The “Jena 6” Case

Most recent stories are first.

Police: 'Jena Six' teen shoots self, is treated

Washington Post

December 30, 2008


MONROE, La. -- A teen convicted in the "Jena Six" beating case shot himself in the chest and was taken to the hospital Monday, days after his arrest on a shoplifting charge, police said.


Mychal Bell's wound isn't life threatening, said Monroe Police Sgt. Cassandra Wooten. The 18-year-old used a .22-caliber firearm in the shooting around 7:40 p.m., she said.


Wooten believes Bell was upset over media coverage of the arrest last week. I think he was upset over the incident ... and didn't want to be in the news again," she said.


Bell was one of a group of black teenagers who once faced attempted murder charges in the 2006 beating of a white classmate at Jena High School. The charges for all of the defendants were reduced.


The severity of the original charges brought widespread criticism and eventually led to more than 20,000 people converging in September 2007 on the tiny central Louisiana town of Jena for the largest civil rights march in decades.


Bell was in the news again after he was arrested on Dec. 24 and booked on charges of shoplifting, resisting arrest and simple assault, police said.


Police said Bell tried to steal several shirts and a pair of jeans from a department store and fled when a security guard and off-duty police officer tried to detain him. After they found him hiding under a car, Bell "swung his arms wildly" and one of his elbows struck the security guard with a glancing blow, according to a police report. He was freed on $1,300 bond.


Wooten said Bell was taken to a hospital in Monroe, where a nursing supervisor wouldn't release his condition. Wooten didn't have further details on the shooting.


One of Bell's attorneys in the assault case didn't immediately return a call Monday seeking comment on the shoplifting case.


In the Jena case, Bell eventually pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery.


Bell, the only one of the six who has been tried, has been living in a foster home in Monroe and attending school.


Jena Six Anniversary: How Things Have Changed

September 18, 2008

A year ago, rallies in support of the Jena Six were held in Jena, La., and elsewhere in the US. The Sept. 20, 2007, marches were a reaction to the racially-charged case involving attempted murder charges filed against six black teens for a schoolyard fight. The altercation was sparked by a noose being hung from a tree at the school by white students.

Last year, on September 20, 2007, the small town of Jena, which sits 220 miles north of New Orleans, became the setting for one of the largest civil rights demonstrations since the Million Man March.

Although the estimates of exactly how many marched in the town of 3,000, police estimate 20,000 college students, religious leaders, civil rights activists, their allies, and national and international media made their way to Jena to protest "selective justice."

More Coverage:
The Jena 6 - Where Are They Now?

From Howard Witt, Special Correspondent to The Chicago Tribune:


JENA, La. - There is no single leader. There is no agreed schedule. Organizers aren't even certain where everyone is supposed to gather, let alone use the restroom. The only thing that is known for sure is that thousands of protesters are boarding buses at churches, colleges and community centers across the country this week, headed for this tiny dot on the map of central Louisiana.


Some months earlier, the case of six black teenagers had caught the attention of reporter Howard Witt at the Chicago Tribune and The Observer/UK's Guardian; and in turn their stories caught the attention of a new kind of black activist blogger and their digital allies.

All of a sudden, blogs jumped to the forefront as a way for important information to the black community to be passed along and acted upon. It was bloggers and their supportive, outspoken readers who ensured that the mainstream media and established Civil Rights stalwarts would not be allowed to ignore a case so rife with controversy and abuse of power.

The Afrosphere was born. It was an unequivocal signal that America's civil rights movement would have a powerful digital component from here on out.

From Howard Witt:


As formidable as it is amorphous, this new African-American blogosphere, which scarcely even existed a year ago, now comprises hundreds of interlinked blogs and tens of the thousands of followers who within a matter of a few weeks collected 220,000 petition signatures-and more than $130,000 in donations for legal fees-in support of six black Jena teenagers who are being prosecuted on felony battery charges for beating a white student.

These days, bloggers occupy a passing lane on the information highway and it seems completely expected. Candidates and political parties court digital coverage as much as they seek that of mainstream media. But it wasn't always so. Just think about how different things were just one year ago.

Jena 6 - Where Are they Now?

Jesse Ray Beard

The youngest defendant in the Jena Six case, he was 14 at the time of the events, is using his share of money donated for defense attorneys to attend Canterbury School in New Milford, Conn., a private boarding school with a focus on college preparation. He is a junior this year. Following probation, Beard left Jena to live with an attorney in Westchester, New York where he thrived in the new, more structured environment.

Robert Bailey

Robert Bailey was the young man first assaulted by other attendees of a predominately white party on December 1, 2006. Many saw that attack as an accelerant to the tensions connected with the assault that would later occur on Justin Barker – although Justin Barker had nothing to do with Bailey's assault. When the police arrived, Bailey and his black classmate were told to "go back to your side of town." Bailey later caused an uproar when he put pictures of himself covered in and eating money, presumably money donated by average people all over the world to help pay legal costs, up on his MySpace page. According to his coach, he has gotten his act together and now attends high school at Shaw High School in Columbus, Georgia, where he has been granted an extra year's eligibility to play football.

Mychal Bell

Bell is the only member of the 'Jena 6' to stand trial. Bell pleaded guilty to juvenile charges of second-degree battery in December and is expected to testify against other members of the 'Jena 6' in upcoming trials. Bell admitted that he did in fact assault Justin Barker while speaking to CNN in August. He was denied a chance to play his senior year of high school football in August at Carroll High School in Monroe, La. Bell missed his last year of football eligibility because he was in jail.

Carwin Jones

Jones and Bryant R. Purvis helped present the Video of the Year award on Black Entertainment Television's Hip-Hop Awards during the October awards show. His charges were reduced at his arraignment to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit the same. Jones was arrested May 10, 2008, and charged with misdemeanor battery in connection with a fight that involved baseball bats. Jones said he has been constantly targeted and intimidated at his new school and that the incident that day "hit a nerve" and he reacted.

Bryant Purvis

Purvis now lives in Carrollton, Texas and was arrested on February 7, 2008 for an assault causing bodily injury on a fellow high school student. Police say Purvis walked up to another student from behind, grabbed his neck with one hand, choked him and pushed his head into a bench.

Theo Shaw

Last spring, Shaw was 2 credits away from earning his high school diploma. Both Malcolm Shaw, Theo's brother who police did not initially name as an attacker in the case, and Theo have now been named in the civil suit by Justin Barker's family.

Justin Barker

According to USA Today, Barker and his family have filed a civil lawsuit against the 'Jena 6' parents, the adult teens, an additional student and the local school board. Justin Barker and his parents, David and Kelli, allege in the suit that seven Jena High School students attacked Justin on Dec. 4, 2006, as he left the school gym. The suit names the attackers as the "Jena Six" students - Bell, Bryant Purvis, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Theo Shaw and a juvenile - as well as a second juvenile.

District Attorney Reed Walters

The D.A. who first charged the Jena 6 recently made an appeal in the removal a judge in the "Jena Six" case. Walters objected to the removal of the Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. who admitted to using questionable remarks in the case, including calling the teens "troublemakers" and "a violent bunch."

March Noose Instigator

Jeremiah Munsen, a Louisiana teenager who hung nooses off the back of his truck to intimidate Jena Six demonstrators is serving four months in prison for interfering with the march. He was initially charged with "inciting a riot."


Victim's family sues in 'Jena 6' beating case

The (Alexandria-Pineville, La.) Town Talk

USA Today

December 5, 2007


JENA, La. — The family of a white student allegedly beaten by six black classmates in rural Louisiana has filed a civil lawsuit against the teens' parents, the adult teens, an additional student and the local school board.


One teen, Mychal Bell, pleaded guilty to battery in juvenile court on Monday in the attack. Five other teens face criminal charges in the case and are awaiting court appearances.


Justin Barker, 18, and his parents, David and Kelli, allege in the suit that seven Jena High School students attacked Justin on Dec. 4, 2006, as he left the school gym.


The suit names the attackers as the "Jena Six" students — Bell, Bryant Purvis, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Theo Shaw and a juvenile — as well as a second juvenile.


Law enforcement officials have not named the second juvenile as one of the attackers.


"Petitioners show that Justin was singled out by Mychal, Bryant, Robert, Carwin, Theodore (and the two juveniles), and that the malicious and willful attack of Justin was of such extreme nature so as to require emergency medical care and treatment for the harm inflicted by the attack, and resulting in extensive and permanently disabling injuries," the lawsuit states.


Barker was hit by Bell, knocked unconscious and then repeatedly kicked and stomped by a group of students, according to testimony and court documents.


The beating was preceded by racial incidents, including three white students hanging nooses from a tree.


The civil suit was filed Thursday. The lawsuit alleges that the LaSalle Parish School Board, through its employees, was not adequately supervising students or maintaining discipline.


Lawyers for the Barkers and the defendants couldn't immediately be reached for comment.


Bell, who pleaded guilty in juvenile court to second-degree battery, was sentenced to 18 months in the custody of the Office of Youth Development.


Bell and the other students were initially charged with attempted murder. In May, Bell was convicted as an adult of aggravated assault, but the conviction was overturned. The conviction led to a protest in September by at least 20,000 demonstrators.


A Perfect Storm: The Jena Six from a Sociohistorical Perspective

Juan Battle and Michael Bennett


December, 2007


On September 20, 2007, upwards of 15,000 people, of all races (though primarily African American), of multiple generations, and from all over the United States converged on Jena, LA. Among the protesters were Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, and several self-described White supremacists. On that same day, similar rallies were held in other parts of the country. What happened in Jena that managed to move so many in the United States to respond so passionately?

In August 2006, during a back-to school assembly at Jena High School, a Black student asked permission to sit under a tree in the school’s courtyard. The tree was referred to as the White Tree—a gathering spot for White youths in this town that is 85% White.

The next morning, according to several accounts, nooses were hanging from the tree. Most students did not see the nooses before they were cut down by school officials, yet word of the matter got around and school officials eventually suspended three White students who were involved. As the New York Times reported, many local Blacks saw the incident as “an unambiguous gesture of racial intimidation.” Fights erupted in the town over the next few weeks. In November 2006, a fire broke out at the high school. The high school was closed for several days, and, when classes resumed in December, another fight broke out during the lunch hour. Six youths, according to law enforcement officials, ganged up on a White student, who was taken to the hospital. He was treated and released; later that evening, he attended a school event.

Six Black youths were arrested for participating in the beating, and five were originally charged as adults with attempted second-degree murder, although those charges were later reduced. One of the six was convicted of aggravated second-degree battery, but the conviction was thrown out in September 2007 by a Louisiana appeals court, which ruled that he mistakenly had been tried as an adult.

Modern Look at Racism

The protests organized during that same month arose out of a conviction that the Jena Six represent the latest incarnation of a separate and unequal social, educational, legal, and judicial system that has characterized the United States from its inception. Viewing these events through a sociohistorical lens, one can see the simultaneous occurrence of early modern, late modern, and postmodern forms of racism. Jena is the eye of a perfect storm that brings together these various historical forms of racism and the institutions through which they are manifested.

The image of the noose conjures the legacy of racial violence stretching back to the origins of the slave trade. It symbolizes the history of state-sponsored racial terrorism that was, in theory, superseded in the late modern period by the era of integration. However, the older generation of protestors at Jena lived through a time when the noose was not merely a “symbolic” lynching.

The mid-twentieth century was supposed to see the end of separate but equal as the law of the land. Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Civil Rights Act (1964), and the Voting Rights Act (1965) all symbolized the intention of equality between Blacks and Whites. However, as we move from the prescription of late modern intentionality to the description of the postmodern materialization of race relations, a very different experience comes into view.

De Jure to De Facto

Jena reminds us that social and spatial segregation persists despite surface changes in education, the judicial system, and other social institutions. Though no longer legal, segregation is very much alive and supported throughout various social structures in the United States. A tree bearing strange and forbidden fruit is a central symbol for both Black and White religious observances, but the most segregated hour in America is still 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, as Martin Luther King, Jr., so eloquently expounded. Contemporary forms of racism may not be de jure, but they are de facto.

