Friday, September 21, 2007

Vital Human Rights At Stake in Jena, La., Rangoon

The L.A. Times has an admirable editorial this morning on the troubles in the small town of Jena, La., where thousands of demonstrators marched yesterday to protest unequal justice for blacks compared to whites, and where there was a further incident this morning with nooses being found in a pickup truck driven by whites.

The L.A. Times was also correct this morning when it published the news story out of Jena on Page 1, while the national edition of the New York Times stuck it improperly way back in its Section one.

The fact is, the march of thousands of people from throughout the country in a civil rights protest in a Southern town, and the march, also yesterday, of 1,300 Buddhist monks through Rangoon, Burma, against one of the world's most horrific dictatorships, is news that is vital to humanity. Both marches deserve the most intensive coverage.

The LAT editorial tells us why. Describing in detail events of the last year which began when black high school students sat under a tree that had long been a gathering place for whites only. The next day, nooses, a symbol of the lynchings that once outrageously marked Southern life, were found hanging from the same tree, and three white teens were found to be responsible. The school principal wanted to expel them, but the school board decided to only briefly suspend them. This was the start of a series of incidents, including fights, between blacks and whites in the town of 3,000, with the authorities prosecuting black instigators, especially six young black men (the "Jena six") far more seriously than white instigators. When a white youth was beaten, initially there were charges of attempted murder against the blacks, although these were later reduced. Particularly egregious, however, was the 17-year-old black youth wrongfully charged as an adult, imprisoned for a long term, and kept there, despite a Louisiana appellate court ruling he should be freed. The incidents, thanks to bloggers and other new techniques of spreading the news, have become a cause celebre, leading to yesterday's protests by civil rights supporters from far and wide.

The Times editorial concludes, "Jena residents who think all is well in their town are fooling only themselves. Thursday's rally should mark the start of some long overdue soul-searching and political housecleaning."

The Times editorial points out properly that Jena, La., is no Selma, Ala., of the 1960s, when civil rights advocates marching for the right to vote were assaulted by police. But nonetheless it is, to some extent, a "time warp," which reminds us of past injustices and racial disparities that still lurk in our national life, a plague that still stirs to life.

In a sidebar to the main article this morning, the L.A. Times' Peter Wallsten examines the tepid response of two frontrunning Democratic candidates for President, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to the Jena situation. Both have been very careful, perhaps too careful, and one can only remember that just before he announced his presidential candidacy in 1968, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy journied to Delano to support Cesar Chavez's farm workers union in their demonstrations. By contrast, neither Clinton nor Obama showed up in Jena yesterday. It is not only the terrorists in the Middle East these candidates are leery about standing up to, now it is bigotry at home.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who joined The Rev. Jesse Jackson and others who marched in Jena, was quoted in an article by Times Southern correspondent Jenny Jarvie that appeared Thursday before the march, as saying, "We come to the South to raise new hope, not to condemn," and it is certainly true that demonstrations often do occur at a time of rising hope that old injustices can be overcome.

That is certainly true in Burma. I purposely do not use the new name of Myanmar, which is favored by a junta of military officers who have dominated Burmese lives for much too long, in defiance of a fair election in 1990 in which the Burmese people overwhelmingly elected the gallant Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, later winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, to power.

As in South Vietnam in the 1960s, the Buddhist monks marching through Rangoon have come forward at a time when many people dare not to defy the illegal junta. That they can prevail, and San Suu Kyi can assume her lawful place as leader of a new Burma, is to be devoutly wished throughout the Earth whereever human rights are supported.

Jena, La., and Rangoon, Burma, are not the only places where the L.A. Times has upheld human rights this week. The pictures by the outstanding Times photographer Carolyn Cole accompanying a Darfur story in Thursday morning's paper were a poignant reminder of the terrible conflict that racks that section of the Sudan, and adjacent Chad and the Central African Republic. Her pictures, especially of Jan Eliasson, the United Nations special envoy in the Sudan, taking part in a prayer for his peace efforts at a marketplace in Nyala, Darfur, are a poignant reminder of the high stakes for freedom there too.


Tribune Co. overall revenue and advertising revenue continued to slip in August, according to a Reuters story this morning, overall revenue down by 5.2% and advertising revenue by 7.2%.

I'm afraid this trend will not be reversed until the inept Dennis FitzSimons, CEO of the company, which owns the L.A. Times, is forced to relinguish his position, and new, more able, executives take over.



Blogger Miss Havisham said...

Right on. I so enjoy your independent and well studied take on the headlines (and the placement of stories.)

Reading here is like a multi-vitamin for my brain.

9/21/2007 3:52 PM  

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