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Sunday Song Lyric:
John Mellencamp's new song and video, "Jena," has struck a nerve with the town's mayor, Murphy R. McMillin.
"The town of Jena has for months been mischaracterized in the media and portrayed as the epicenter of hatred, racism and a place where justice is denied," Jena Mayor Murphy R. McMillin wrote in a statement on town letterhead faxed on Friday to The Associated Press.

He said he had previously stayed quiet, hoping that the town's courtesy to people who have visited over the past year would speak for itself. "However, the Mellencamp video is so inflammatory, so defamatory, that a line has been crossed and enough is enough."
The mayor is particularly upset with, what he sees, as the song's characterization of his town, and the video's juxtaposition of the current controversy with images from the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. "To put the incident in Jena in the same league as those who were murdered in the 1960s cheapens their sacrifice and insults their memory," McMillan said.

In response to such criticism, Mellencamp posted a statement on his website, Mellencamp.com (where one can also find the song lyrics and video).

I am not a journalist, I am a songwriter and in the spirit and tradition of the minstrel, I am telling a story in this song.
The story is not, strictly speaking, about the town of Jena or this specific incident but of racism in America.
The song was not written as an indictment of the people of Jena but, rather, as a condemnation of rasicm, a problem which I've reflected in many songs, a problem that still plagues our country today.
The current trial in Jena is just another reflection of prejudice in our nation. If the song strikes an emotional chord with people and if they examin it and interpret as they will, something will have been accomplished. The aim here is not to antagonize but, rather, to catalyze thought.
As for the lyrics, here is how the song begins.
An all white jury hides the executioner's face
See how we are, me and you?
Everyone here needs to know their place
Let's keep this blackbird hidden in the flue

Oh oh oh Jena
Oh oh oh Jena
Oh oh oh Jena
Take your nooses down

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, while Mayor McMillin does not like John Mellencamp's suggestion that Jena is a racist community, this story suggests he was not so upset about receiving "moral support" from white supremacist groups.

Matthew Friendly (mail):
Seems to me those lyrics are pretty specifically aimed at Jena, and are highly inflammatory. Johnny Boy Cougar is being a bit disingenuous in his post responding to the mayor.
10.7.2007 1:11pm
Benjamin Davis (mail):
The Mayor is free to say things to keep his base together as he has done here. He and his town handled the nooses the way they decided to do it. Mellencamp is in a long tradition of protest songs. The Mayor tries to distinguish only the cases of murder of civil rights workers - as if all the rest of what happened in the civil rights movement is of no significance. There are thousands of cases of twisted use of local laws to arrest people (vagrancy, trespassing) as well as state sanctioned beatings and waterhosings (folks remember Birmingham?) in that period and going back for hundreds of years to "keep the black man dowm." Except, now he has to pay a price. It hurts to get that kind of reputation. Maybe take the black high school students concerns a lot more seriously in the future and you can avoid these problems.
Best,
Ben
10.7.2007 1:27pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
I must say that the whole Jenna tale (the narrative) is a mischaracterization of events at Jena.

However, there is a real narrative:

Senator Jim Webb On Mass Incarceration.
10.7.2007 1:30pm
Chaos (mail) (www):
That sounds like the typical excuse - if it isn't satire, it wasn't meant to be taken literally, it was meant to provoke discussion!

Sure, discussion of how racist and bad the town of Jena and by extension the whole South and by extension all conservatives are. It's standard practice.
10.7.2007 1:44pm
plunge (mail):
Those are some pretty lousy lyrics, just artistically speaking. And did he really call himself a minstrel?
10.7.2007 1:56pm
Chaos (mail) (www):
I also don't understand Benjamin Davis's argument. Apparently, the mayor of Jena is responsible for the decisions of high school administrators who did not punish white students harshly enough for Benjamin Davis's taste. While a white student is beat unconscious by six attackers and the proper response, apparently, is to talk about racism (white racism against blacks of course) and how we should take the concerns of black students more seriously.

I think Benjamin Davis doesn't know what happened in Jena. Some white kids hung the nooses from the tree and were punished pretty severely for it, according to reports. There was a lot of racial tension between the white and black students on-campus, there was a fight at a party off-campus involving (black) Robert Bailey, Jr, son of the local NAACP president, and another incident later at a convenience store involving again Robert Bailey, Jr, and finally, the beating of 17-year old Justin Baker by six black students, in school, including Robert Bailey, Jr. According to the Assistant Principal, Bailey and his friends ambushed Barker, who was knocked unconscious by a punch to the head, and then kicked him repeatedly.

Somehow this has been turned into a racial issue when it is obvious to me anyway that the only issue here is that Robert Bailey and some of his friends broke the law repeatedly.

So what concerns should we be addressing? Maybe the concern of some students that they will be unable to, six-on-one, ambush and beat someone unconscious and get away with it?
10.7.2007 1:57pm
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):

So what concerns should we be addressing? Maybe the concern of some students that they will be unable to, six-on-one, ambush and beat someone unconscious and get away with it?