One postmodern manifestation of racism is spatial discrimination; it’s understood that, even in the absence of legal prohibitions, this space is for White people and that space is for Black people. When such boundaries are violated, the old symbols and structures of racism may be summoned as reminders of the rules concerning power, places, and peoples. The Black students of Jena are given the message that though they might go to that school, it is not their school. On a larger scale, the striking dissimilarity between the malign neglect of Black residents of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the proactive intervention for White residents displaced by Southern California’s wildfires demonstrates the separate and unequal socioeconomic privileges and public policy perks experienced by different races and the spaces they inhabit.

The inequality of our social institutions— the criminal justice system, the education system, voting irregularities in Ohio and Florida, lack of equal access to healthcare—teaches us that to be Black in the United States is to be consistently reminded that though you call this country home, you do not own anything in the house. You are not to be an actor; you are to be acted upon.

The Jena Six story became a perfect storm, a lightening rod for protest, because it embodied the message that, though the legal structures that enforce racism are gone, the social structures that perpetuate it are not. Public schools are more segregated in 2007 than they were in 1954. Though Jim Crow is dead, James Crow, Esq., is alive and well. As a result, every generation of Black Americans will have experienced at least one type of segregation—whether legal, socioeconomic, or spatial—and some form of racism, from the most obvious to the most subtle. These various embodiments of U.S. racial history simultaneously occurred in that one story, in that one small town, with those six boys, in Jena, LA.

Juan Battle ( is Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and the immediate past president of the Association of Black Sociologists. Michael Bennett is Professor of English at Long Island University-Brooklyn. They are the co-editors, with Anthony Lemelle, of Free at Last? Black America in the Twenty- First Century.


Charges against Jena 6 defendant reduced

Nov. 7, 2007


Charges against Bryant Purvis, one of the six black students accused of being involved in beating a white student, were reduced to second degree aggravated battery during his arraignment Wednesday morning.

Purvis, who was facing charges of second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy, entered a not guilty plea to the reduced charges in the LaSalle Parish Courthouse in Jena.

Charges have now been reduced against at least five of the students in the racially charged "Jena 6" case. Charges against Jesse Ray Beard, who was 14 at the time of the alleged crime, are unavailable because he's a juvenile.

Civil rights leaders Martin Luther King III and Al Sharpton led more than 15,000 marchers to Jena -- a town of about 3,000 -- in September to protest how authorities handled the cases against Purvis and five other teens accused of the December 2006 beating of fellow student Justin Barker.

After the arraignment, Purvis said he has moved to another town to complete high school. He said he is focusing on his studies and practicing basketball, which he hopes to play in college.

Mychal Bell, 17, is the only one of the "Jena 6" teens still in jail. Although he was released in September after his adult criminal conviction for the beating was overturned, he was ordered two weeks later to spend 18 months in a juvenile facility for a probation violation relating to an earlier juvenile conviction.

A district judge tossed out Bell's conviction for conspiracy to commit second-degree battery, saying the matter should have been handled in juvenile court. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles, Louisiana, did the same with Bell's battery conviction in mid-September.

Prosecutors originally charged all six black students accused of being involved in beating Barker with second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy.

JENA, Louisiana (CNN) -- All About Jena (Louisiana) Civil Rights



Jena, O. J. and the Jailing of Black America

Orlando Patterson

New York Times

September 30, 2007

THE miscarriage of justice at Jena, La. — where five black high school students arrested for beating a white student were charged with attempted murder — and the resulting protest march tempts us to the view, expressed by several of the marchers, that not much has changed in traditional American racial relations. However, a remarkable series of high-profile incidents occurring elsewhere in the nation at about the same time, as well as the underlying reason for the demonstrations themselves, make it clear that the Jena case is hardly a throwback to the 1960s, but instead speaks to issues that are very much of our times.


What exactly attracted thousands of demonstrators to the small Louisiana town? While for some it was a simple case of righting a grievous local injustice, and for others an opportunity to relive the civil rights era, for most the real motive was a long overdue cry of outrage at the use of the prison system as a means of controlling young black men.


America has more than two million citizens behind bars, the highest absolute and per capita rate of incarceration in the world. Black Americans, a mere 13 percent of the population, constitute half of this country’s prisoners. A tenth of all black men between ages 20 and 35 are in jail or prison; blacks are incarcerated at over eight times the white rate.


The effect on black communities is catastrophic: one in three male African-Americans in their 30s now has a prison record, as do nearly two-thirds of all black male high school dropouts. These numbers and rates are incomparably greater than anything achieved at the height of the Jim Crow era. What’s odd is how long it has taken the African-American community to address in a forceful and thoughtful way this racially biased and utterly counterproductive situation.

How, after decades of undeniable racial progress, did we end up with this virtual gulag of racial incarceration?


Part of the answer is a law enforcement system that unfairly focuses on drug offenses and other crimes more likely to be committed by blacks, combined with draconian mandatory sentencing and an absurdly counterproductive retreat from rehabilitation as an integral method of dealing with offenders. An unrealistic fear of crime that is fed in part by politicians and the press, a tendency to emphasize punitive measures and old-fashioned racism are all at play here.


But there is another equally important cause: the simple fact that young black men commit a disproportionate number of crimes, especially violent crimes, which cannot be attributed to judicial bias, racism or economic hardships. The rate at which blacks commit homicides is seven times that of whites.

Why is this? Several incidents serendipitously occurring at around the same time as the march on Jena hint loudly at a possible answer.

In New York City, the tabloids published sensational details of the bias suit brought by a black former executive for the Knicks, Anucha Browne Sanders, who claims that she was frequently called a “bitch” and a “ho” by the Knicks coach and president, Isiah Thomas. In a video deposition, Thomas said that while it is always wrong for a white man to verbally abuse a black woman in such terms, it was “not as much ... I’m sorry to say” for a black man to do so.

Across the nation, religious African-Americans were shocked that the evangelical minister Juanita Bynum, an enormously popular source of inspiration for churchgoing black women, said she was brutally beaten in a parking lot by her estranged husband, Bishop Thomas Weeks.

O. J. Simpson, the malevolent central player in an iconic moment in the nation’s recent black-white (as well as male-female) relations, reappeared on the scene, charged with attempted burglary, kidnapping and felonious assault in Las Vegas, in what he claimed was merely an attempt to recover stolen memorabilia.

These events all point to something that has been swept under the rug for too long in black America: the crisis in relations between men and women of all classes and, as a result, the catastrophic state of black family life, especially among the poor. Isiah Thomas’s outrageous double standard shocked many blacks in New York only because he had the nerve to say out loud what is a fact of life for too many black women who must daily confront indignity and abuse in hip-hop misogyny and everyday conversation.


What is done with words is merely the verbal end of a continuum of abuse that too often ends with beatings and spousal homicide. Black relationships and families fail at high rates because women increasingly refuse to put up with this abuse. The resulting absence of fathers — some 70 percent of black babies are born to single mothers — is undoubtedly a major cause of youth delinquency.


The circumstances that far too many African-Americans face — the lack of paternal support and discipline; the requirement that single mothers work regardless of the effect on their children’s care; the hypocritical refusal of conservative politicians to put their money where their mouths are on family values; the recourse by male youths to gangs as parental substitutes; the ghetto-fabulous culture of the streets; the lack of skills among black men for the jobs and pay they want; the hypersegregation of blacks into impoverished inner-city neighborhoods — all interact perversely with the prison system that simply makes hardened criminals of nonviolent drug offenders and spits out angry men who are unemployable, unreformable and unmarriageable, closing the vicious circle.


Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and other leaders of the Jena demonstration who view events there, and the racial horror of our prisons, as solely the result of white racism are living not just in the past but in a state of denial. Even after removing racial bias in our judicial and prison system — as we should and must do — disproportionate numbers of young black men will continue to be incarcerated.


Until we view this social calamity in its entirety — by also acknowledging the central role of unstable relations among the sexes and within poor families, by placing a far higher priority on moral and social reform within troubled black communities, and by greatly expanding social services for infants and children — it will persist.


Orlando Patterson is a professor of sociology at Harvard and the author of “The Ordeal of Integration: Progress and Resentment in America’s ‘Racial’ Crisis.”


Teenager Released in Louisiana Case

September 28, 2007

New York Times

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 27 — One of six black teenagers arrested in the racially charged beating of a white youth in Jena, La., was released on bail on Thursday, a week after the case drew thousands of protesters to the small town in the central part of the state.

The release on $45,000 bail came shortly after the district attorney in Jena, Reed Walters, announced that he would not seek to maintain adult charges against the teenager, Mychal Bell.

Mr. Bell, 17, was convicted of aggravated second-degree battery as an adult, but that conviction was thrown out by a state appeals court, which said he should have been tried as a juvenile.

Mr. Bell still faces the same charges in juvenile court, but instead of a possible sentence of 15 years in prison he can now be held only until he is 21.

Others involved in the December beating of Justin Barker also still face charges. Mr. Barker, knocked unconscious in the beating, has $14,000 in medical bills, according to lawyers in the case


Justice in Jena


Reed Walters


New York Times


September 26, 2007


Jena, La.

THE case of the so-called Jena Six has fired the imaginations of thousands, notably young African-Americans who, according to many of their comments, believe they will be in the vanguard of a new civil rights movement. Whether America needs a new civil rights movement I leave to social activists, politicians and the people who must give life to such a cause.


I am a small-town lawyer and prosecutor. For 16 years, it has been my job as the district attorney to review each criminal case brought to me by the police department or the sheriff, match the facts to any applicable laws and seek justice for those who have been harmed. The work is often rewarding, but not always.


I do not question the sincerity or motivation of the 10,000 or more protesters who descended on Jena last week, after riding hundreds of miles on buses. But long before reaching our town of 3,000 people, they had decided that a miscarriage of justice was taking place here. Their anger at me was summed up by a woman who said, “If you can figure out how to make a schoolyard fight into an attempted murder charge, I’m sure you can figure out how to make stringing nooses into a hate crime.”


That could be a compelling statement to someone trying to motivate listeners on a radio show, but as I am a lawyer obligated to enforce the laws of my state, it does not work for me.

I cannot overemphasize how abhorrent and stupid I find the placing of the nooses on the schoolyard tree in late August 2006. If those who committed that act considered it a prank, their sense of humor is seriously distorted. It was mean-spirited and deserves the condemnation of all decent people.


But it broke no law. I searched the Louisiana criminal code for a crime that I could prosecute. There is none.


Similarly, the United States attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, who is African-American, found no federal law against what was done.


A district attorney cannot take people to trial for acts not covered in the statutes. Imagine the trampling of individual rights that would occur if prosecutors were allowed to pursue every person whose behavior they disapproved of.


The “hate crime” the protesters wish me to prosecute does not exist as a stand-alone offense in Louisiana law. It’s not that our Legislature has turned a blind eye to crimes motivated by race or other personal characteristics, but it has addressed the problem in a way that does not cover what happened in Jena. The hate crime statute is used to enhance the sentences of defendants found guilty of specific crimes, like murder or rape, who chose their victims based on race, religion, sexual orientation or other factors.


Last week, a reporter asked me whether, if I had it to do over, I would do anything differently. I didn’t think of it at the time, but the answer is yes. I would have done a better job of explaining that the offenses of Dec. 4, 2006, did not stem from a “schoolyard fight” as it has been commonly described in the news media and by critics.


Conjure the image of schoolboys fighting: they exchange words, clench fists, throw punches, wrestle in the dirt until classmates or teachers pull them apart. Of course that would not be aggravated second-degree battery, which is what the attackers are now charged with. (Five of the defendants were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder.) But that’s not what happened at Jena High School.


