A Case Study: Measuring the results-The Jena 6 Case
My objective here is not to be an iconoclast, but sometimes advances in knowledge can only come when one discards those things that aren’t effective at addressing those things of direct relevance to real issues. In the African-American community, there are a host of issues that are so pernicious that we really don’t have time and resources to devote to things not directly relevant to addressing them.
Back when I was in B-School, a very popular method of instruction was the case study. We’d take a historical situation with a company and analyze the impact of management’s decisions and strategies on the company’s future prospects. This type of study makes two things very clear:
- There’s a direct linkage between the decisions one makes with their resources and their future.
- Assessing decision making requires that one measure the results of it. With respect to measuring the effects of something, there’s an adage that good managers keep in mind—One can not manage what one doesn’t measure.
So, whenever something is planned, one has to have discernable result in mind that can be objectively measured One also has to have absolute clarity on the purpose of the action, otherwise time and resources are wasted. In addition to the real costs of time and money, there’s also an opportunity cost of foregoing the opportunity to deploy one’s resources on projects that might have yielded more far more fruit.
With that introduction in mind, let’s review a case study; Jena 6.
The Jena 6 protests were in response to what was perceived to be disparate judicial treatment of six African-American young men in Jena LA for assaulting a white student. About 15,000 to 20,000 demonstrators descended on Jena during September 2007 to make their feelings known about the case. Some of the demonstrators were bused in from places as far away as Los Angeles and Washington DC. protests. You can read more background information about Jena 6 here. What ultimately happened to the six defendants since the Jena 6 protests in 2007? Here’s a rundown:
- Bryant Purvis, aged 19, was arrested on February 7, 2008 for an assault causing bodily injury on a fellow high school student in Texas, where he now resides. Purvis was placed on probation for a year and required to do community service for the offense.
- Corwin Jones, by then aged 19, was arrested on May 10, 2008 in LaSalle Parish on a charge of misdemeanor simple battery. Jones had previously been arrested on January 24, 2008 on a trespass-related charge.
- On December 24, 2008, Mychal Bell, the main defendant in the Jena 6 case, was arrested and charged with shoplifting, resisting arrest, and simple assault. According to police, Bell was caught as he and another male attempted to steal $370 worth of clothing from Dillard’s department store. While being arrested, he reportedly fought back against a security guard and off-duty police officer. He was released on $1,300 bond. On December 29, 2008, Bell shot himself in the chest with a .22-caliber pistol in a failed attempt to take his own life, stating to police that he was tired of all the media attention.
- Robert Bailey enrolled in summer classes in 2009 at Grambling State University and attempted to walk onto the football team.
- On July 9, 2008, Jesse Ray Beard, by then aged 17, was released from house arrest so that he could attend a summer program and football camp in New York State. It was revealed at a hearing on that date that Beard had been recommended for expulsion for thirteen disciplinary actions, but that the recommendation had been overturned. In New York, he stayed with a local attorney and worked as an intern in the attorney’s office, while taking summer courses to prepare him for junior year. His probation was terminated so he could attend the Canterbury School in Connecticut. Half of the $39,900 annual tuition is being paid for with Jena Six defense fund money.
- Theo Shaw attends Louisiana Delta Community College in Monroe and was elected vice president of the student government association for the 2009-10 school year.
Since the Jena 6 trial, it appears that the defendants are 3 for 6. That’s to say that three of them, including the cause célèbre, Mychal Bell, have continued their involvement with the criminal justice system while the other three seem to be trying to make something of their lives. This is a far cry from the clean cut Little Rock Nine or James Meredith. In those days, African-Americans went all out to ensure that those they supported were beyond reproach mainly because they knew that the credibility of those who were being supported would be impugned to attack the credibility of the movement. That lesson has been completely forgotten.
Given the very mixed track record of the Jena 6 defendants, it’s time to take a measure of the effectiveness of the demonstrations. A few questions immediately present themselves:
- What was actually accomplished in light of the fact that half of the Jena 6 defendants had run-ins with the law after the demonstrations?
- What did the fact that half of the defendants wound up back under the supervision of the criminal justice system do from a public relations perspective of the Jena 6 movement? Did this advance the argument that black men receive disparate treatment from the courts or did it reinforce the idea that the defendants might have been guilty all along? Did the protestors look like folks concerned about justice or did they look like fools?
- What was the opportunity cost? What other things might we have spent the time and resources on that would have yielded better fruit?
By any objective measure, the Jena 6 demonstrations produced very little except reminiscence about the civil rights marches of the old days. Given the subsequent arrest records of the defendants, it was a public relations disaster. The opportunity costs were huge as the time and resources could have been better spent on host of other things.
On the average day in any American inner city, there are far more outrages that are committed that would make Jena 6 seem like child’s play with most of it being black on black crime. Where are the protests and hell raising about what is surely an epidemic that results in more victims than Jena, LA could ever produce? Where are the buses descending from everywhere to raise a voice of sanity in the middle of insanity?
While African-Americans may have a problem measuring things, there are others who are taking a measure of what’s occurring and planning appropriately. Their plans are to address the “problem”, as they see it, by warehousing black folks in jails for profit. What are the measures that those in the privatized prison business look at when planning an expansion of their business?
- What percentage of African-American children are being born in fatherless households? Answer: Upwards to 70% in some inner city areas.
- How many black men are under the supervision of the criminal justice system? Answer: One quarter of black men between the ages of 20-29 is either in prison, on probation or under the supervision of the criminal justice system on any given day.
- How many African-Americans are completing high school? Answer: Barely half.
- What is the leading cause of death for African-American men between age 15 and 29? Answer: Homicide
Each of these measures are well known by the private prison contractors and their business model is driven entirely on social indices like these as these correlate highly with current and future crime trends.
So what we have here is the spectacle of black folks pursuing things that have no measureable impact on 90% of the problems while the measures of dysfunction that exist in African-America communities are driving someone else’s economic well being. The self destruction of the community is another man’s route to riches while nothing is done to put them out of business.
And yet, an initiative that’s put forward is to galvanize people from all over the country to come to Jena to protest what was supposedly racist treatment when the cause célèbre of the entire movement winds up back in jail only months afterward. What sense does that make? I’m sorry, I don’t see any sense in that.
It’s for this reason alone, why you’ll never see some of us at marches, protests and similar things as long as they represent 90% of the effort on 10% of the problem. When 90% of our efforts begin to address 90% of the problems, we’ll be among those in the front lines of support.