NEWS REPORTS describe a "fight" on September 17 between students of two high schools at a football game in Decatur, Ill. "Fight" conjures up images of shoves leading to punches among two, three, maybe four people. More than four pairs of flying fists is a brawl. About ten hooligans participated in the Decatur incident, and their "fight" was by no means restricted to them alone. Other spectators had to scramble out of their way, an older man and woman were nearly knocked over, and another couple was almost pushed off the stands. The rampage lasted for ten minutes, and officials had to interrupt the game. The video footage looks like a melee from a British soccer match—and shows the riot for what it was.
The school board suspended six of the teens, all public-high-school students, for two years, and prosecutors filed felony charges against them. Enter the Reverend Jesse Jackson. With scores of racial agitators and sympathetic newsmen in tow, Jackson has turned the "Decatur Six" into the silliest cause since Mumia Abu Jamal. He makes no effort to disprove the students' guilt, nor does he even challenge the idea of stringent policies against school violence. His suggestion seems to be that in this case, the rules are not only unfair, but racist. All six expelled students are black.
Still, he insists that Decatur is in no way a racial issue, just one of fairness. Of course. So how is a school board's implementing its zero-violence policy against violent goons unfair? Mainly, it seems, because the predominantly white board enforced its rules against blacks. Jackson also complains that Decatur schools have suspended disproportionate numbers of blacks in the past, although he does not consider whether those punishments might have been justified.
In an amazing redefinition of reality, the Reverend calls the riot "a schoolyard fight" and "something silly like children do." He harps on the irrelevant fact that one of the expelled boys is an honor student, but conveniently ignores that three of the others are freshmen for the fourth time, and that most of them have a long track record of skipping school. (With a straight face, Jackson bemoans the loss of education the Decatur thugs will suffer as a result of their punishment.) He explains why the out-of-control brawl was so benign: "No blood, no injuries, no guns." Talk about defining deviancy down. Does Jackson believe that nothing less than a bloody carnage is worthy of serious discipline? Or is this, like racial quotas, just another case of lower expectations and standards for blacks?
Like other civil-rights radicals, Jackson sees black crime as the result of some sort of white conspiracy. When blacks break the law, the argument goes, a racist society has driven them to it. But that mentality is patronizing to blacks; it assumes that they are not in control of their own actions. "If you can't call a black thug a thug, you're a racist," Tamar Jacoby reminds herself in Someone Else's House, her heartfelt plea to Americans to close the still-existing separation of white and black life in America. By extension, if Jackson can't call a black rioter a rioter, he's a racist. For the Reverend, no issue involving blacks can ever be taken at face value. There is always an underlying agenda, and it's always white racism.
"We're going to cross the line," he proclaims. "If Dr. King could do it in Birmingham … and Mandela could do it in South Africa, we can do it in Decatur." In the Birmingham of the Sixties, blacks could not sit at white lunch counters; under South Africa's Apartheid, they were denied the right to vote. Claiming to fight racial oppression in the Nineties, Jackson creates it where it does not exist. But many blacks have bought into his absurdity. A throng of protesters who came for Jackson's Decatur rally last Sunday actually sang "We Shall Overcome."
"From what I can see, it seems like they don't care about black kids," said one participant in a Jackson rally after the county prosecutor filed criminal charges against the students. That accusation would be better leveled against Jesse Jackson. The student bodies at Decatur public schools are nearly 40 percent black. Jackson would rather that law-abiding minorities pay the price of going to school with dangerous classmates than punish the offenders in any serious way.
By expelling a band of thugs, Decatur has made its schools a little bit safer. If only now it could find a way to expel Jesse Jackson.