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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

September 24, 2007


Iran's Voice Speaks at Columbia

Monday, September 24, 2007: 7:30AM
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going to speak in front of Columbia University students and faculty later today. There have been protests and inquiries as to why this Ivy League university on New York's Upper West Side (Manhattan) is going to be allowed to speak. Telephone polls on Cable News Channels have been conducting polls and asking for your telephone and Internet insights as to your opinion on the matter, opinions that, in the long run, don't really matter. Only in a nation such as ours can one deemed to be an enemy be permitted to speak at one of our top institutions of higher learning such as Ahmadinejad will be allowed to do today.

The visit by Ahmadinejad comes after a rejection by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which would have allowed him to visit Ground Zero as a diplomat. Of course, the Iranian president could always go down to the site as us regular people do and view it through a hole in a fence. Well... maybe not. Personally, I don't see what the fuss is all about. Even the bush administration hadn't made the jump from 911 and al-Qaeda to Iran, even if Rudy has already done so himself.

(Reports are that two Columbia University students will sort through the dozens (if not hundreds) of questions presented by their fellow students to ask the leader of Iran. One wonders if they will be the only two to make that decision.)

And the visit to Columbia comes after last night's 60 Minutes interview, on which Ahmadinejad said that his nation isn't seeking a nuclear bomb...kind of... sort of...

"Well, you have to appreciate we don't need a nuclear bomb. We don't need that. What need do we have for a bomb?"

And as for war with the United States...

"It's wrong to think that Iran and the U.S. are walking toward war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing."

And it was that statement alone which made me think: While President Bush is clearing sage brush or meeting with allies, or whatever he's going to do today (maybe get a facial?), wouldn't it be really something to see him make an appearance at Columbia instead? Imagine this scenario, if you will: After Ahmadinejad is introduced, President Bush comes out as well, sits in a chair on stage, listens, then speaks. And when it's President Bush's turn to speak, he should turn to President Ahmadinejad and say, "I'll see you backstage." so the two can begin a dialogue.

Monday, September 24, 2007: Later
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT LEE BOLLINGER: Mr. President (Ahmadinejad), you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.
(Denying the Holocaust is) ridiculous (and) dangerous propaganda.
The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history.

Bollinger's statements directly to President Ahmadinejad were designed to make him answer questions he has continually avoided as well as to allow him the opportunity to rescind earlier ludicrous remarks. Ahmadinejad would have none of that.

AHMADINEJAD: We don't think it's necessary before the speech is given to come in with some series of claims.

But it was necessary. If someone such as President Ahmadinejad seeks and open forum in which to state his beliefs, claims to fact and judgments while in an open society such as the United States, then one has to expect fair criticism to those beliefs, rebukes of those untrue facts and counters to outrageous judgments made in the name of propaganda.

AHMADINEJAD: If the Holocaust is a reality of our time, a history that occurred, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives?

One has to think that if this re-write if history had his way, there would have been no slaves held against their will in ancient Egypt or even in the US prior to the end of our Civil War. Let's face it: This is a guy who, once presented with the photo evidence of his being one of the students "escorting" an American hostage out of the Embassy (circa 1979), this leader of his people said "Nope! it wasn't me." This guy reminds me of the Eddie Murphy joke, "deny, deny, deny" relating to a man getting caught with another woman in a precarious situation.

The Holocaust happened, Mr. Ahmadinejad, whether you believe that all the Jews moved to Cincinnati (as does Hunter Gibson, Mel's father believes) or not. And using New York City as a backdrop of hate and denial doesn't change the truth.

In response to his statements about the destruction of Israel, all Ahmadinejad had to offer was plainly a call for the extermination of all Jews living there

AHMADINEJAD: Let the people of Palestine freely choose what they want for their future.

Don't the Jews in Israel have any say, Mr. President.

When pressed as to whether or not he wishes for, and recommends the destruction of the state of Israel, and all of those who live there, here's how Ahmadinejad put it:

:Everybody provides a solution. And our solution is a free referendum."

