Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

(Cross-posted at my new Afrocentric community blog, Maat's Feather and other sites)

"Can I sit under the white tree?"

"Let me smoke with you white boys."

What do these two statements have in common?

In law there is a doctrine of criminal law that we all learn in first year, called the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine.  The doctrine provides that evidence seized through a violation of constitutional rights is so fundamentally tainted that it cannot be the foundation of a prosecution.  In other words, the fruit may be beautiful and juicy and perfect - yet it is still rotten to the core, because from the root to the branch it is poisoned with evil.

Such is the case with the tree, literally and figuratively, from which six young brothers lives hang in the balance.

And it all started with a high school student's request to sit under the "white tree" in Jena, Louisiana last September.

What is most notable about this story is how utterly disinterested the mainstream media has been, by and large.  Here are some additional links to get you quickly up to speed:

Young Black Males the Target of Small Town Racism

Jim Crow Injustice in Jena, Louisiana

6 Teens Facing 80-100 Years Without Parole

A Troubling Song of the South

In other words, six young black men -- children, really -- are on trial for various degrees of assault/attempted murder on a white boy whose ego may have been wounded but whose physical injuries were comparatively minor, following their finally getting sick and tired of being sick and tired.  The first, Mychael Bell, has already been convicted of deadly assault and faces 22 years in prison.

  By a white judge, trial by an all-white jury filled with all-white witnesses (other than the defendant, of course) brought by a white prosecutor who made clear where he stood from day one when he warned the Black students of Jena who exercised their First Amendment right of protest from the get-go that

I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen.

If that's not poisoned fruit, I don't know what is.

To me, the white tree in Jena is the poisoned tree I learned about in law school, literally, even though search and seizure is not the issue.  It may grow majestically still but it is evil from its root to its branch.  And the fruit of that poisoned tree is the legal system's systematic extermination of six young black lives who were merely standing up for their dignity and lost their patience when the grownups failed to do their duty.  The fruit of the poisoned tree is the empowerment of the skinheads in training whose idea of a joke was hanging from the tree one of the most hated, terrorist symbols of this country's history where Black people are concerned after Black children merely did what they had an absolute right to do:  sit under what I bet 95% of the folks down in Jena -- white OR black -- when asked would agree is God's tree. 

But the poisoned fruit that is waiting to be grown is the subliminal reinforcement of a message that, at least in theory, folks keep insisting was stamped out decades ago:  the message that to style yourself as the equal of whites who don't see you that way, such that you complain about your rights, is a potentially-fatal mistake.

This is not the first time that this message has been recently sent, from where I sit.  Indeed, this message never really completely disappeared.  But I think it's fair to say that it has been increasing, and accelerating, as we again enter an era in which folks don't have too much compunction about letting their anti-Black show - publicly. 

For those not persuaded that the tide has turned, and not in a good way, here's a brief recap the last decade of our collective trip down memory lane.  Just in the last decade, we've seen the quiet return of two things that used to be a daily occurrence where Black folks are concerned:

Use of Terrorist Symbols:

  • The dogs are back.

  • The "Whites Only" signs are back.

  • The nooses are back too.  Damned . . .Near . . .Everywhere.

  • The church burning is back.

  • The suspicious house arson is too.

  • I might say we were still OK since no one has yet reported seeing the ghostly sight of the Night Riders again, but then I remember what P.E. cautioned a while ago now:

    Now you can't see who is in cahoots

    'Cause the KKK is wearing three-piece suits.

    Excessive Force Against Black Suspects

  • Sean Bell? Dead

  • Amadou Diallo? Dead.

  • Kathryn Johnston? Dead at 92.

  • Alberta Spruill?  Scared Dead.

  • Timmy Thomas and Michael Carpenter? Both Dead (plus 13 others in Cincinatti in the past decade).

  • Cory Maye? Dead Man Walking.

    Didn't we supposedly get past all this back in the day (1960's?) Does anyone even notice, or are we too focused on the gettin' day to day to care?

    Well, I have noticed, and it's not in a good way.  We need to do something.  Or else, the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this diary may become painfully obvious to us all:

    Each, having been spoken by someone reaching out across races in good faith, represented the beginning of the end, literally or figuratively, of that Black person's life. 

    That's a history we damned sure don't need to repeat.  The hundreds that protested in Jena, Louisiana yesterday are a start.  But we need our collective voices heard, loudly and insistently, that what happened to Mychael Bell will not happen to the other 5.  There are many who are now trying to make it right, including the ACLU and law firms like mine who are stepping up to make plain we WANT to partner pro bono to try and both undo the harm to the young Mr. Bell's life *and* collaborate with local defense lawyers to make sure it is not repeated 5 more times.  No matter how many all white juries they try and come up with down there in Jena.

    Money couldn't hurt, either:  the majority of these children either couldn't make bail at all last year, or their families had to go to the bottom of the barrel to find money, and it took a while.  Every little bit helps. 

    If you're lacking cash or plane tickets, you still have the power of the pen, so use it.  Tell the story.  Write to politicians up and down the Louisiana food chain -- after all, they are out there now trying to persuade folks to vote for them, in both parties.  Demand that they take care of our kids who have been wronged in this case -- and yes, they are OUR kids, whenever this happens, even when we think they did wrong.  It's now or never, IMO.  And, if you can, mobilize to support these children, as folks are trying to do.

    Because if society doesn't take care of Black folks when we are harassed because of our race *and* feels free to punish us severely when we try to take care of the problem ourselves, what options remain but a return to the Good Old Days?  Remember, if there is one thing the case of the Jena 6 should tell us, it is that they don't have to literally hang us from the tree anymore to lynch us just as dead or figuratively dying.


    At 9:59 PM, Blogger Meteor Blades said...

    Thanks, shanikka, for cross-posting this terrific piece at Daily Kos, where it is still, at 10 p.m., on the Recommended List.

    At 8:49 AM, Blogger Shanikka said...

    Thanks, MB.

    You know I value your opinions highly, and I appreciate you checking in!


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