WASHINGTON – The House Judiciary Committee will be schooled about the Jena Six incident and youth hate crimes Tuesday.
Legal and civil rights experts will testify about the types of youth hate crimes being committed throughout the country,using the Jena Six as an example.
“A very high percentage of hate crimes in our country are committed by youth,” said Richard Cohen,president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Schools are a common venue for hate crimes.”
In December,six black teenagers were charged with attempted murder after being arrested for beating a white classmate in Jena,La. The arrests followed a series of racial incidents at Jena High School that included the hanging of nooses from a tree.
Schools are the third most common place hate crimes are committed,the FBI reported in its 2005 Uniform Crime Report. From 2004 to 2005,hate crimes at schools and colleges increased by 8 percent,the report stated.
“There are a lot of hormones that are raging,” said Cohen,who will testify before the committee. “Our schools are flash points for this activity. People are stating their claim and marking their territory.”
School administrators can help eliminate hate crimes,but sometimes exacerbate situations by dolling out unequal punishments to students,Cohen said.
The Jena Six incident highlights the failure of public schools and the criminal justice system,said Charles Ogletree,director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. Congress must examine whether Jena High School treated its black and white students the same when handing out punishments. Several white students were suspended for hanging the nooses.
“The Jena case is simply the reflection of a broader set of problems and racial hostility in the United States,” said Ogletree,who also will testify before the committee. “While we were shocked and dismayed to learn about nooses being hung on a tree that was usually reserved for white students to sit in the shade,we have seen repeated incidents at Columbia University and the University of Maryland. This sort of behavior is coming back in the 21st century.”
The commonplace nature of hate crimes in schools is disturbing,said Joselle Shea,manager of children and youth initiates for the National Crime Prevention Council. Schools are working to prevent hate crimes,and focusing on bullying is one way to stop the spread of hate,she added.
The council has visited more than 30 states and established programs that teach tolerance,Shea said. The programs consist of skits or demonstrations that illustrate the effects of harassment.
“The Jena Six incident is a call for all of us and our communities to take a good look and see how we are showing respect for all the people in our community,” she said.
Also scheduled to testify Tuesday are the Rev. Al Sharpton; Donald Washington,U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana; Lisa Krigsten,of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division; and the Rev. Brian Moran,pastor of the Jena Antioch Baptist Church and president of Jena's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.