'Nuff said.

Even with all of his talking about Iran being a broker to peace in the middle east, the Iranian president missed his mark when refusing to call for that peace without the inclusion of Israel. Through all of his claims that "Iran will not attack any country," and "Iran is going to ... hold the key to peace in the Middle East. We have to deal with and negotiate with leaders like this however much we may disagree with their views," Ahmadinejad's refusal to include Israel as a nation to be included in such a process is foolish. In much the same way as President Bush holds diplomatic sessions with only his friends and exclude enemies, Mr. Ahmadinejad is ignoring, if not fully antagonizing his own 800 pound gorilla in the room. And whether you're a full supporter of a Palestinian state or a full supporter of Israel's right to keep the land it has won, ignoring the fact that Israel should be a part of their own destiny is both foolish and hazardous. Ahmadinejad's words make for war, not peace. And it's sad.

And where was President Bush while the leader of Iran, the most troublesome nation in the mid-east, is in town? I know where he wasn't: He wasn't there to rebuke his statements nor offer a hand to begin a dialogue. And that, too, is sad.

But the bottom line is that, other than spin and rhetoric, President Ahmadinejad had nothing to offer. No offer of peace talks between America and Iran; no offer of any solution, other than the complete annihilation of the Jews, to lead to Palestinians and Israelis living in peace; nothing except empty words and double-speak.

I thought I was listening to George W. Bush himself.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

On October 3, 1995 I was a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Like every other columnist in America, on that day I had one subject to write about: The verdict in the so-called “trial of the century,” OJ Simpson’s trial for the brutal stabbing murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. After nearly a year, countless hours of testimony, DNA evidence and witnesses, the jury deliberated a mere three hours and found Simpson not-guilty on all counts.

I had written a lot about the trial as it was going on, because it was the first big celebrity trial and because the complexities of racism and sexism were so integral to the case. Nicole Brown had been a battered wife and she was also white. At the time, I had interviewed a lot of people about what the trial meant to them. Many black women admitted that they didn’t care very much that Nicole Brown had been murdered because they were tired of famous black men taking white trophy wives. Men of both races seemed to think that somehow Nicole Brown had been complicit in her own murder, that she had “provoked” Simpson. Very few people outside the victims’ families seemed to feel empathy toward the victims and part of the reason for that was because OJ Simpson was a celebrity and in 1995 many Americans still believed that celebrities were incapable of committing the kind of crime that Simpson was charged with.

And then there was the problem of the Los Angeles police department whose history of racism and corruption was legend. Many people believed that Simpson had been framed.

In my column about the verdict, I asked why would anyone be cheering at the result, as they were in the streets of Los Angeles. Why cheer, I asked, when two people were still dead? Even if you believed that OJ was innocent, what was there to cheer about–unless you also believed that the victims deserved what they got, because racism runs that deep, on all sides in America.

It was after the OJ verdict that Americans first learned about “jury nullification” and what that might mean. The impact of the verdict–other than that a man who had committed two brutal murders (of which he was later found guilty in a civil trial) was set free–was to suggest that one verdict could be substituted for another. That somehow if the “wrong” verdict was delivered in one high profile case, a jury could nullify its verdict in another high profile case and somehow, at least emotionally, there would be vindication.

Jury nullification meant ignoring the evidence and the judge’s instructions and just going on emotion.

The predominantly African-American jury wanted OJ acquitted. Not because they believed he was innocent–most jurors later said they thought he was guilty–but because they were angry with the police.

The verdict in the OJ trial came three years after the verdict in the Rodney King case. Police officers charged with beating King–the videotape was seen nationwide–were acquitted. After that verdict, Los Angeles erupted in riots which lasted four days. During those riots 55 people–most of them white and Asian–were killed, 2,383 people were injured, many of them critically, there were more than 7,000 fires, 3,100 businesses were damaged and destroyed and there was more than $1 billion in damage to the city.