The victim in this crime, who has been all but forgotten amid the focus on the defendants, was a young man named Justin Barker, who was not involved in the nooses incident three months earlier. According to all the credible evidence I am aware of, after lunch, he walked to his next class. As he passed through the gymnasium door to the outside, he was blindsided and knocked unconscious by a vicious blow to the head thrown by Mychal Bell. While lying on the ground unaware of what was happening to him, he was brutally kicked by at least six people.


Imagine you were walking down a city street, and someone leapt from behind a tree and hit you so hard that you fell to the sidewalk unconscious. Would you later describe that as a fight?

Only the intervention of an uninvolved student protected Mr. Barker from severe injury or death. There was serious bodily harm inflicted with a dangerous weapon — the definition of aggravated second-degree battery. Mr. Bell’s conviction on that charge as an adult has been overturned, but I considered adult status appropriate because of his role as the instigator of the attack, the seriousness of the charge and his prior criminal record.


I can understand the emotions generated by the juxtaposition of the noose incident with the attack on Mr. Barker and the outcomes for the perpetrators of each. In the final analysis, though, I am bound to enforce the laws of Louisiana as they exist today, not as they might in someone’s vision of a perfect world.


That is what I have done. And that is what I must continue to do.

Reed Walters is the district attorney of LaSalle Parish.

What's the whole 'Jena 6' story?

September 25, 2007

Sean Gonsalves

Cape Cod Times

I spent my kindergarten and first-grade years at Glassbrook Elementary School in Hayward, Calif. — where two playground incidents, colored by racial taunts and retaliatory violence, left their mark on my impressionable mind.

My class was all white, except for this Vietnamese kid named Q. And me. We were playing kickball in gym class, and Q wasn't very good. About a half dozen of my classmates started taunting an extremely meek and seriously scared Q with chants of "gook."

Now that I think about it, Q had probably immigrated to America with his family after his people were "liberated" by soldiers like my stepfather, who had voluntarily served with a USMC tank battalion in Vietnam several years before our little scapegoat game on the playground.

I don't know if the biblical prophets I began learning about in church had already started to influence me, but like Jeremiah I had a fire shut up in my bones, burning in defense of Q. I told my classmates that if they didn't stop calling Q a "gook," I was gonna kick some butt.

They didn't stop, and I delivered on my threat.

But I didn't get charged with attempted murder like the Jena 6. I didn't even get in "trouble;" at least, not by-the-book "trouble." Instead, karma came back to me — hard. Not long after the Q incident, we were playing softball. I was catching, standing too close to the plate, and one of the kids I beat up in the name of Q caught me with his backswing — right in the jaw.

I went to our gym teacher moaning about the nurse's office. "I told you to back up," he said. "That's what you get. Now, go over there and sit down."

Too bad my gym teacher isn't the district attorney in Jena, La. He might not be the ideal man for the job, but at least he allowed my classmates to learn a real-world lesson in the wrath that white supremacy evokes while sparing me certain school (and maybe legal) discipline. He also saw the poetic (and painful) justice of me getting cracked in the jaw by a kid who had been a victim of my retaliatory violence.

The Jena 6 were initially charged, as adults, with attempted murder for a playground butt-whoopin' after a series of racial incidents that included the ugly American spectre of nooses. Predictably, the story has quickly devolved into one that pits two polarized camps arguing about "justice."

One side, many of whom I'd bet are purveyors of "color-blindness," can only see black criminality in this case, while downplaying (or ignoring) the existential threat nooses represent to black folk. The other side — rightfully calling attention to a clear-cut case of white-skin privilege — wrongly sees the Jena 6 as the beginning of a 21st-century civil rights movement.

Of course, both camps have a point. The Jena 6 haters, despite their historical amnesia of the lynching terrorism African-Americans endured for nearly a century (tolerated by "Christian" America until less than 50 years ago) are right: you can't claim the moral high ground in the struggle for racial justice with a beat-up white kid at the bottom of the pile.

The Jena 6 defenders are also right: sending any of those young brothers involved in the fight to jail, without considering the "mitigating circumstances," would be an injustice that should be easy to see in a so-called Christian country. "A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight," declares the book of Proverbs. Certainly, the charges in the Jena 6 case are a "false balance."

It's not just my Glassbrook experience that makes me sympathetic to the Jena 6. My sympathies are also based on the recognition, as Karl Menninger observed in his classic analysis of America's penal system The Crime of Punishment, that "in practice, justice does not mean fairness to all parties. To some people the law is an inexorable, inscrutable Sinai — the highest virtue is to submit unquestioningly. But to others law and the principle of justice should... 'embody the plasticity and reasonableness that Aristotle praised in his famous description of equity'."

Aristotle said: "Equity bids us to be merciful to the weakness of human nature; to think less about what he said than about what he meant; not to consider the actions of the accused so much as his intentions, nor this or that detail so much as the whole story"¦"

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist. E-mail him at


Jena 6: a black-and-white issue

Time alone doesn't remove racism. Only conscious effort does.

By Amina Luqman


Christian Science Monitor


September 25, 2007



Something about the case of the "Jena 6" has sparked a rumbling within the black community. It's ironic, sadly, because there is an everyday sameness to what has happened. Consider: A racially provoked incident and a lackluster community response – same as ever. Extreme charges brought for less-than-spectacular alleged crimes – same as ever. An overzealous prosecutor, an inept defense attorney, an all-white jury, witnesses not called, a quick guilty verdict – same, same, same. Unfortunately, any of these elements is less than extraordinary in black American life.

Why do the Jena 6 resonate? How have they pierced the desensitizing barriers that black Americans use for everyday survival? What has driven thousands to travel to Jena, La., to protest? Perhaps it's the confluence of elements, how they mix together into a poisonous cocktail of injustice, that feels different. Or maybe it's less about what happened and more about the fact that it happened to our children.

The story of the Jena 6 is long and filled with stunning details. The basic points are these: In the predominantly white town of Jena, La., white students hung three nooses last September after black students sat under a schoolyard tree where white students normally congregated. The white students were suspended for three days. After black students protested peacefully, the La Salle Parish district attorney threatened them, saying, "I can make your life go away with a stroke of a pen." Eventually there was a schoolyard fight in which a white student was beaten; he was treated for a concussion and multiple bruises. Although the student was well enough to attend a school function the same evening, six black boys between the ages of 15 and 17 were arrested, five of whom were charged as adults with attempted murder and conspiracy. The sixth student was charged as a juvenile.

Some in mainstream America may think that blacks feel vindicated or satisfied by tales of racism such as this one, since America often lives in denial about racism and racial inequality. On the contrary, for black Americans to hear of the Jena 6 is to feel as though the color has been washed out of our lives, that we are suddenly watching ourselves in grainy black-and-white footage of the Jim Crow South. Our vulnerabilities are laid bare before all the world; a school fight can cost our children their lives, and it can happen without America giving so much as a second look.

Mainstream media outlets long ignored the Jena 6 or gave the case cursory summations. Their silence shows how mainstream journalists remain unwilling to tackle the issue of race. At best, racism is addressed when it is overt and simplistic. Mix in the institutionalized racism of a town's criminal justice system, and journalists' eyes glaze over. When what happened in Jena has been reported, the media's language has been tepid. It presumes a legitimacy to both sides. Yet there is nothing balanced or fair about what is happening to these boys. Black Americans crave the same outrage the media rained down on Michael Vick for his unjustified abuse of dogs.

The comments of bloggers, black journalists, and radio personalities, along with forwarded e-mail and demonstrations, have generated pressure that has resulted in new lawyers for the Jena 6 and a reduction in the charges against them. Just days before sentencing, a state appeals court overturned the conviction of Mychal Bell, the only student yet tried. But future court battles loom.

And nothing changes a heartbreaking truth about Jena: that some children in 2007 look unnervingly similar to their close-minded forefathers – nooses and all. Perhaps America has left too much undone, become too complacent. Racism and its manifestations do not get better with time, and we can't presume that one generation will be more conscious than the last. Racism is removed by conscious effort and continuous work. Is America willing to rise to the occasion?

Amina Luqman is a freelance writer based in Virginia. ©2007 The Washington Post.



The Wrong Poster Children

Why the Jena 6 protests have gone awry

Richard Thompson Ford

September 24, 2007





When more than 10,000 people converged on the small town of Jena, La., last Friday, the Rev. Al Sharpton called their march the beginning of the 21st-century civil rights movement. He may be right. And that's just what's worrisome. The marchers gathered to protest criminal charges brought against six African-American high-school students, the "Jena 6." But the racial problems facing this town—and many others—are more complex than simple prejudice, and finding solutions will necessarily require more nuance than a mass protest can offer. The mismatch between the complex and layered racial tensions in Jena and the one-issue rallying cry of "Free the Jena 6" suggest that the tactics of last century's civil rights movement may be an anachronism for today's racial conflicts.

The Jena 6 were accused of beating and kicking a white classmate until he lost consciousness. The district attorney charged the six assailants with attempted murder—an absurdly severe charge under the circumstances—and then later, perhaps under pressure, reduced the charges to aggravated battery. The district attorney also improperly tried one student, Mychal Bell, as an adult and obtained a conviction for aggravated battery and conspiracy, which was duly vacated on appeal. It's plausible that this prosecutorial overzealousness was inspired by racial prejudice, but even privileged white people can fall victim to overzealous prosecutors—ask the Duke lacrosse team. So, how did a case of prosecutorial overreaching, which is tragically all too common, turn into a civil rights violation?

The hard evidence of racism in Jena showed up months before the assault, in the form of a noose tied to an oak tree. This incident was straight out of a story from the Old South: A black student at Jena High School asked at a student assembly if he could sit under a large oak tree that was unofficially called the "white tree" because white students gathered under it in Jena High's informally segregated campus. The principal told the assembly that any student could sit wherever he or she liked. After the assembly, several black students sat under the "white tree." The next day, white students hung three nooses from the tree. The school principal recommended their expulsion, but the school board instead suspended them from school for three days.

Racial tensions simmered in the following months and eventually boiled over in a series of physical confrontations. A white man threatened black Jena students with a beer bottle at an off-campus party and was charged with misdemeanor assault. A white student brandished a shotgun in a confrontation with three black students. (He claims self-defense; they claim he was unprovoked.) The black students then wrestled the gun away from him and were later charged with theft, while the white student was not charged with a crime. Then came the attack for which the Jena 6 were charged.

The Jena 6 and their defenders claim that the assault was a direct result of racial tensions that started with the nooses. They claim the white student who took the beating taunted the black students with racial epithets in what should be seen as one part of an ongoing campaign of racial harassment. And many see racism in the stark contrast between the slaps on the wrists that the noose-wielders and gun-brandisher and other whites involved in the later fights received, and the hard-line prosecution of the Jena 6. As one of the protesters put it: "Every time the white people did something … they dropped it, and every time the black people did something, they blew it out of proportion."

The disparity is striking, and it's plausible that racism was behind it. But the various incidents aren't really comparable. At most, the nooses threatened violence that was never carried out. By contrast, the Jena 6 were charged with an assault that resulted in physical injury. The more serious racial problem—and the root cause of the Jena 6 altercation—was that students at Jena High School had effectively re-created Jim Crow segregation on an informal basis—instead of whites-only bathrooms and drinking fountains, they had a "white tree" that black students considered off-limits. Such informal segregation is commonplace at racially mixed high schools (and universities). And if other cities and schools are any indication, black self-segregation along with white racism may have played a role. Reportedly, Jena High also had "black bleachers" where white students did not sit.

When racial tensions caused by this social distance and mistrust boiled over, Jena's district attorney did what elected prosecutors all too often do in high-profile cases, regardless of the race of the defendants: He threw the book at them. Such prosecutorial overzealousness is not necessarily racist, but because blacks are disproportionately embroiled in the criminal justice system, it does fall with disproportionate force on them. This made the Jena 6 symbols for railroaded black criminal defendants nationwide.

