Friday, September 7, 2007
The Dirty South
Last fall in Jena, Louisiana, the day after two Black high school students sat beneath the "white tree" on their campus, nooses were hung from the tree. When the superintendent dismissed the nooses as a "prank," more Black students sat under the tree in protest. The District Attorney then came to the school accompanied by the town's police and demanded that the students end their protest, telling them, "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy... I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen."1
A series of white-on-black incidents of violence followed, and the DA did nothing. But when a white student was beaten up in a schoolyard fight, the DA responded by charging six black students with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
It's a story that reads like one from the Jim Crow era, when judges, lawyers and all-white juries used the justice system to keep blacks in "their place"--but it's happening today. The families of these young men are fighting back, but the odds are stacked against them. Together, we can make sure their story is told, that this becomes an issue for the Governor of Louisiana, and that justice is provided for the Jena 6. It starts now. Please add your voice:
The noose-hanging incident and the DA's visit to the school set the stage for everything that followed. Racial tension escalated over the next couple of months, and on November 30, the main academic building of Jena High School was burned down in an unsolved fire. Later the same weekend, a black student was beaten up by white students at a party. The next day, black students at a convenience store were threatened by a young white man with a shotgun. They wrestled the gun from him and ran away. While no charges were filed against the white man, the students were arrested for the theft of the gun.2
That Monday at school, a white student, who had been a vocal supporter of the students who hung the nooses, taunted the black student who was beaten up at the off-campus party and allegedly called several black students "nigger." After lunch, he was knocked down, punched and kicked by black students. He was taken to the hospital but was released and was well enough to go to a social event that evening.3
Six Black Jena High students, Robert Bailey (17), Theo Shaw (17), Carwin Jones (18), Bryant Purvis (17), Mychal Bell (16) and an unidentified minor, were expelled from school, arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder. Bail was set so high -- between $70,000 and $138,000 -- that the boys were left in prison for months as families went deep into debt to release them.4
The first trial ended last month, and Mychal Bell, who has been in prison since December, was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery (both felonies) by an all-white jury in a trial where his public defender called no witnesses. During his trial, Mychal's parents were ordered not to speak to the media and the court prohibited protests from taking place near the courtroom or where the judge could see them.
Mychal is scheduled to be sentenced on July 31st, and could go to jail for 22 years.5 Theo Shaw's trial is next. He will finally make bail this week.
The Jena Six are lucky to have parents and loved ones who are fighting tooth and nail to free them. They have been threatened but they are standing strong. We know that if the families have to go it alone, their sons will be a long time coming home. They will lose precious years to Jena's outrageous attempt to maintain a racist status quo. But if we act now, we can make a difference.
Please add your voice to the voices of these families in Jena, and help bring Mychal, Theo, Robert, Carwin, and Bryant home. By clicking below, you can demand that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco get involved to make sure that justice is served for Mychal Bell, and that DA Reed Walters drop the charges against the 5 boys who have not yet gone to trial.
Thank You and Peace,
Truth And Rights
-- James, Van, Gabriel, Clarissa, and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
July 17th, 2007
1. "Injustice in Jena as Nooses Hang From the ‘White Tree,'" truthout, July 3, 2007
2. "Racial demons rear heads," Chicago Tribune, May 20, 2007
3. See reference #1.
4. See reference #1.
5. "'Jena Six' defendant convicted," Town Talk, June 29, 2007
NPR: Searching for Justice in Jena 6 Case (streaming audio)
Democracy Now! - The case of the Jena Six ...
Too Sense: Free The Jena Six Now
While Seated: Jena Six
Nooses, attacks and jail for black students in Jena Louisiana
Justice In Jena, by Jordan Flaherty
The Perpetrator becomes the Prosecutor (and other related entries)
'Stealth racism' stalks deep South