Last week, thousands of peaceful demonstrators came from across the country to protest the criminal injustice done to young African-American men in Jena, La. The protesters spanned the generations and the country's geography. They came because of the chilling injustice in Jena, where a series of fights began after white students draped three nooses over the "white tree" in the schoolyard. The white students involved got slaps on the wrist; six African Americans were charged with attempted murder.
They came because Jena isn't simply in Louisiana; similar injustices take place in our criminal justice system routinely. Mothers and fathers came knowing their children could be the next ones accused.
The demonstration shamed those with a conscience and roused those with hatred in their hearts. Neo-Nazi Web pages have burned with vile denunciations of the Jena 6 and the demonstrators. Last week, www.overthrow.com -- an expression of an extremist group that calls itself the American National Socialist Workers Party -- chillingly published the names, addresses and telephone numbers of some of the families of the Jena 6. "Get in touch," the Web page threatened, "and let them know justice is coming."
"If these n-----s are released or acquitted, we will find out where they live and make sure that white activists and white citizens in Louisiana know it," ANSWP Commander Bill White stated. "We'll mail directions to their homes to every white man in Louisiana if we have to in order to find someone willing to deliver justice." Another white posting on the matter flatly threatened: "Lynch the Jena 6."
"The best crowd control for such a situation would be a squad of men armed with full automatics and preferably a machine gun as well," added another posting on the neo-Nazi Vanguard News Network, a white supremacist Web forum.
Threats by neo-Nazi white-supremacy groups need to be taken seriously. These groups are heavily armed and dangerous.
The governor and attorney general of Louisiana are silent. The local prosecutor remains belligerent. This is a time for federal intervention. The federal government intervened in Little Rock and Selma. Local authorities refuse to discharge their duty. The government must act now. I urge President Bush to intervene.
The presidential candidates in both parties should also exercise leadership here, speaking clearly about the need for reconciliation and justice. Republican candidates particularly should demonstrate that they can rise above racial divides to demand fairness and justice in America. Thus far, Republicans have been campaigning as if all America were a white suburb. They cited "scheduling conflicts" to avoid a debate sponsored by a historically black college. Other than John McCain, they ducked the Univision Latino debate. This disdain for reaching out caused former Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp to complain, "What are we going to do -- meet in a country club in the suburbs one day?"
But the Democratic nominees should not assume that they can inherit minority votes. They have to earn them. Standing up for justice and against this kind of hatred is an essential measure of leadership.
These threats are serious. The FBI should be investigating; the Justice Department intervening. The civil rights laws were passed to empower the federal government to act. It is time for George W. Bush to stand up.
Jesse Jackson can be reached by email.
© 2007 The Chicago Sun Times