So, the demonstrators have plenty to be upset about: racial segregation; racially disproportionate arrest, prosecution, and incarceration rates; and a pervasive societal racism that is passed from generation to generation. But because none of these sadly common racial injustices have a discrete cause, none are likely to respond to the type of quick and specific reform that a demonstration can demand. As a result, the march on Jena was a bit unfocused. It's telling that the demonstrators moved between the courthouse where Bell was tried for an offense no one denies he committed and the site of the "white tree" that, with all-too-fitting symbolism, has since been cut down. "Free the Jena 6" has become a rallying cry, perhaps because, "Stop Informal Segregation and Prosecutorial Overzealousness That Disproportionately Affects African-Americans Here and Elsewhere" won't fit on T-shirt or a placard. (And the Rev. Sharpton, who has led rallies in support of self-segregation in ethnic theme houses at Cornell University, is especially ill-positioned to lead the way forward in this respect.)

The 21st century's civil rights movement will need more sympathetic poster children than the Jena 6. These young men weren't exactly engaged in peaceful civil disobedience when they ran afoul of the law. The injustice here is not that they are being prosecuted for their crime—it is that the many other wrongs that preceded the assault have been inadequately addressed. When you think about it, the logic that underlies the demand to free the Jena 6 comes down to this: These six young men were justified in kicking their lone victim senseless because other people who shared his race committed offenses against other black students. This sort of racial vendetta is diametrically opposed to the message of social justice and cross-racial understanding that underlies the civil rights movement of the last century.

And yet, all along, Jena has had a better symbol for civil rights on offer. The anonymous black students who defied the informal segregation at the high school and sat under the perversely misnamed "white tree" are the movement's true legatees. They have received so little attention that I don't even know their names or how many such brave and defiant young people there were.

Richard Thompson Ford is George E. Osborne Professor of Law at Stanford Law School. His latest book is Racial Culture: A Critique; he is currently at work on a new book titled The Race Card.




FBI Reviewing Anti-Jena 6 Web Page




Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS Sep 23, 2007 (AP)

The FBI is reviewing a white supremacist Web site that purports to list the addresses of five of the six black teenagers accused of beating a white student in Jena and "essentially called for their lynching," an agency spokeswoman said Saturday.

Sheila Thorne, an agent in the FBI's New Orleans office, said authorities were reviewing whether the site breaks any federal laws. She said the FBI had "gathered intelligence on the matter," but declined to further explain how the agency got involved.

CNN first reported Friday about the Web site, which features a swastika, frequent use of racial slurs, a mailing address in Roanoke, Va., and phone numbers purportedly for some of the teens' families "in case anyone wants to deliver justice." That page is dated Thursday.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement Saturday that some of the families have received "almost around the clock calls of threats and harassment," and called on Gov. Kathleen Blanco to intervene.

A Blanco spokeswoman said the governor had asked law enforcement primarily state police to investigate.

"These people need more than an investigation. They need protection," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. He said his organization would be in touch with President Bush's nominee for attorney general, Michael Mukasey.

"This is a test for the disposition of the Department of Justice to serve as an intervener and a deterrent" to hate crimes and discrimination, Jackson said. He said federal marshals should protect the families.

Carolas Purvis, whose number was among three listed on the Web site, said she did not feel in danger. Purvis is the aunt of Bryant Purvis, who has yet to be arraigned. She said she has received a number of calls, some from people who say nothing, others to let her know that her number had been put on the site. One, Friday night, used the N-word to her young son, she said.

A dispatcher for the LaSalle Parish Sheriff's Department said no one in the office Saturday could say whether any threats had been reported.

Of the two other numbers listed as "active" on the Web site, one was not answered Saturday; the other yielded a constant busy signal.

On Thursday, thousands of demonstrators marched in a civil rights demonstration in support of the so-called Jena 6. The six black teens were arrested after a December attack on a white student the culmination of fights between blacks and whites.

Of the six teens arrested, five initially were charged with attempted second-degree murder; charges for four have been reduced as they were arraigned. Charges against the sixth teen, booked as a juvenile, are sealed.

Mychal Bell is the only one to have been tried so far. A state appeals court recently threw out his conviction for aggravated second-degree battery, saying he couldn't be tried as an adult. He remained in jail pending an appeal.

William A. "Bill" White, listed as the Web site's editor and commander of the American National Socialist Workers Party, did not immediately answer an e-mail to his address. Calls to one of the two William Whites listed in Roanoke were not answered; the other said he was not involved with the site.

Blanco said Saturday that harassing families involved in the case "cannot and will not be tolerated."

"Public attacks on private citizens done out of ignorance and hatred is appalling, and anyone who stoops to such unspeakable persecution will be investigated and subject to the full penalty of law," she said in a statement.


After Jena, Nooses Found at N.C. School


Sept. 22, 2007


School Officials Found Two Nooses on a Tree, One in the Bus Parking Lot and One on the Flagpole


A day after civil rights figures led a massive protest in Jena, La., where racial tensions flared after nooses were hung from a tree outside Jena High School, more nooses were found on a tree outside another southeastern high school.


A total of four nooses were found Friday around the campus of Andrews High School in High Point, N.C., police said.

Two nooses were hung on a tree in front of the school, one was in a bus loop near the upperclassmen's parking lot, and one red noose was tied to the top of the school flagpole, High Point Police Capt. Margaret Erga said, citing a police report.


Erga said school administrators discovered the nooses around 8:30 a.m. and immediately notified authorities, who officially filed the report at 10:41 Friday morning.


Extra police officers were brought to the campus and security was in force at Andrews High School for the remainder of the day.


Police told that the extra security will continue at least through the weekend, with several officers patroling at any given time.


No charges have been filed, police said, but the investigation is ongoing. School officials commented on the incident in a message on the Guilford County Schools' Web site.

"These discriminatory acts will not be tolerated in or against our schools," the school board statement said. "Those found to be responsible for this criminal act will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."


Sonya Conway, executive director of district relations for Guilford County Schools, told The News-Record, a local newspaper, that school would open Monday as usual.


"We're taking it very seriously," Police Capt. Erga said. "Monday morning, our detectives will begin working with the school resource officer at Andrews, who knows the students best."

In a similar event at Jena High School in Louisiana, three white students were accused of hanging nooses from a tree, after which six black students were accused of beating a white classmate and initially charged with attempted murder.


Those charges were later reduced, then dropped or struck down -- though one black student remains jailed as the local prosecutor prepares to refile charges.


Louisiana Protest Echoes the Civil Rights Era


September 21, 2007

New York Times

JENA, La., Sept. 20 — In a slow-moving march that filled streets, spilled onto sidewalks and stretched for miles, more than 10,000 demonstrators rallied Thursday in this small town to protest the treatment of six black teenagers arrested in the beating of a white schoolmate last year.

Chanting slogans from the civil rights era and waving signs, protesters from around the nation converged in central Louisiana, where the charges have made this otherwise anonymous town of 3,000 people a high-profile arena in the debate on racial bias in the judicial system.

“That’s not prosecution, that’s persecution,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the founder of the RainbowPUSH Coalition and an organizer of the demonstration, told a crowd in front of the LaSalle Parish Courthouse. “We will not stop marching until justice runs down like waters.”

The Jena High School students, known as the Jena Six, are part of a court case that began in December, when they were accused of beating a white classmate unconscious and kicking him and a prosecutor charged them with attempted murder.

The beating was preceded by racially charged incidents at the high school, including nooses hanging from an oak tree that some students felt was just for white students. The tree has been cut down.

One student, Mychal Bell, 17, was convicted in June of aggravated battery and conspiracy. Those charges were voided by appeals courts, most recently last Friday. Mr. Bell has not been released from jail.

Even as demonstrators marched in Jena, which is 85 percent white, an appellate court ordered an emergency hearing to determine why Mr. Bell had not been released.

Mr. Bell is the sole student who has had a trial. Amid pressure from critics, prosecutors have gradually scaled back many charges against the other five. Although the starting incident occurred about a year ago, the case has been slow to join the national conversation. After Mr. Bell’s conviction, though, the details spread quickly on the Internet, text messaging and black talk radio.

The case has drawn the attention of President Bush, who said to reporters in Washington on Thursday, “Events in Louisiana have saddened me.” “I understand the emotions,” Mr. Bush said. “The Justice Department and the F.B.I. are monitoring the situation down there, and all of us in America want there to be fairness when it comes to justice.”

Students, particularly those at historically black colleges, have also had a pivotal role in spreading the details. They poured into town after all-night bus rides. Many said they were happy to pick up the torch of the civil rights struggle.

“This is the first time something like this has happened for our generation,” said Eric Depradine, 24, a senior at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “You always heard about it from history books and relatives. This is a chance to experience it for ourselves.”

A sophomore schoolmate, Charley Caldwell Jr., 22, said he was moved to attend the rally by the details of the case.“When I first heard about it,” Mr. Caldwell said, “I thought it was obscene. So I felt I had to come. When we got here, there’s nothing but white people, and they aren’t used to seeing this many people of color.”
The case also resonates for people not in college.

April Jones, 17, who traveled from Atlanta, with her parents, Diana and Derrick, said she saw the problem as one of basic fairness. Ms. Jones could not understand why the students who hung the nooses were not punished severely.

The students were briefly suspended. District Attorney J. Reed Walters said Wednesday that the action did not appear to violate any state laws.“I just feel like every time the white people did something,” Ms. Jones said, “they dropped it, and every time the black people did something, they blew it out of proportion.”

Mr. Walters sharply criticized the nooses on Wednesday, saying: “I cannot overemphasize what a villainous act that was. The people that did it should be ashamed of what they unleashed on this town.”

A marcher, Latese Brown, 40, of Alexandria, said, “If you can figure out how to make a school yard fight into an attempted murder charge, I’m sure you can figure out how to make stringing nooses into a hate crime.”

In Louisiana, a Tree, a Fight and a Question of Justice


September 19, 2007

New York Times

JENA, La., Sept. 18 — They called it the White Tree. Not because of the color of its leaves or tint of its bark, but because of the kind of people who typically sat beneath its shade here at Jena High School.

And when a black student tried to defy that tradition by sitting under the tree last September, it set off a series of events that have turned this town of 3,000 in central Louisiana’s timber country into a flashpoint over the issue of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Three nooses quickly appeared on the tree a day after the black student sat under it, and not long afterward, the authorities said a white student had been beaten by six black schoolmates. The white student was treated at a local hospital and released; the black students were charged, not with assault, but with attempted murder.

Local civil rights groups objected to what they saw as a throwback to the worst kind of Deep South justice, and that protest has escalated into a nationwide campaign, through Web sites, bulk e-mail and instant messages, black radio stations and YouTube. The effort will reach its peak on Thursday, when thousands are expected to demonstrate here against what they say is the unfair treatment of the black students, who have come to be known as the Jena Six.

Lawyers involved in the case say the attention that the teenagers have received has prompted prosecutors to reduce some of the charges against the youths. And last Friday, an appeals court tossed out the conviction of the only student who has been tried in the case.

Even as Jena (pronounced GEE-nuh) girds itself for Thursday’s demonstration, the town — which has already undergone a measure of soul-searching since the case began — finds itself divided sharply over precisely what the case says about their town and themselves.

“Every year at Jena High School there’s a black-and-white fight,” said Casa Compton, 26, a Jena native, who is black. “It’s always been tense. There’s always been prejudice and bigotry here. Every day they’re throwing away a black man’s life down here.”

But Tina Norris, 45, owner of the Café Martin restaurant, said she was amazed at the kind of publicity her town was now receiving. “They make it sound like the whole town of Jena is just one big K.K.K. rally,” said Ms. Norris, who is white. “It isn’t. We don’t have a lot of problems here. This is just a small town.”

