007. Tens of thousands of people from across the country marched through the small town to protest on behalf of the “Jena Six”—black youths framed up on charges of second-degree attempted murder in a case redolent of the lynch law of the “Old South.” The 2009 drug sweep, dubbed “Operation Option Three,” was planned by Sheriff Scott Franklin in the immediate aftermath of the 2007 protest, when he was elected. One of those convicted was Catrina Wallace, a single mother of three who received wide acclaim for her role in helping organize the protests for the Jena Six, among whom was her brother, Robert Bailey.
As reported on the Huffington Post Web site (13 May 2010) by Jordan Flaherty, a co-editor of Left Turn who broke the story of the drug raid, cops initially claimed that they found marijuana on Wallace’s kitchen table, “but later discovered that they had collected broccoli stems, left over from dinner the previous night.” Nevertheless, Wallace was convicted on March 31 of three counts of distribution of a controlled substance, taken to jail after the verdict was read and hit with bail of one million dollars. Her sentencing is expected to come this month.
As reported in Town Talk, a newspaper in the neighboring town of Alexandria, Franklin prepared the raid by gloatingly telling his posse: “It’s going to be like Baghdad out in this community at five am . They will get put in handcuffs, put behind bars today and never see the light of day again unless they are going out on the playground in prison.” One man, Samuel Howard, had his door broken down by cops at 5:00 a.m. and was dragged out of bed naked, his house badly burned by police flares. Tasered by the cops, who also pointed guns at his three kids, Howard was brought to a baseball field, along with other people who had been rounded up, where he spent another hour without any clothes until he was given an orange jailhouse jumper.
The pretext for this racist depravity was an “anti-drug” campaign in which Franklin presented his targets with the “options” to stop dealing or using drugs, move out of town or spend the rest of their lives in prison (“option three”). This case is starkly reminiscent of what happened in the town of Tulia, Texas, in 1999, when a full 10 percent of the black population was rounded up on the basis of a police informer and jailed on drug charges, only to be released four years later after the whole operation was exposed as a grotesque frame-up (see “Tulia Victims Freed, Finally,” WV No. 813, 7 November 2003). Entire generations of blacks and Latinos have been criminalized through the racist “war on drugs,” which was championed early on by such black Democrats as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. This underscores the urgent need to fight to decriminalize drugs, as well as all other “crimes without victims,” such as gambling, prostitution and pornography. Free Catrina Wallace and all victims of “Operation Option Three”!
What happened in Jena and Tulia speaks to how little has changed in the conditions of life for most black people, North and South, since civil rights and voting rights legislation was passed in the mid 1960s, when struggles for black rights rocked the country. Jena, for example, was a stronghold for “former” Klansman David Duke when he ran for governor in 1991. As we wrote in “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration—Black Liberation and the Fight for a Socialist America” (WV No. 955, 26 March 2010): “From slavery to convict labor, from the chain gang to the assembly line, American capitalism has been built upon the lash-scarred backs of black labor. Any organization that claims a revolutionary perspective for the United States must confront the special oppression of black people—their forced segregation at the bottom of capitalist society and the poisonous racism that divides the working class and cripples its struggles.”
The Jena case began in September 2006 when a black student requested and received permission from a school official to sit under the so-called “white tree” at his high school, which is 80 percent white. The next day, black students arrived to find three nooses hanging from the tree, leading to an impromptu protest some days later. That December, a white student found himself on the ground in a fight that ensued after he hurled the epithet “n----r” at a black youth, leading to the arrest of the six. Mychal Bell, who spent over a year in prison, wrote in “Surviving Jena Six” (CounterPunch, 3-5 April 2009): “The kids who put up the noose nothing happened to them.”
At the massive September 2007 protest, black Democrats Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton helped divert the mass outrage into reliance on the capitalist government. Calling for “federal intervention to protect people from Southern injustice,” Sharpton appealed to the same Feds who would take part in the “Option Three” dragnet. For his part, Barack Obama, then looking toward a run at the White House, deigned only to call for “fairness” while claiming the Jena case wasn’t “a matter of black and white”! Once the Democrats’ hot air was spent in Jena, the town’s black population was left to the very untender mercies of the local cops and prosecutors. Those who had dared stand up for their basic rights, like Catrina Wallace, paid the price.
Jackson, Sharpton and other bourgeois politicians spout the lie that racial oppression can be ameliorated through pressure on the government—the executive committee of the racist capitalist ruling class. The truth is that black oppression has been and remains embedded in the foundations of the American capitalist profit system. While fighting against all forms of racist segregation and injustice, we realize that social conditions for workers and the urban and rural poor cannot be fundamentally altered short of the overthrow of the decaying capitalist system and the construction of an egalitarian socialist society. We fight to build a revolutionary workers party, with a strong black leadership component, to lead all the exploited and oppressed in socialist revolution, the only way to get rid of the organized violence of the capitalist courts, cops and prisons.