Outrage over the King verdict simmered for a long time after the rioting stopped and those feelings remained when OJ Simpson went to trial. Legal scholars as well as columnists like myself were clear about the connection. People felt the Los Angeles police department was corrupt, tainted and out to get African Americans. There was much to support that impression. And as a result, OJ walked.

Now, 12 years later, OJ Simpson is back in the news, this time for an alleged armed robbery and many hope he will be found guilty this time, and serve time in prison as they believe he should have done for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

This would be, once again, trade-off justice, which is not real justice. Which leads me to the Jena Six.

The Jena Six are African-American high school students from Jena, Louisiana whose lives were changed forever when they responded to a racist act in their small hometown.

Jena is a small town of 4,000. Close to 85 percent of the residents are white. Racism is still blatant in the South and at the Jena High School where the six were students and athletes, the live-oak trees on the school grounds still had Jim Crow designations: whites only. This was where the white students sat at lunch time in the hot Louisiana afternoons.

Thus last fall when Justin Purvis, an African American, *asked the school's permission* to sit under a whites-only tree, the response from white students was immediate and ugly.

The next morning, three nooses–in the school’s colors--were hanging from the tree, prompting African-American students to stage a protest. They all congregated under the tree. There was shouting and racial epithets and things got so volatile that police were called and even the town’s District Attorney, Reed Walters, came to the school.

According to one teacher, the DA told the African-American students that he could end their lives with the stroke of a pen.

And that was the beginning of what is, since the Rodney King and OJ Simpson verdicts, one of the most repugnant moments in recent race politics in America.

African-Americans in Jena were outraged by the incident with the nooses while whites shrugged it off as a prank. But the white residents of the town are people who still fly the Confederate flag and don’t understand why it is painful for African Americans. Of course they would ignore the significance of the nooses, the symbol of generations of lynchings. The principal at Jena High School recommended suspension for the white students involved, but was over-ruled by the school superintendent who went with the “prank” theory.

After the incident under the tree, racial tensions escalated. Robert Bailey, an African-American student who had been under the tree, was beaten up at a predominantly white party. There were no charges filed.

Bailey and two friends were threatened with a gun by a white man in a convenience store a few days after the beating. Again, nothing was done by police. But on December 4, 2006, a fight broke out at the school. It was a retaliatory fight, a racial fight, and was directly related to the injuries sustained by Bailey in the attacks on him in the previous days. White students were taunting black students and Bailey and five friends responded with their fists.

During this fight, a white student was beaten, taken to the hospital and released. Unlike when Bailey was attacked, police came and arrested six students: Bailey and five other African-Americans.

This was a school fight, albeit a bad one. But there were no weapons involved, and the one student who was injured–the student who allegedly beat Bailey several nights earlier–sustained no lasting injuries and was out at a school dance the evening of the fight. The appropriate response to the fight would have been a suspension from school of all the students involved, irrespective of race.

So why were the Jena Six charged with second-degree attempted murder which would mean each teen faced years–decades–in prison?

Bailey, 17, was charged and his bail set at $138,000. Theo Shaw, 17; bail set at $130,000. Carwin Jones, 18; bail, $100,000. Bryant Purvis,17, brother of the boy who first sat under the tree, bail: $70,000. Mychal Bell, 16: bail, $90,000. The sixth member of the group is a still unidentified minor.

The first of the teens to go on trial was Bell, a football player at the school and a sophomore. The charges were lowered to aggravated battery, but that charge still involves a weapon, and no weapons were involved in the fight. But Reed insisted there was indeed a weapon: Bell’s sneakers.

Thus far Bell is the only one of the Jena Six to be tried–and as an adult, even though he was 16 at the time of the incident. He was convicted by an all-white jury. The only witnesses called were called by the prosecutor, who is white, and those witnesses were also white, as was the judge. Those who attended the trial said the courtroom was split down the center–whites on one side, blacks on the other. Bell’s court-appointed attorney called no witnesses. The victim said he was unsure whether Bell had actually hit him.