Critics of how the case has been handled argue that the treatment of the black students is evidence of the persistence of corrosive attitudes about race and crime.
“I think a lot of people recognize that the criminal justice system grinds down people of color every day,” said J. Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the civil rights group based in Montgomery, Ala. “Oftentimes, it’s nameless, it’s faceless. We know the story in a generic way but not specifically. People see Jena as the tip of the iceberg and ask, ‘What lies beneath?’ ”

The legal case began on Dec. 4, when the authorities said that the black youths — Robert Bailey Jr., 17; Jesse Beard, 15; Mychal Bell, 17; Carwin Jones, 18; Bryant Purvis, 17; and Theo Shaw, 17 — beat a white classmate in a confrontation outside the school gymnasium. The charges of attempted murder have been scaled back to offenses like aggravated battery and conspiracy, of which Mr. Bell was convicted on June 28.

Last Friday, an appeals court found that Mr. Bell had been improperly tried in adult court on the battery charge and threw out that conviction. Another judge tossed out the conspiracy conviction earlier this month. School officials cut down the tree.

Reed Walters, the district attorney of LaSalle Parish, did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Bell is still being held in jail while prosecutors deliberate whether to file new charges against him in juvenile court. The case of Mr. Bell — the only one of the six who has been jailed since the fight in December — has struck a chord among many who have followed the case.

“In Jena, for those who have been under the illusion that changes have occurred, this is a wake-up call,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of Operation PUSH/Rainbow Coalition and an organizer of Thursday’s rally, said in a phone interview, comparing the case to seminal moments like the Montgomery bus boycott that began in 1955.

College students have been a driving force in promoting the Jena case, and some of those who study race relations say that it has galvanized a generation that is often criticized by veterans of the social activist movement as being too complacent.

“What my students say is, ‘It could be any one of us that could be in this predicament,’ ” said Jas Sullivan, a political scientist at Louisiana State University. “What I see in their eyes is that this could happen to them.”

But even here in Jena, there is a sense of perspective and nuance about the case that is often lost in the larger debate. There are white people, too, who say the teenagers should have been tried in juvenile court, and many blacks who insist that the teenagers should be punished if they committed a crime, though in juvenile court.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bell’s parents, Marcus Jones and Melissa Bell, and the mother of Mr. Purvis, Tina Jones, were approached by the Rev. P. A. Paul, 78, who is white and said he was a minister at a local Baptist church. A shouting match ensued when he dismissed the hanging of nooses as “kid’s play.”

“I’ve hung nooses around my neck as a child,” he said.

“Well, you didn’t pull it tight enough,” Ms. Jones shot back.

After the two sides were separated, Mr. Bell’s parents said their son was hoping to be freed from jail soon and resume a high school football career.
“But when he gets out, we’re moving out of Jena,” Ms. Bell said.


Protesters converge in Jena

Thousands march to decry what they say was harsh treatment of six black teenagers who beat a white youth. Many local residents complain that the town is being portrayed unfairly.

By Jenny Jarvie

Los Angeles Times

September 20, 2007

JENA, La. — Thousands of protesters from across the United States converged today in this population-3,000 town to protest what they say are disproportionately harsh criminal charges against six black teenagers who beat a white youth.

Before dawn, cars and buses began to course down the two-lane highway that runs through the rural town about 230 miles northwest of New Orleans. The protesters, almost all of whom wore black T-shirts, congregated around the LaSalle Parish Courthouse before walking to Jena High School.

"I want my children to be part of history," said A.J. Walker, 33, a black police officer who had traveled from Houston, Texas, and took photographs of her two sons and daughter outside the high school. "I want to show them they have to stand for something."

The demonstrators filed through a town essentially shut down. The courthouse, the high school and almost all the businesses -- from the barber to the bail bondsman -- were closed for the day. Local protesters had vowed not to spend money in the town.

Outside the courthouse, civil rights leaders emphasized that the protest was not against the inhabitants of the town.

"This is a march for justice," Al Sharpton, the leader of the New York-based National Action Network had said Wednesday. "This is not a march against whites or against Jena."

Most residents of the town, which is 85% white, remained indoors. Those who sat outside to watch the procession said they felt frustrated by the protesters -- some of whom were blasting Bob Marley from car stereos and carrying banners reading "Enough is Enough" and "Get to the Root of the Problem."

"I actually heard a girl shout 'Shame on Jena'," said Pam Sharp, 43, a local resident who sat in a plastic chair in her driveway as the marchers walked past her house. "I shouted back 'No, shame on you!' How can they include the whole town? That's the shame."

The victim in the case, Sharp says, was a white student who was beaten unconscious. "Protesters don't want to talk about him."

What has become known as the "Jena Six" case began last September, when a black high school student sat under a tree traditionally, although not officially, reserved for whites. The next day, three nooses were hanging from the tree. Three white students were briefly suspended.

Then, in December, the white student was beaten up by six black schoolmates outside the school gymnasium. The black students were charged with attempted murder.

Eventually, those charges were reduced to offenses such as aggravated battery. In June, Mychal Bell was found guilty of second-degree battery charges. On Friday, the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal threw out his conviction, saying he had been improperly tried as an adult. Bell, now 17, remains in custody while prosecutors decide whether to file new charges against him in juvenile court.

Today's rally was planned for the day Bell originally was to have been sentenced.

Many locals say Jena is no worse than the cities where protesters are coming from.

Some concede that the black students were dealt with too harshly. Some believe the nooses were just a childish prank; others say the three white students involved were just bad kids, not representative of the overall community.

"We don't have a sign outside saying blacks are not welcome," said Pat Randall, 55, owner of Fabrics and More, a block away from the courthouse.

"They talk about nooses and hate, but this is an integrated community," said Evelyn Talley, 68, who before coming to Jena worked as a teacher for 17 years in Southern California. "At least we mix here. And there are no gangs."

As Sharpton entered the courthouse to meet Bell on Wednesday, scores of reporters surrounded his media representative, quizzing her about today's march from LaSalle Parish Courthouse to Jena High School -- specifically which celebrities would be attending.

Rachel Noerdlinger reeled off a list that included Tyler Perry, writer of the film "Diary of a Mad Black Woman"; Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and hip-hop artist Mos Def.

"Oprah?" asked someone.

"No," said Noerdlinger. "And Will Smith is not coming."

Pam Gresham, who works at a bail bonds store opposite the courthouse, tried to ignore the camera crews as she took a cigarette break on her front porch. She said she would not attend today's protest.

"If all these people would actually see and talk to the people, even go to a football game, they would see it's not a bad town," she said. "We all play as one. We all cheer."

In La., thousands to rally for 'Jena Six'

By Jenny Jarvie

Los Angeles Times

September 20, 2007

JENA, LA. — -- Beau Jones, Jena High School's gangly white quarterback, had one question as he parked his white pickup truck outside LaSalle Parish Courthouse: Was all this -- the jostling camera crews and row of satellite trucks -- really for Mychal Bell?

Bell, his former running back, was inside the courthouse, wearing handcuffs and ankle shackles and meeting with the Rev. Al Sharpton. Bell is one of six black teenagers charged with attempted murder for beating a white classmate, raising criticism that justice in this predominantly white Southern town is not colorblind.

"This isn't Jena," Jones, 16, said softly as he stared at the metal barricades around the local stores, the surveillance cameras being installed across the street, the gleaming limousine that had whisked civil rights leader Sharpton to this tiny tobacco town. "We're now on the map as a racist town, but the town I know, everyone pretty much gets along."

Today, thousands of protesters from across the country are expected to march through Jena (pronounced JEE-nuh), dwarfing its population of about 3,000. Not even the organizers know how many people to expect, but some say it could become a major civil rights march.

"Again, we come to the South to raise new hope, not to condemn," Sharpton told reporters outside the courthouse. "This is not a march against Jena."

Yet with predictions ranging from 1,000 to 60,000 protesters, many locals are apprehensive. The march has been publicized on talk radio and Internet blogs.

Jena High School and LaSalle Parish Library will close for the day. Most local business owners planned to close their stores too. Activists, they noted, vowed they would not spend money in Jena.

Logistical preparations for a large protest in a town with only two stoplights is a challenge for law enforcement officials, particularly with so many businesses expected to be closed. A spokesman for the Louisiana State Police said Wednesday that law enforcement from across the region would assist state troopers and police officers. Portable toilets were to be installed downtown, and the American Red Cross was to provide water.

Many residents of this town, which is 86% white, said they resented the media invasion, arguing that the conflict at the high school had been blown out of proportion, fed by journalists and activists' stereotypes of small Southern towns.

What has become known as the "Jena Six" case began last September, when a black high school student sat under a tree traditionally, although not officially, reserved for whites. The next day, three nooses were hanging from the tree. Three white students were briefly suspended.

Then, in December, a white student was beaten up by six black schoolmates outside the school gymnasium. The black students were charged with attempted murder.

Eventually, those charges were reduced to offenses such as aggravated battery. In June, Bell was found guilty of second-degree battery charges. On Friday, the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal threw out his conviction, saying he had been improperly tried as an adult. Bell, now 17, remains in custody while prosecutors decide whether to file new charges against him in juvenile court.

Many locals say Jena is no worse than the cities where protesters are coming from.

Some concede that the black students were dealt with too harshly. Some believe the nooses were just a childish prank; others say the three white students involved were just bad kids, not representative of the overall community.

"We don't have a sign outside saying blacks are not welcome," said Pat Randall, 55, owner of Fabrics and More, a block away from the courthouse.

"They talk about nooses and hate, but this is an integrated community," said Evelyn Talley, 68, who before coming to Jena worked as a teacher for 17 years in Southern California. "At least we mix here. And there are no gangs."

As Sharpton entered the courthouse to meet Bell on Wednesday, scores of reporters surrounded his media representative, quizzing her about today's march from LaSalle Parish Courthouse to Jena High School -- specifically which celebrities would be attending.

Rachel Noerdlinger reeled off a list that included Tyler Perry, writer of the film "Diary of a Mad Black Woman"; Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and hip-hop artist Mos Def.

"Oprah?" asked someone.

"No," said Noerdlinger. "And Will Smith is not coming."

Pam Gresham, who works at a bail bonds store opposite the courthouse, tried to ignore the camera crews as she took a cigarette break on her front porch. She said she would not attend today's protest.

"If all these people would actually see and talk to the people, even go to a football game, they would see it's not a bad town," she said. "We all play as one. We all cheer."

Year of racial unrest in La. town

By Miguel Bustillo

Los Angeles Times

September 15, 2007,1,3374823.story

JENA, La. — In December, six black boys jumped a white boy at the high school here and beat him while he lay unconscious.

The victim was taken to the hospital, but he was not gravely hurt. He attended a class ring ceremony later that evening.

The black boys were charged with attempted murder, which threatened to put them in prison for most of their lives. The district attorney alleged they'd used a deadly weapon: their sneakers.

The case of the so-called Jena Six has elicited outrage around the world -- not only because of the stiff charges brought against the black teenagers, but because of the stark contrast between the way black boys and white boys in the same town were treated.

The assault was the culmination of months of racial unrest in Jena (pronounced JEE-nuh), a former sawmill town of about 3,000 people in the backwoods of central Louisiana. It started at the beginning of the last school year, when a black freshman at Jena High School asked the vice principal during a school assembly whether he could sit under the "white tree," a gnarled oak on campus where white students gathered to escape the stifling Southern heat. He was told to sit wherever he wanted.

The following day last September, three hangman's nooses were dangling from the oak's branches. Two months later, the school was set on fire.

The three white boys who hung the nooses were identified but not expelled or charged with a hate crime; they were suspended for three days. No one has been charged in the arson.

The Jena Six were kicked out of school last school year. Five were charged as adults with crimes that carry long prison sentences. (The other boy is being tried as a juvenile and was recently allowed to return to classes.)

One of the six, Mychal Bell, 17, was convicted of aggravated battery by an all-white jury this year, a crime that carries a maximum punishment of 15 years. On Friday, a state appeals court overturned his conviction after his defense attorneys argued that he was unlawfully tried as an adult.

