Jena Mayor Assails Mellencamp Video

By Terry Keleher Oct 08, 2007

A new music video by John Mellencamp, with the refrain, “Jena, take your nooses down,” has elicited a strong rebuke from Jena, Louisiana Mayor Murphy R. McMillan. “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 to The Associated Press. The video includes a montage of images of Jena, historical footage of police beatings, and photos of civil rights protesters and leaders, including Rev. Al Sharpton and Dr. Martin Luther King. "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," said McMillin. Mellencamp responded, “The song was not written as an indictment of the people of Jena but, rather, as a condemnation of racism, a problem which I’ve reflected in many songs, a problem that still plagues our country today.” The video, from the opening song lyrics — "An all-white jury hides the executioner’s face; See how we are, me and you?" – doesn’t mince words about the realities of racism. Although, after the songs ends, the video’s final frame reads, “Let the people have the right to be different,” which struck me as an odd conclusion. Nevertheless, what’s interesting, as the AP aptly points out, is that the town’s mayor had nothing to say about another recent video in which rapper-actor Mos Def urged students across the country to support the Jena Six by staging school walk-outs on Oct. 1. Perhaps a white guy calling out the racism, in a town where few of its white residents were willing to join the recent local protest, may in this case, be more threatening.