The Internet is a wonderful tool for the viral spread of news. A great example was an email that I received yesterday, it had passed through several generations of recipients and the original sender long lost in the mysterious world of email headers.

The content of the message though caught my eye. It did not look like the regular forwarded rubbish that does the rounds on the net. This letter appeared to come from a resident of Jena LA who was very upset with the Red Cross over their participation in Tuesdays rally in Jena. Leveraging the power of the net I tracked down the phone number of the author and called Mr James Broadwell.

He was indeed the original author of the email, which was sent to the American Red Cross and approximately 20 other people. He was more than happy to explain his anger over Tuesdays rally. Prior to the rally the organizers had made it clear that they were going to be spending no money in Jena, or in fact in Louisiana in general, they were not there to benefit the local economy. Fearing problems, all but two local retail outlets closed for the day. This may not sound like big news, but that is a day of sales lost for the local café, or convenience store.

Maybe the most disturbing aspect of Tuesday’s shenanigans was the part that the American Red Cross played. Obviously an influx of 25,000 people into the small town of Jena could potentially overwhelm the small hospital if there was any trouble. It was therefore a good idea for the Red Cross to be in attendance. However, what they actually did was hand out free bottles of water, according to media reports 25,000 bottles. As Mr. Broadwell says “I have contributed to the Red Cross for many years, this is not how I want to see my money used, it is not as if the people attending were forced to be there, they could have brought their own water”.

The media loves bad news, and the events both past and present have created a feeding frenzy. I asked James the same question that CNN has asked a thousand times, but I did it with a twist, I am white! Is Jena a racist town?

James Broadwell is clearly a well educated and thoughtful man, his answer was..

We are no different from any other town, there is racism everywhere, it may be hidden beneath the surface, but it exists. Jena is a nice town, we are not racist, I have black friends, they come to my house, I go to theirs, we exchange Christmas presents, we are just regular people.

I suspect that James Broadwell is pretty representative of residents in Jena, and yes he is defensive, but anyone would be with this level of adverse publicity. There are also some facts about the Jena Six case that have not yet been released, but with this level of media scrutiny you can bet your bottom dollar that they will. Not least of which is the matter of a really serious and life threatening beating of a younger girl by one of the kids involved. And the reason why there were no black jurors.

We have not heard the last of Jena Louisiana!

Simon Barrett

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