Yet Bell was convicted.

When I covered the trial of the police who beat Rodney King, I thought it was a travesty of justice. The police were tried by a predominantly white jury and acquitted, despite that damning videotape. Riots ensued because African American Los Angelenos thought that justice had been denied and were angered to the point of murderous rage.

Then the OJ trial brought jury nullification to the national consciousness; if the police were corrupt and racist, then juries would take justice into their own hands and create their own justice.

It could be said the Jena Six took justice into their own hands, as well, because the adults charged with protecting them did not. The principal and teachers did nothing about the escalating racial violence after the noose incident. The police did nothing when Bailey was beaten by white students, nor was anything done when he and his friends were threatened at gun-point. Yet when the African-American students got into a fist fight at school, they were arrested and charged with attempted murder.

It’s difficult to ignore the injustice here. It’s difficult to pretend the racism isn’t blatant. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, it doesn’t take Al Sharpton or the NAACP. It’s painfully obvious.

Racism remains one of America’s seamiest sides. That there was a school-sanctioned, whites-only tree at the Jena High School is repugnant. This is 2007, not 1807. How dare a public school institutionalize racism in this way?

And what adult can’t recognize that nooses hung from a tree in the South mean one thing to African Americans–lynching? No one is that willfully ignorant of the gruesome history of lynching.

OJ Simpson is walking around a free man because of racism and the Jena Six, most of them unable to post their bonds as they await trial, are sitting in jail. Again, because of racism.

We can, of course, fix this. We can release these kids from jail immediately. Vacate the one conviction, drop the other charges. Hope that these six kids don’t hate white people for the rest of their lives as passionately as their fellow townspeople seem to hate the blacks in Jena.

And yet, the District Attorney, Reed Walters, is standing firm. He will not move to vacate the conviction for Bell, nor will he drop the charges against Bailey and the others.


He says the case is not and has never been about race but is about breaking the law. Yes, and OJ Simpson says there are real killers “out there” who killed his former wife and her friend, too.

This is *all* about race. No school fight ends up in an attempted murder charge unless there really is an attempted murder.

There *was* an attempt on a student’s life in Jena, but it was on Robert Bailey’s life, and no one was arrested for that, not when it happened, not since.

The white victim in the case has had some troubles since the events last December. He brought a shotgun and bullets to the school and was arrested. But he was released on $5,000 bond and the charges have since been dropped.

That’s Jena justice. Color blind as long as the color is white.

On September 20th, about 15,000 people from across the U.S. converged on Jena to protest the treatment of the Jena Six. It was the anniversary of the nooses being hung in the tree on the schoolyard. It was also the day Mychal Bell was due to be sentenced.

I’m among those who hope that OJ Simpson gets convicted and sentenced to many years in prison for his most recent alleged crime. He’s a killer and he should be in jail. I’m not a fan of trade-off justice, but I’ll take it for a vicious murderer.

I’m also among those who think that someone with authority over Reed Walters should do something about the Jena Six. Governors commute sentences and vacate convictions every day. Where is Kathleen Blanco, governor of Louisiana, in this case that has so embarrassed her state and raised such national and even international outrage?

Many have compared the fight to free the Jena Six with civil rights battles of the 1960s. The leader of that era’s struggles, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Morality and justice don’t meet up much in America’s court system. If they did, the Jena Six would be in school where they belong and OJ Simpson would be in prison where he belongs. If justice is indeed supposed to be blind, then it must be blind to race. Unless and until we take race out of the equation in prosecutions, we will continue to have two kinds of justice in America. And that means more racist incarcerations like that of the Jena Six and also more jury nullifications, like that of OJ Simpson.

It’s far past time to address our racist past and present in America. A good place to start would be with the Jena Six. Release Mychal Bell, vacate his conviction and drop the remaining charges. Then and only then will justice have been served for the Jena Six.

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-Noah Greenberg