About the so-called Jena Six, reasonable people can disagree about whether or not prosecutors initially charged the Jena, La., defendants too harshly. The black teenage defendants stand accused of beating a white teenager unconscious.
Authorities, at first, charged five of the six with attempted murder, although now none of them faces attempted murder charges. Supporters of the Jena Six claim that whites hung nooses on a tree, thus provoking a series of interracial clashes.
Revs. Sharpton and Jackson claim that harsh treatment of the Jena Six serves as a metaphor for the continued unequal justice for blacks in America. Really?
Jackson, speaking in Jena, claimed that more blacks sit in jail than in college. Irrelevant as to the issue at hand, and false.
According to the 2000 census, there were over 2.2 million blacks in college. By mid-year 2006, according to the Justice Department, 905,600 blacks were in state or federal prisons and local jails. Even if Jackson meant black men, his assertion is still debatable. The Justice Policy Institute found that at the time of the 2000 census, 603,000 black men were in college, while 791,000 were in jail. Yet only 179,000 of incarcerated blacks were between 18 and 24 years old, the customary "college age."
Jackson, in Jena, cited the unequal treatment in prosecuting crack versus powder drug violations as evidence of racial discrimination. This calls for an explanation. Crack violators, the ones subject to the harshest punishment, are often black. But members of the Black Congressional Caucus, in the '80s, pushed for stiff sentences against those peddling crack, given the violence -- mostly in urban areas -- associated with it. Nearly half of the members of the Black Congressional Caucus voted for the 1986 anti-drug bill, which provided stiff sentences for crack. The federal Sentencing Commission, during the Clinton administration, recommended equalizing the penalty for crack and powder. Clinton signed legislation to block the recommendations.
Jackson and Sharpton suggest that the disproportionate number of blacks under the criminal justice system stems from racism.