Still, Bell remained behind bars late Friday, as he had been for the last nine months. It is unclear whether LaSalle Parish Dist. Atty. Reed Walters will seek to drop the charges, retry him as a juvenile or ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to overturn the appellate court's decision. Walters did not return requests for comment.

"It's not a complete victory; we can't celebrate yet," said Louis Scott, one of a team of Louisiana lawyers defending Bell pro bono. "But when we got in this game, we were a couple of touchdowns behind. Now the game is tied."

The "white tree" at the high school was recently cut down by local leaders, and Walters has been reducing the charges against the Jena Six to aggravated battery; attempted murder carries a maximum sentence of more than 50 years.

But those actions have done little to quell the criticism of the way Jena authorities have handled the case.

"If a black person does something in Jena, they do more time than a white person. It's always been that way," said Bell's mother, Melissa Bell. "The white kids here can run loose, drink beer, whatever. But if you are black, don't you dare act like that."

African American leaders such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III argue that the case has raised disturbing questions about lingering racism and uneven justice in the Deep South.

Bloggers and student activists have taken up the Jena Six cause, saying the case is not unique: Studies have shown that black youths often receive harsher penalties than white youths.

Rallies to support the Jena Six are taking place around the country, and the Nation of Islam and other religious organizations had been planning a bus trip to Jena for Mychal Bell's sentencing, which had been scheduled for Thursday.

It was unclear Friday whether the rally, which was expected to draw thousands including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, would still take place. Jena officials have called off classes at six schools in anticipation of possible unrest.

"Jena is a 1960 town in a 2007 world. It's like going 47 years in the past," said the Rev. Raymond Brown, a New Orleans civil rights activist. "The message being sent here is: 'Don't you touch any white people, because if you do you will get locked up for life.' "

But in Jena, about 230 miles northwest of New Orleans, some whites say their town is suffering the real injustice. They blame out-of-state activists and the news media for painting a sensationalized picture of Jena as a throwback to the institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow era. They would prefer that the camera crews and ministers leave for good.

The noose incident was "nothing more than a bad joke. Whites and blacks stuck their heads in the nooses, poking fun at it," said Billy Fowler, a local school board member. "The black students -- it caused some tension for them, I'm sure, but it's not as crazy as it's been made out to be."

Fowler said that though he and many others agreed that the Jena Six were being excessively punished, many had lost sympathy for the boys because of damage to the town's reputation.

"If they'd kept their mouths shut, they might have gotten those charges taken off," he said. "But with the way this town's been done wrong, I don't think that's going to happen now."

Fowler and others assert that there's no direct connection between the noose incident and the later beating, a position supported by U.S. Atty. Donald Washington, who has been reviewing the case for possible federal intervention.

But supporters of the Jena Six argue that the nooses divided the town and sparked an ugly series of racial fights that culminated in the six-on-one beating.

After the nooses were hung, Jena High Principal Glen Joiner recommended expulsion for the white students responsible. But he was overruled by LaSalle Parish Schools Supt. Roy Breithaupt -- a decision that angered Jena's 350 or so black residents. Breithaupt did not respond to requests for comment.

After the decision, black students at Jena High gathered under the tree in protest.

Fights between blacks and whites broke out for days, and the principal ultimately called an assembly in which Dist. Atty. Walters, flanked by armed police, addressed the school.

"With a stroke of my pen, I can make your lives disappear," Walters said. In a court hearing where an attorney tried to have Walters removed from the beating case on grounds that he was biased, Walters, who is white, admitted making the statement. But he denied that he had been looking at black students when he said it, as some have said he had been.

Just before the incident that resulted in stiff charges for the Jena Six, white youngsters had attacked one of the six black boys, Robert Bailey, 17, striking him with beer bottles as he tried to enter a party. Only one of the attackers was charged -- with simple battery.

The next day, a white man who had been at the party brandished a shotgun during an altercation with Bailey and several other black boys.

He was not charged, but the boys, who wrestled the gun away from him, were charged with stealing it.

At a hearing last month in which Mychal Bell's new attorneys tried to get him released on bail, prosecutors revealed that Bell had been on juvenile probation and had been involved in other violence. Supporters of the stiff charges called the disclosure proof that the charges were just.

On Friday, Bell's attorneys said they would now seek school reinstatement for Bell -- an honor student and star running back who was being courted by top football colleges including Louisiana State University -- while he fought his legal battles.

"I just hope this doesn't mess up his mind, being locked up with grown men," Melissa Bell said tearfully as she stared at a picture of her son in black-and-white prison stripes. "He had such a bright future in front of him. I really hope he can get his life back."


Louisiana judge tosses conviction against teen tried as adult


September 14, 2007

A Louisiana appeals court Friday vacated the remaining conviction of a teenager accused in a violent, racially charged incident in Jena, Louisiana, his attorney said.
Bob Noel said the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Lake Charles threw out the conviction for second degree battery against Mychal Bell, saying the charges should have been brought in juvenile court.

"We're happy now, but tomorrow is another day," Noel told reporters.

The future of the case against Bell is up to the district attorney, who must decide whether to refile the charges in juvenile court, Noel said."We have to wait and see what the other side's going to do, how they're going to react," he said.

Bell's defense team would be filing a motion to get him out of prison, where he has been since his arrest in December, Noel said."The primary concern is to get Mychal Bell out of jail and into school where he needs to be," he said.Bell, who is now 17, was 16 at the time of the fight in December 2006.

Earlier this month, a district court judge vacated a conviction for conspiracy to commit second degree battery, saying that charge should have been brought in juvenile court.He left standing the second degree battery conviction, however.

A sentencing hearing that had been scheduled for September 20 is now off, he said.

The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton had been planning to join a rally in support of Bell on that date, The Associated Press reported. Bell and five other members of what has become known as the "Jena 6" were initially charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit attempted murder in connection with the December 4 beating of a white student.

Charges against Bell were reduced, as were charges against Carwin Jones and Theodore Shaw, who have not yet come to trial.Robert Bailey, Bryant Purvis and an unidentified juvenile remain charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Racial tensions had simmered at Jena High School and in the small town for the first three months of the 2006 school year after a black student asked the vice principal if he and some friends could sit under an oak tree where white students typically congregated.

Told by the vice principal they could sit wherever they pleased, the student and his pals plopped down under the sprawling branches of the shade tree in the campus courtyard.The next day, students arrived at school to find three nooses hanging from those branches.

"I seen them hanging. I'm thinking the KKK, you know, were hanging nooses. They want to hang somebody. Real nooses, the ones you see on TV, are the kind of nooses they were," Bailey, 17, one of the Jena 6, told the syndicated radio show "Democracy Now!" in July.

The school's principal recommended expulsion for those behind the nooses, according to The Town Talk newspaper in nearby Alexandria. Instead, a school district committee suspended three white students for three days for hanging the nooses, the newspaper reported, a gesture written off as a "prank."

"Toilet paper, that's a prank, you know what I'm saying?" Bailey told the radio show. "Nooses hanging there -- nooses ain't no prank."

The district attorney was summoned to address the student body. Off-campus fights were reported. On November 30, someone torched the school's main academic building. The arson remains unsolved, but many suspect it was linked to the discord.

Four days after the arson, several students jumped a white classmate, Justin Barker, knocking him unconscious while stomping and kicking him. The charges against the Jena 6 resulted from that incident.

Parents of the Jena 6 said they heard Barker was hurling racial epithets. Barker's parents said he did nothing to provoke the beating.

Barker was taken to a hospital with injuries to both eyes and ears, as well as cuts. His right eye had blood clots, said his mother, Kelli Barker. He was treated and released that day.

Bail for the Jena 6 was set at between $70,000 and $138,000. All but Bell posted bond. The judge had refused to lower his $90,000 bail, citing Bell's criminal record, which includes four juvenile offenses -- two simple battery charges among them.


It's still about race in Jena, La.

July 18, 2007



Last week in Detroit, the NAACP held a mock funeral for the N-word. But a chilling case in Louisiana shows us how far we have to go to bury racism. This story begins in the small, central Louisiana town of Jena. Last September, a black high school student requested the school's permission to sit beneath a broad, leafy tree in the hot schoolyard. Until then, only white students sat there.

The next morning, three nooses were hanging from the tree. The black students responded en masse. Justin Purvis, the kid who first sat under the tree, told filmmaker Jacquie Soohen: "They said, 'Y'all want to go stand under the tree?' We said, 'Yeah.' They said, 'If you go, I'll go. If you go, I'll go.' One person went, the next person went, everybody else just went."

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.' "

It wouldn't happen for a few more months, but that is exactly what the district attorney is trying to do.

Jena, a community of 4,000, is about 85 percent white. While the black community gathered at a church to respond, others didn't see the significance. Soohen interviewed Jena town librarian Barbara Murphy, who reflected: "The nooses? I don't even know why they were there, what they were supposed to mean. There's pranks all the time, of one type or another, going on. And it just didn't seem to be racist to me." Tensions rose.

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. Robert's mother, Caseptla Bailey, said: "I know they were in fear of their lives. They were afraid that this man was going to shoot them, you know, especially in the back, running away from the scene."

The next day, Dec. 4, 2006, a fight broke out at the school. A white student was injured, taken to the hospital and released. Robert Bailey and five other black students were charged ... with second-degree attempted murder. They each faced 100 years in prison. The black community was reeling.

Independent journalist Jordan Flaherty was the first to break the story nationally. He explained: "I'm sure it was a serious fight, and I'm sure it deserved real discipline within the school system, but he (the white student) was out later that day. He was smiling. He was with friends ... it was a serious school problem that came on the heels of a long series of other events ... as soon as black students were involved, that's when the hammer came down."

The African American community began to call them the Jena Six. The first to be tried was Mychal Bell, 17 years old and a talented football player, looking forward to a university scholarship. Bell was offered a plea deal, but refused. His father, Marcus Jones, took a few minutes off from work to talk to me: "Here in LaSalle Parish, whenever a black man is offered a plea bargain, he is innocent. That's a dead giveaway here in the South."

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.

Mychal Bell was convicted by an all-white jury. His court-appointed defense attorney called no witnesses. Bell will be sentenced on July 31, facing a possible 22 years. The remaining five teens, several of whom were jailed for months, unable to make bail, still face attempted second-degree murder charges and a hundred years each in prison.

Flaherty, who grew up in New Orleans, sums up the case of the Jena Six: "I don't think there is anyone around that would doubt that if this had been a fight between black students or a fight of white students beating up a black student, you would never be seeing this. It's completely about race. It's completely about two systems of justice."

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco gained national prominence during Hurricane Katrina. There's another hurricane that's devastating the lives of her constituents: racism. The families of the Jena Six are asking her to intervene. The district attorney says he can end the boys' lives with his pen. But Blanco's pen is mightier. She should wield it, now, for justice for the Jena Six.
Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour.
© 1998-2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

njustice in Jena: The 'White Tree'

A White Judge, White Jury, and White Prosecutor Calling White Witnesses Leads To Conviction of Black Youth

Bill Quigley

In a small still mostly segregated section of rural Louisiana, an all white jury heard a series of white witnesses called by a white prosecutor testify in a courtroom overseen by a white judge in a trial of a fight at the local high school where a white student who had been making racial taunts was hit by black students. The fight was the culmination of a series of racial incidents starting when whites responded to black students sitting under the "white tree" at their school by hanging three nooses from the tree. The white jury and white prosecutor and all white supporters of the white victim were all on one side of the courtroom. The black defendant, 17 year old Mychal Bell, and his supporters were on the other. The jury quickly convicted Mychal Bell of two felonies - aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. Bell, who was a 16 year old sophomore football star at the time he was arrested, faces up to 22 years in prison. Five other black youths await similar trials on attempted second degree murder and conspiracy charges.

Yes, you read that correctly. The rest of the story, which is being reported across the world in papers in China, France and England, is just as chilling.

The trouble started under "the white tree" in front of Jena High School. The "white tree" is where the white students, 80% of the student body, would always sit during school breaks.

