Three Wrongs to Right

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, September 22, 2007

Three conflicts; three outcomes, with only one positive. That about sums up my feelings on the "Jena 6," the dust-up over the West End land deal and the Jim Moran controversy.

The 'Jena 6'

If the schoolyard fight had involved only white high school students or only black students, we wouldn't be reading about Jena, La. But it's not that simple.

A tree for white students only. Three hangman's nooses. Fights between black students and white students.

Enter, a white prosecutor out to put blacks in their place. White students were suspended. Black students were expelled, arrested and charged (as adults) with felonies.

The disproportionately heavy hand of the law on black males -- a story as old as America.

Sick and tired. Converge on Jena. Vigils. Wear black. Peaceful protest this time.

Next time -- and there will be a next time, unless that unfair prosecution is reversed and our unjust criminal justice system is changed -- there's no telling what an angry community acting in solidarity can and will do.

The West End Deal

Without fanfare, and after a little-publicized public hearing, the D.C. Council voted 12 to 1 in July to pass "emergency" legislation authorizing Mayor Adrian Fenty to negotiate a no-bid sale of the West End public library and surrounding city land to EastBanc, a private developer with an important link to Fenty's administration. The EastBanc official in charge of acquisitions is Joe Sternlieb, the husband of D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer.

Neighborhood leaders in Ward 2 went ballistic when they learned.

With opposition mounting, the bill's chief sponsor, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), joined by Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) -- both of whom are seeking reelection next year -- flip-flopped. They announced that they would ask the council to reconsider the sale at the next legislative meeting, on Oct. 2.

My interest is parochial.

The King family home occupied the West End library branch site at 24th and L streets NW from my time in grade school through my second year of college.

Developers discovered the West End and Foggy Bottom in the early 1950s. In only a few years, corner grocery stores, churches, dry cleaners, beauty and barber shops, and homes -- a working-class community with a rich history -- were wiped off the face of the Earth.

Back then, Congress owned the city, the president owned the appointed D.C. commissioners, and West End residents had no claims that downtown leaders and developers were bound to respect.

I'm pulling for today's West Enders. They're gaining some traction, too.

Said Jack Evans the other day: "The council is very amenable to reconsidering this." And Kwame Brown: "My number one priority is to always be responsive to the residents."

Ah, home rule. The prospect of an election does focus the mind wonderfully.

The Moran Controversy

Last week's column was about published remarks by Northern Virginia congressman Jim Moran (D) concerning the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Jewish community and how America went to war in Iraq.

The column drew a strong reaction, much of it negative, and much of it from readers who fervently believe the media and Congress are under the control of a powerful Jewish lobby that influenced the United States to invade Iraq in order to protect Israel.

Moran told a magazine that AIPAC "has pushed this war from the beginning. . . . They are so well organized, and their members are extraordinarily powerful -- most of them are quite wealthy -- they have been able to exert power."

I called on Moran to back up his public charge that AIPAC has ties to newspapers, magazines and individuals in the media.

For that, one reader called me an "attack dog for the Zionists."

'Course, I don't think of myself that way.

This week, 16 Jewish members of Congress, including Democrats Henry Waxman, Rahm Emanuel, Barney Frank, Nita Lowey, Jane Harman and Tom Lantos, sent Moran a letter expressing their disappointment in his statements, branding them "irresponsible" and having "absolutely no basis in fact."

"The idea that the war in Iraq began because of the influence of Jewish Americans is factually incorrect and unfortunately fits the anti-Semitic stereotypes some have used historically against Jews," they wrote.

Directly addressing Moran's charge, they said: "AIPAC as an organization never took a position on the war and none of us were ever lobbied by the organization on the war in Iraq. A number of the signatories of this letter voted against the war at the outset and many of us have voted against funding the war and for withdrawing our troops."

They told Moran that they failed to understand his determination to embarrass himself "with this series of inaccurate, illogical and inflammatory comments. But we find them deeply offensive and call on you to retract your statements."

Got a problem with that? Take it up with them.

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