I think the concern is that there be something in between "get away with it" and "be charged with attempted murder."
10.7.2007 2:19pm
mistermark:
Is this the same Mayor Murphy McMillin who expressed his gratitude to white supremacist groups for providing moral support to him and the (white) people in this troubled time? Why, yes it is.
10.7.2007 2:29pm
mistermark:
That should have said

Is this the same Mayor Murphy McMillin who expressed his gratitude to white supremacist groups for providing moral support to him and the (white) people of Jena in this troubled time? Why, yes it is.
10.7.2007 2:30pm
Hoya:
So, the story to which mistermark links quotes the white supremacist leader as saying that the mayor appreciated the moral support. I don't think that I am going to be betting the farm on the veracity of the white supremacist looking for validation of his cause.
10.7.2007 3:32pm
mistermark:
Fair point, Hoya, but I haven't come across any articles in which McMillin states that the quotations are fakes or were taken completely out of context. If McMillin was that interested in making sure a fair story was being told on that matter (and it's not an obscure story, he must know about it), one would think that he'd be denying the accuracy of the quotes. Right now, it looks to me like his concern about the city's image has a few blind spots, to say the least.

And Jonathan, thank you for referencing the Chicago Tribune article in your update. It was good of you to put that up front in the discussion.
10.7.2007 3:57pm
Don Meaker (mail):
What you don't hear in main stream media is that the nooses were hung under the 'spirit tree' relating to a football game. The opposing team the Jena high school was to play that week was the 'Cowboys'. The students whose function was to encourage support of the football team thought of the nooses as an encouraging 'us vs. them' them to encourage support of the Jena team (at least one of the Jena 6 was on the team!) Other theme oriented decorations were hung there every week. Of course the school administrators recognized how the nooses would play sooner than the students, and had them taken down.
10.7.2007 4:19pm
Roach (mail) (www):
Someone other than Screwdriver should do a good song or two re black on white violence. Maybe the Ballad of Willie Horton or some such.
10.7.2007 4:33pm
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
"The mayor is particularly upset with, what he sees, as the song's characterization of his town, and the video's juxtaposition of the current controversy with images from the civil rights struggles of the 1960s."

No different than the juxtaposition of the current abrupt climate change causing global warming controversy with Bob Dylan's song lyrics of the 1960s predicting the extent of future chaos from these currently unfolding events of almost Biblical proportions that will affect us all:

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

-- Bob Dylan
10.7.2007 5:01pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I think the concern is that there be something in between "get away with it" and "be charged with attempted murder."
But he wasn't charaged with attempted murder. Or, rather, he was, but that was just a legal ploy to get the case out of the juvenile court system and into the adult system. Once that happened, the charge was reduced -- before the trial -- to aggravated battery, and that's what he was prosecuted for.
10.7.2007 6:27pm
BGates (www):
What's the over/under on how many decades Ben Davis wants black kids to be able to beat up white kids with no legal consequence?

a good song or two re black on white violence - my first thought was 'Cop Killer', but then I remembered the Garret Morris classic.
10.7.2007 7:46pm
Anderson (mail):
Or, rather, he was, but that was just a legal ploy to get the case out of the juvenile court system and into the adult system.

Oh, well, all right then! What is everyone upset about?
10.7.2007 8:08pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Oh, well, all right then! What is everyone upset about?
Well, they seem to be upset -- based on their words -- that he was prosecuted for attempted murder, even though he wasn't.

That he should have been tried as a juvenile doesn't really seem to be the main complaint of people running around chanting "Free the Jena 6." (Although that was, in fact, the legal hook for getting his conviction reversed.)
10.7.2007 11:48pm
AK (mail):
I am a songwriter and in the spirit and tradition of the minstrel,

Yes, that seems about right: Mellencamp knows about as much about race as the actors and audiences of minstrel shows.
10.8.2007 12:48am
TSW:
Jena 6 is not a real news story.
10.8.2007 2:07pm
TSW:
I'm sick of people comparing this non-story to Duke lacrosse. The difference isn't that the Jena 6 defendants are black, it's that they're guilty. If the lacrosse players' defense had been, "we admit to attacking the stripper, but we should have only been charged with sexual battery not rape, and one of us was a juvenile," no one would have cared about them.
10.8.2007 2:22pm
Smokey:
Jena 6 is not a real news story.
But this is. I wonder how the always self-righteous libs will spin this particular video?
10.8.2007 2:51pm
Happyshooter:
John is just not cool anymore since he stopped calling himself "Cougar".
10.9.2007 9:59am
Roundhead (mail) (www):
the `Jena 6' - controversy manufactured by the left-wing noise machine, in order to distract from the left's last media lynching, that of the Duke lacrosse team...

thanks
10.9.2007 2:26pm