In September 2006, a black student at Jena high school asked permission from school administrators to sit under the "white tree." School officials advised them to sit wherever they wanted. They did.

The next day, three nooses, in the school colors, were hanging from the "white tree." The message was clear. "Those nooses meant the KKK, they meant "Niggers, we're going to kill you, we're going to hang you till you die,'" Casteptla Bailey, mom of one of the students, told the London Observer.

The Jena high school principal found that three white students were responsible and recommended expulsion. The white superintendent of schools over-ruled the principal and gave the students a three day suspension saying that the nooses were just a youthful stunt. "Adolescents play pranks," the superintendent told the Chicago Tribune, "I don't think it was a threat against anybody."

The African-American community was hurt and upset. "Hanging those nooses was a hate crime, plain and simple," according to Tracy Bowens, mother of students at Jena High.

But blacks in this area of Louisiana have little political power. The ten person all-male government of the parish has one African- American member. The nine member all-male school board has one African American member. (A phone caller to the local school board trying to find out the racial makeup of the school board was told there was one "colored" member of the board). There is one black police officer in Jena and two black public school teachers.

Jena, with a population of less than 3000, is the largest town in and parish (county) seat of LaSalle Parish, Louisiana. There are about 350 African Americans in the town. LaSalle has a population of just over 14,000 people - 12% African-American.

This is solid Bush and David Duke Country - GWB won LaSalle Parish 4 to 1 in the last two elections; Duke carried a majority of the white vote when he ran for Governor of Louisiana. Families earn about 60% of the national average. The Census Bureau reports that less than 10% of the businesses in LaSalle Parish are black owned.

Jena is the site of the infamous Juvenile Correctional Center for Youth that was forced to close its doors in 2000, only two years after opening, due to widespread brutality and racism including the choking of juveniles by guards after the youth met with a lawyer. The U.S. Department of Justice sued the private prison amid complaints that guards paid inmates to fight each other and laughed when teens tried to commit suicide.

Black students decided to resist and organized a sit-in under the "white tree" at the school to protest the light suspensions given to the noose-hanging white students.

The white District Attorney then came to Jena High with law enforcement officers to address a school assembly. According to testimony in a later motion in court, the DA reportedly threatened the black protesting students saying that if they didn't stop making a fuss about this "innocent prank-- I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen." The school was put on lockdown for the rest of the week.

Racial tensions remained high throughout the fall.

On the night of Thursday November 30, 2006, a still unsolved fire burned down the main academic building of Jena High School.

On Friday night, December 1, a black student who showed up at a white party was beaten by whites. On Saturday, December 2, a young white man pulled out a shotgun in a confrontation with young black men at the Gotta Go convenience store outside Jena before the men wrestled it away from him. The black men who took the shotgun away were later arrested, no charges were filed against the white man.

On Monday, December 4, at Jena High, a white student - who allegedly had been making racial taunts, including calling African American students "niggers" while supporting the students who hung the nooses and who beat up the black student at the off-campus party - was knocked down, punched and kicked by black students. The white victim was taken to the hospital treated and released. He attended a social function that evening.

Six black Jena students were arrested and charged with attempted second degree murder. All six were expelled from school.

The six charged were: 17-year-old Robert Bailey Junior whose bail was set at $138,000; 17-year-old Theo Shaw - bail $130,000; 18-year- old Carwin Jones - bail $100,000; 17-year-old Bryant Purvis - bail $70,000; 16 year old Mychal Bell, a sophomore in high school who was charged as an adult and for whom bail was set at $90,000; and a still unidentified minor.

Many of the young men, who came to be known as the Jena 6, stayed in jail for months. Few families could afford bond or private attorneys.

Mychal Bell remained in jail from December 2006 until his trial because his family was unable to post the $90,000 bond. Theo Shaw has also remained in jail. Several of the other defendants remained in jail for months until their families could raise sufficient money to put up bonds.

The Chicago Tribune wrote a powerful story headlined "Racial Demons Rear Heads." The London Observer wrote: "Jena is gaining national notoriety as an example of the new 'stealth' racism, showing how lightly sleep the demons of racial prejudice in America's Deep South, even in the year that a black man, Barak Obama, is a serious candidate for the White House." The British Broadcasting Company aired a TV special report "Race Hate in Louisiana 2007."

The Jena 6 and their families were put under substantial pressure to plead guilty. Mychal Bell was reported to have been leaning towards pleading guilty right up until his trial when he decided he would not plead guilty to a felony.

When it finally came, the trial of Mychal Bell was swift. Bell was represented by an appointed public defender.

On the morning of the trial, the DA reduced the charges from attempted second degree murder to second degree aggravated battery and conspiracy. Aggravated battery in Louisiana law demands the attack be with a dangerous weapon. The dangerous weapon? The prosecutor was allowed to argue to the jury that the tennis shoes worn by Bell could be considered a dangerous weapon used by "the gang of black boys" who beat the white victim.

Most shocking of all, when the pool of potential jurors was summoned, fifty people appeared - every single one white.

The LaSalle Parish clerk defended the all white group to the Alexandria Louisiana Town Talk newspaper saying that the jury pool was selected by computer. "The venire [panel of prospective jurors] is color blind. The idea is for the list to truly reflect the racial makeup of the community, but the system does not take race into factor." Officials said they had summoned 150 people, but these were the only people who showed up.

The all-white jury which was finally chosen included two people friendly with the District Attorney, a relative of one of the witnesses and several others who were friends of prosecution witnesses.

Bell's parents, Melissa Bell and Marcus Jones, were not even allowed to attend the trial despite their objections, because they were listed as potential witnesses. The white victim, though a witness, was allowed to stay in the courtroom. The parents, who had been widely quoted in the media as critics of the process, were also told they could no longer speak to the media as long as the trial was in session. Marcus Jones had told the media "It's all about those nooses" and declared the charges racially motivated.

Other supporters who planned a demonstration in support of Bell were ordered by the court not to do so near the courthouse or anywhere the judge would see them.

The prosecutor called 17 witnesses - eleven white students, three white teachers, and two white nurses. Some said they saw Bell kick the victim, others said they did not see him do anything. The white victim testified that he did not know if Bell hit him or not.

The Chicago Tribune reported the public defender did not challenge the all-white jury pool, put on no evidence and called no witnesses. The public defender told the Alexandria Town talk after resting his case without calling any witnesses that he knew he would be second-guessed by many but was confident that the jury would return a verdict of not guilty. "I don't believe race is an issue in this trial--I think I have a fair and impartial jury--"

The jury deliberated for less than three hours and found Mychal Bell guilty on the maximum possible charges of aggravated second degree battery and conspiracy. He faces up to a maximum of 22 years in prison.

The public defender told the press afterwards, "I feel I put on the best defense that I could." Responding to criticism of not putting on any witnesses, the attorney said "why open the door for further accusations? I did the best I could for my client, Mychal Bell."

At a rally in front of the courthouse the next day, Alan Bean, a Texas minister and leader of the Friends of Justice, said "I have seen a lot of trials in my time. And I have never seen a more distressing miscarriage of justice than what happened in LaSalle Parish yesterday." Khadijah Rashad of Lafayette Louisiana described the trial as a "modern day lynching."

Tory Pegram with the Louisiana ACLU has been working with the parents for months. "People know if they don't demand equal treatment now, they will never get it. People's jobs and livelihoods have been threatened for attending Jena 6 Defense meetings, but people are willing to risk that. One person told me: ^ÑWe have to convince more people to come rally with us--..What's the worst that could happen? They fire us from our jobs? We have the worst jobs in the town anyway. They burn a cross on our lawns or burn down my house? All of that has happened to us before. We have to keep speaking out to make sure it doesn't happen to us again, or our children will never be safe.'"

Whites in the community were adamant that there is no racism. "We don't have a problem," according to one. Other locals told the media "We all get along," and "most blacks are happy with the way things are." One person even said "We don't have many problems with our blacks."

Melvin Worthington, the lone African American school board member in LaSalle Parish said it all could have been avoided. "There's no doubt about it," he told the Chicago Tribune, "whites and blacks are treated differently here. The white kids should have gotten more punishment for hanging those nooses. If they had, all the stuff that followed could have been avoided."

Hebert McCoy, a relative of one of the youths who has been trying to raise money for bail and lawyers, challenged people everywhere at the end of the rally when he said "You better get out of your houses. You better come out and defend your children--because they are incarcerating them by the thousands. Jena's not the beginning, but Jena has crossed the line. Justice is not right when you put on the wrong charges and then convict. I believe in justice. I believe in the point of law. I believe in accepting the punishment if I'm guilty. If I'm guilty, convict me and punishment, but if I'm innocent, no justice--" and the crowd joined with him and shouted "no peace!"

What happened to the white guys? The white victim of the beating was later arrested for bringing a hunting rifle loaded with 13 bullets onto the high school campus and released on $5000 bond. The white man who beat up the black youth at the off-campus party was arrested and charged with simple battery. The white students who hung up the nooses in the "white tree" were never charged.

The people in Jena are fighting for justice and they need legal and financial help. Since the arrests, a group of family members have been holding well-attended meetings, and have created a defense fund - the Jena 6 Defense Committee. They have received support from the NAACP, the Louisiana ACLU and Friends of Justice. People interested in supporting can contact: the Jena 6 Defense Committee, PO Box 2798, Jena, LA 71342 jena6defense [at]; Friends of Justice, 507 North Donley Avenue, Tulia, TX 79088; or the ACLU of Louisiana, PO Box 56157, New Orleans, LA 70156 or 417.350.0536.

What is next? The rest of the Jena 6 await similar trials. Theodore Shaw is due to go on trial shortly. Mychal Bell is scheduled to be sentenced July 31. If he gets the maximum sentence he will not be out of prison until he is nearly 40. Meanwhile, the "white tree" outside Jena High sits quietly in the hot sun.

Bill is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach him at Quigley [at] Audrey Stewart contributed to this article.

'Stealth racism' stalks deep South

Tom Mangold

May 24, 2007

This World investigates the rise of discrimination in America's deep south as six black youths are charged with an alleged attack on a white student, which could see them jailed for up to 50 years.

Three rope nooses hanging from a tree in the courtyard of a school in a small Southern town in Louisiana have sparked fears of a new kind of "stealth" racism spreading through America's deep south.

Although this sinister episode happened last August, the repercussions have been extensive and today the town of Jena finds itself facing the unwelcome glare of national and international publicity.

Jena has a mixed community, 85% white, 12% black.

The bad old days of the "Mississippi Burning" 60s, civil liberties and race riots, lynchings, the KKK and police with billy clubs beating up blacks might have ended.
But in the year that the first serious black candidate for the White House, Barak Obama, is helping unite the races in the north, the developments in the tiny town of Jena are disturbing.

Nooses in the playground

It all began at Jena High School last summer when a black student, Kenneth Purvis, asked the school's principal whether he was permitted to sit under the shade of the school courtyard tree, a place traditionally reserved for white students only. He was told he could sit where he liked.

The following morning, when the students arrived at school, they found three nooses dangling from the tree.

Most whites in Jena dismissed it as a tasteless prank, but the minority black community identified the gesture as something far more vicious.

"It meant the KKK, it meant 'niggers we're going to kill you, we're gonna hang you 'til you die'," said Caseptla Bailey, one of the black community leaders.
Old racial fault lines in Jena began to fracture the town. It was made worse when - despite the school head recommending the noose-hangers be expelled - the board overruled him and the three white student perpetrators merely received a slap on the wrist.

Troubled community

Billy Doughty, the local barber, has never cut a black man's hair. But he does not think there is a racism problem in Jena. Caseptla Bailey who is 56 and a former Air Force officer, has a degree in business management, but she cannot get a job as a bank teller. She lives in an area called Ward 10, which is where the majority of blacks live in trailers or wooden shacks. She says no whites live there at all.

"We want to live better, we want better housing." she says. "The Church says we should all be brothers and sisters in Christ."

