CANDIDATES ON JENA 6. An illustration of the point I was trying to make last night that I failed to include was a comparison of statements from presidential candidates about the Jena 6 case. You don't have to look much further than these to see the different standard to which Obama would be held if he were to make a statement that overtly referred to race or racism. Obama can't come off as an Angry Black Man, but white candidates, without the fear that they will be deemed as single-issue and/or single-constituency, can say what they like and it will really only help their cause. Let's line up the official statements.

The events in Jena, Louisiana are a sobering reminder that while segregation was outlawed long ago, de facto segregation in many parts of this country is still very real. No reasonable person would call what these young men have received 'equal justice.' I sincerely hope that Governor Blanco intervenes in this case and grants immediate reprieves should any of the Jena 6 be convicted.


I am deeply concerned about reports of potentially disparate treatment of white youths and African-American youths in the criminal justice system. I am troubled by reports that African-American students were initially charged and may be sentenced in a manner out of proportion to their wrongs. And I have long been troubled by a history of disparate treatment of African Americans in our criminal justice system.

Clinton, at an NAACP meeting:

This case reminds us that the scales of justice are seriously out of balance when it comes to charging, sentencing and punishing African Americans. This case reminds us that we have so much work yet to do.


As someone who grew up in the segregated South, I feel a special responsibility to speak out on racial intolerance. To measure our progress in the fight against racism, today our nation looks to Jena, Louisiana. Americans of all races are traveling to Jena because they believe that how we respond to the racial tensions in Jena says everything about who we are as a nation …When a 'white tree' stands outside a public school, marking a place where white students sit but black students are not welcome, there is something so wrong that the right words are hard to find.

And Obama:

Today I stand with those who stand for justice in Jena. The thousands of Americans from every race and region who have descended on this small Louisiana town carry forth the legacy of all those who sat at lunch counters and took freedom rides to strike a blow against injustice wherever it may exist. When a noose hangs from a schoolyard tree in the 21st century and young men are treated in a way that is not equal nor just, it is not just an offense to the people of Jena or to the African-American community, it is an offense to the ideals we hold as Americans. I renew my call for the District Attorney to drop the excessive charges filed in this case, and I will continue my decades-long fight against injustice and division as President.

Words that Obama can't use include, but are not limited to: segregation, black, white, racism, criminal justice system, racial tension, and intolerance. He has to temper his statement as an inclusive, all-humanity call to action against injustice, rather than a call to action against a criminal justice system that is inherently racist and a white-dominated society where cases like Jena are still too-common. As one commenter said, this is probably a decent reason to back off him on the Jena 6 issue, recognizing the realities of American politics today that he has to operate within, as disheartening as that might be.

--Kate Sheppard