Monday, September 24, 2007

The Jena Shotgun Incident: I Knew There Might Be More To It Than That

The primary argument made by the "Free the Jena 6" crowd is that there's been racial disparity: the Jena 6 are, they claim, being treated less favorably than whites who committed similar, or even more serious offenses.

The "shotgun" incident inolves a student named Matt Windham, who pulled a shotgun on three black students, including at least one of the Jena 6, Robert Bailey. This incident has received huge play among those who believe the Jena 6 have suffered an injustice. Nearly all of the discussions of this incident state or imply that the white with the shotgun was the agressor. Few give any indication that there is a substantial factual dispute. Over at, for example, they summarize it thusly:

Black students at a convenience store were threatened by a young white man with a shotgun. They wrestled the gun from him and ran away. While no charges were filed against the white man, the students were arrested for the theft of the gun.

Radley Balko, in his e-mail to Glen Reynolds says "In one case, a white kid pulled a shotgun on three black kids." Michael David Murphy, who has been giving this story quite a bit of attention, has a similar characterization:

Three black teens were in the store, including two of the Jena Six, and when they left, they were confronted by a white man with a loaded shotgun. The teens wrestled the gun from him and fled.

NPR has a somewhat more detailed report:

The next day, tensions escalated at a local convenience store. Bailey exchanged words with a white student who had been at the party. The white boy ran back to his truck and pulled out a pistol grip shotgun. Bailey ran after him and wrestled him for the gun.

From these cursory and one-sided reports, you would hardly think that there was any controversy at all regarding the shotgun incident. Yet, when I heard about it, I kept scratching my head, wondering if that was all there was. Lo and behold, Patterico at Patterico's Pontifications linked to this story in the local Jena Times (you have to scroll down a bit to find the story). It turns out that there are two sidies to this shotgun incident, after all:

The victim, Matt Windham, alleges that three black males attacked and robbed him while the three accused are claiming self defense.

Both the victim and those arrested offered different statements to police, however, eye witnesses to the event unrelated to the victim or those arrested gave a report of the incident that corresponded with the victim.

Now, maybe the Jena Times is a racist rag covering up for a corrupt power structure. Maybe they're just sloppy about the facts. Maybe they don't want their town to look bad. I don't know whether this report is accurate. And I sure don't know what happened in that parking lot.

I do know one thing, however. I know that there is a factual dispute as to what happened. I know that both sides are claiming self-defense. Now, the pro-Jena 6 folks are free to believe Bailey's account if they like. But, at a minimum, honesty should compel them to acknowledge that the facts are in serious dispute.

Once it is acknowledged that, indeed, the shotgun might well have been pulled in self-defense, that element of the claim of racial disparity evaporates.


MikeT said...

Do I get to feel vindicated now (against the pro-Jena 6 idiots), since I posted something about this in one of your previous Jena threads? ;)

cheerful iconoclast said...

Well, I think you for your comment.

And I don't think that the "Free the Jena 6" crowd is composed entirely of idiots. I just think they want to believe that this is a classic southern racism case, and they interpret the facts in that light.

nakedtruth said...

If you think that black students who intended to rob someone would let them keep their truck after taking their gun from them then I have a snow ski resort in Louisiana I'd like to sell you.

Really with your blog post you have just proven that people will make up all kinds of ridiculous scenarios to prove whatever it is they want to believe.

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