Yet Sunday morning is perhaps one of the most segregated times in all of America. In the white neighbourhood, Pastor Dominick DiCarlo has only one black member of the Church, out of 450 resident members.

Race-related fights

As racial tension grew last autumn and winter, there were race-related fights between teenagers in town. On 4 December, racial tension boiled over once more at the school when a white student, Justin Barker, was attacked by a small group of black students. He fell to the ground and hit his head on the concrete, suffering bruising and concussion.

He was treated at the local hospital and released, and that same evening felt able to put in an appearance at a school function.

District Attorney Reed Walters, to the astonishment of the black community, has upgraded the charges of Mr Barker's alleged attackers to conspiracy to commit second degree murder and attempted second degree murder. If convicted they could be 50 before they leave prison.

Mr Walters has refused to give an on-the-record interview to the BBC about his decision on the charges. Mr Barker has since been charged with possessing a firearm in an arms-free zone (the school grounds).

The six black students will face a hearing next month. One of them is Caseptla Bailey's son Robert, who originally had his bail set at an unaffordable $138,000 (£69,495).

She had to hire a private lawyer who managed to get Robert's bail reduced to $84,000 (£42,285) so that her family could meet it. Michelle Jones' brother Carwyn is one of the boys charged. She is adamant that he will not get a fair trial in Jena. "If he's tried here, the jury will pick who they want. I have no doubt that they will convict those boys of attempted second degree murder."

When they do eventually file into court, many observers believe it is the town of Jena which will really be on trial.

This World: "Race hate in Louisiana" will be broadcast on Thursday 24 May 2007 at 1900 BST on BBC Two.
Story from BBC NEWS:


Racial demons surface in rural Louisiana

Howard Witt

Chicago Tribune

May 21, 2007

JENA, La. -- The trouble in Jena started with the nooses. Then it rumbled along the town's jagged racial fault lines. Finally, it exploded into months of violence between blacks and whites.

Now the 3,000 residents of this small lumber and oil town deep in the heart of central Louisiana are confronting Old South racial demons many thought had long ago been put to rest.

One morning last September, students arrived at the local high school to find three hangman's nooses dangling from a tree in the courtyard.

The tree was on the side of the campus that, by long-standing tradition, had always been claimed by white students, who make up more than 80 percent of the 460 students. But a few of the school's 85 black students had decided to challenge the accepted state of things and asked school administrators if they, too, could sit beneath the tree's cooling shade.

"Sit wherever you want," school officials told them. The next day, the nooses were hanging from the branches.

African-American students and their parents were outraged and intimidated by the display, which instantly summoned memories of the mob lynchings that once terrorized blacks across the American South. Three white students were quickly identified as being responsible, and the high school principal recommended that they be expelled.

"Hanging those nooses was a hate crime, plain and simple," said Tracy Bowens, a black mother of two students at the high school who protested the incident at a school board meeting.

But Jena's white school superintendent, Roy Breithaupt, ruled that the nooses were just a youthful stunt and suspended the students for three days, angering blacks who felt harsher punishments were justified.

"Adolescents play pranks," said Breithaupt, the superintendent of the LaSalle Parish school system. "I don't think it was a threat against anybody."
Yet it was after the noose incident that the violent, racially charged events that are still convulsing Jena began.

First, a series of fights between black and white students erupted at the high school over the nooses. Then, in late November, unknown arsonists set fire to the central wing of the school, which still sits in ruins. Off campus, a white youth beat up a black student who showed up at an all-white party. A few days later, another young white man pulled a shotgun on three black students at a convenience store.

Finally, on Dec. 4, a group of black students at the high school allegedly jumped a white student on his way out of the gym, knocked him unconscious and kicked him after he hit the floor. The victim -- allegedly targeted because he was a friend of the students who hung the nooses and had been taunting blacks -- was not seriously injured and spent only a few hours in the hospital.

But the LaSalle Parish district attorney, Reed Walters, opted to charge six black students with attempted second-degree murder and other offenses, for which they could face a maximum of 100 years in prison if convicted. All six were expelled from school.

To the defendants, their families and civil rights groups that have examined the events, the attempted murder charges brought by a white prosecutor are excessive and part of a pattern of uneven justice in the town.

The critics note, for example, that the white youth who beat the black student at the party was charged only with simple battery, while the white man who pulled the shotgun at the convenience store wasn't charged with any crime at all. But the three black youths in that incident were arrested and accused of aggravated battery and theft after they wrestled the weapon from the man -- in self-defense, they said.

"There's been obvious racial discrimination in this case," said Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who described Jena as a "racial powder keg" primed to ignite. " It appears the black students were singled out and targeted in this case for some unusually harsh treatment."

That's how the mother of one of the defendants sees things as well.

"They are sending a message to the white kids, 'You have committed this hate crime, you were taunting these black children, and we are going to allow you to continue doing what you are doing,"' said Caseptla Bailey, mother of Robert Bailey Jr.

Bailey, 17, is caught up in several of the Jena incidents, as both a victim and alleged perpetrator. He was the black student who was beaten at the party, and he was among the students arrested for allegedly grabbing the shotgun from the man at the convenience store. And he's one of the six students charged with attempted murder for the Dec. 4 attack.

The district attorney declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story. But other white leaders insist there are no racial tensions in the community, which is 85 percent white and 12 percent black.

"Jena is a place that's moving in the right direction," said Mayor Murphy McMillan. "Race is not a major local issue. It's not a factor in the local people's lives. "
Still others, however, acknowledge troubling racial undercurrents in a town where only 16 years ago white voters cast most of their ballots for David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana governor.

"I've lived here most of my life, and the one thing I can state with absolutely no fear of contradiction is that LaSalle Parish is awash in racism -- true racism," a white Pentecostal preacher, Eddie Thompson, wrote in an essay he posted on the Internet. "Here in the piney woods of central Louisiana ... racism and bigotry are such a part of life that most of the citizens do not even recognize it."

The lone black member of the school board agrees.

"There's no doubt about it -- whites and blacks are treated differently here," said Melvin Worthington, who was the only school board member to vote against expelling the six black students charged in the beating case. "The white kids should have gotten more punishment for hanging those nooses. If they had, all the stuff that followed could have been avoided." And the troubles at the high school are not over yet.

On May 10, police arrested Justin Barker, 17, the white victim of the Dec. 4 beating. He was alleged to have a rifle loaded with 13 bullets stashed behind the seat of his pickup truck parked in the school lot. Barker told police he had forgotten it was there and had no intention of using it.


Looking for Justice in Jena, Louisiana

"There was White Kids that Hung Up a Noose, But It was Black Kids in the Fight."

Jordan Flaherty

May 9, 2007

Speaking to a crowd of demonstrators in front of a rural Louisiana courthouse last week, Alan Bean, a Baptist minister from the Texas panhandle, inveighed against injustice. "The highest crime in the Old Testament," he declared, "is to withhold due process from poor people, to manipulate the criminal justice system to the advantage of the powerful, against the poor and the powerless."

Bean was speaking at a rally organized by residents of Jena, Louisiana. In the space of a few weeks, more than 150 of this small town's residents have organized an inspiring grassroots struggle against injustice. The demonstrations began when six Black students at Jena High School were arrested after a fight at school and charged with conspiracy to attempt second-degree murder. The students now face up to 100 years in prison without parole; in a case that King Downing, National Coordinator of the ACLU's Campaign Against Racial Profiling, has said "carries the scent of injustice."

Local activists say that this wave of problems started last September when Black high school students asked for permission to sit under a tree at an area of the high school that had, traditionally, been used only by white students. The next day, three nooses were hanging from the tree.

The following week, Black students staged a protest under the tree. At a school assembly soon after, Jena district attorney Reed Walters, appearing with local police officers, warned Black students against further unrest. "I can make your lives disappear with a stroke of my pen," he threatened.

According to many in Jena, tensions simmered in the town over the fall, occasionally exploding into fights and other incidents. No white students were charged or punished for any of these incidents, including the students found to have been responsible for hanging the nooses. Bryant Purvis, one of the Black students now facing charges, explained to me that, after the incident, "there were a lot of people aggravated about it, a lot of fights at the school after that, a lot of arguments, a lot of people getting treated differently."

In the first weekend of December, a Black student was assaulted by a group of white students, and a white graduate of Jena High School threatened several Black students with a shotgun. The following Monday, white students taunted the Black student who was assaulted over the weekend, and one of the white students was beaten up.

Within hours, six Black students were arrested. "I think the district attorney is pinning it on us to make an example of us," said Purvis. "In Jena, people get accused of things they didn't do a lot."

Soon after, their parents discovered that these students were facing attempted murder charges. "The courtroom, the whole back side, was filled with police officers," Tina Jones, Bryant's mother, recalls. "I guess they thought maybe when they announced what the charges were, we were gonna go berserk or something."
At last week's demonstration, family members and allies spoke about the issues at the center of the case. "I don't know how the DA or the court system gets involved in a school fight," said Jones. "But I'm not surprised--there's a lot of racism in Jena. A white person will get probation, and a black person is liable to get 15 to 20 years for the same crime."

Alan Bean, director of an organization called Friends of Justice, began his activism in response to a string of false arrests in 1999 in Tulia, Texas, where he lives. Since then, he has dedicated himself to supporting community organizing around cases of criminal justice abuse in rural Texas and Louisiana. Small towns like Jena--which has a population of 2,500, and is 85 percent white - are often left out of the organizing support, attention, and funding that struggles in metropolitan areas receive.

This disparity was not always the case. Rural southern towns were the frontlines of the 60s civil rights movement. Groups like CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) were active throughout the rural south. And these rural towns have been important sites of homegrown resistance. In 1964, in Jonesboro Louisiana, just north of Jena, a group of Black veterans of the US military formed the Deacons for Defense, an armed self-defense organization, in support of civil rights struggles. The Deacons went on to form 21 chapters in rural Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Outrageous violations still occur in many of these towns. A few months ago, Gerald Washington of Westlake, Louisiana was shot three days before he was to become the town's first Black mayor. Less than two weeks after that, shots were fired into the house of another Black mayor, in Greenwood Louisiana. Jena itself is a mostly segregated community that was also the site of the Jena Juvenile Correctional Center for Youth, a legendarily brutal prison that was shut down in 2000.
Jena residents formed their own defense committee, without the support of national organizations. They have been holding weekly protests and organizing meetings that have attracted allies from near and far. A gathering last week was attended by Bean, as well as allies from other northern and central Louisiana towns, and representatives from the ACLU, NAACP, and National Action Network.

Many parents questioned why the noose and other threatening actions were not taken seriously by the school administration. "What's the difference," asks Marcus Jones, the father of Mychal Bell, one of the students, about the disparity in the charges. "There's a color difference. There was white kids that hung up a noose, but it was black kids in the fight." Sentencing disparity is a big issue in many of these small towns, where many see it as the modern continuation of the ugly southern heritage of lynching.

Jones explains a litany of reasons why the children should not be charged with attempted murder. "The kid did not have life threatening injuries, he was not cut, he was not stabbed, he was not shot, nothing was broken. There is no evidence of conspiracy to commit attempted murder. You talk about conspiracy to attempt second-degree murder, you think about the mafia, you think somebody paid a sniper or something. We're talking about a high school fistfight. The DA is showing his racist upbringing, his racist acts and his racist nature, and bringing it into the law."

For three of the youth, Robert Bailey, Theo Shaw and Mychal Bell, their trial starts May 21. I asked Bryant Purvis how this has affected him. "One of my goals in life is to go to college, and not to go to jail, and that changed me right there," he tells me. "That crushed me, to be in a jail cell."

When asked how her life has changed, Purvis' mother described the sadness of having her son taken away from her without warning. "You wake up in the morning and your son is there. You lay down at night and he's there. Then all of a sudden he's gone. That's a lot to deal with."

Jordan Flaherty is an editor of Left Turn Magazine and a community organizer based in New Orleans. He can be reached at: