In the Blog

The Jena 6

September 5th, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

Jena school officials banned “Free the Jena 6” T-shirts, stating they were too disruptive in a school setting. Apparently hanging nooses from a tree is okay though.

free-jena-six.jpg It’s likely you have yet to hear about the Jena 6, because for some reason the mainstream media has chosen to “leave it alone,” and I actually only stumbled across it for the first time today. I thought it was vital to post about it because a) the story is about young people and race (and so much more) and b) the independent media has a responsibility to cover things that mainstream media won’t.

The case of the Jena 6 is a complicated one with a year-long history, and thankfully Racialicious has posted a video that covers all the events in the case quite well. You can view it here. Actually, Racialicious has been covering the case for some time, so their site is a good place to go to get the run down.

The Jena 6 case began on Aug. 31, 2006, when a black student in Jena, Louisiana (a community of 4,000, and 85 percent white) asked school officials for permission to sit under what was understood to be the “white” tree at school. They said “he could sit wherever he liked” (although as the video points out, it’s interesting that he felt the need to ask.) The next day, three nooses, painted in school colours, were found hanging from the tree. Three white students were held responsible and the principal recommended that they be expelled. The school board and superintendent, however, decided that an in-school suspension would suffice, calling the racist act a mere “prank.” Black students then organized a sit-in underneath the “white” tree:

Then the police and the district attorney showed up. Substitute teacher Michelle Rogers recounts: “District Attorney Reed Walters proceeded to tell those kids that ‘I could end your lives with the stroke of a pen.’ ”

After that, Robert Bailey (one of the black protesters) was punched and kicked at a party attended by mostly white students:

Robert Bailey, a black student, was beaten up at a white party. Then, a few nights later, Robert and two others were threatened by a white man with a sawed-off shotgun, at a convenience store. They wrestled the gun away and fled.

Later, back at school, a confrontation took place between a group of black students and one of the white students involved in the fight. Justin Barker, a white student, teased Bailey, using racial slurs, about getting beaten. One student then punched Barker in the back of the head and others kicked him while he was down, leaving him unconscious. An ambulance arrived to pick Barker up, but he was never officially hospitalized and, later that night, went to a school function.

Six black students (the Jena 6) were then arrested over the school fight and their bonds were set. The highest reached $138,000. Bell and the other five were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy in the fight with Justin Barker.

Right before the trial, the charges of attempted second-degree murder were lowered to aggravated battery, which under Louisiana law requires a dangerous weapon. The weapon? Tennis shoes.

Sixteen-year-old Bell was the first to stand trial (in July.) After being represented by a public defender who did not call witnesses in Bell’s defense, an all-white jury convicted him of aggravated battery and conspiracy charges. Bell was denied a reduction in the $90,000 bail.

Bell could be sentenced to 22 1/2 years at a hearing Sept. 20.

There’s a number of petitions you can sign if you would like to show your support for upholding the civil rights of the Jena 6.

Tags: activist report, media savvy, news flash

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