[News] White Supremacy and the Jena Six

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jul 10 12:11:03 EDT 2007


July 10, 2007

White Supremacy and the Jena Six

Southern Discomfort


On a late summer day in 2006, in Jena, Louisiana, 
a Black high school student asked permission to 
sit beneath the "white tree" in front of the 
town's high school. It was unspoken law that this 
shady area was for whites only during school 
breaks. But a student asked, and the vice 
principal said nothing was stopping them. So 
Black students sat underneath the tree, 
challenging the established authority of 
segregation and racism. The next day, hanging 
from the tree, were three ropes, in school colors, each tied to make a noose.

The events set in motion by those nooses led to a 
schoolyard fight. And that fight led to the 
conviction, on June 28, 2007, of a Black student 
at Jena High School for charges that can bring up 
to 22 years in prison. Mychal Bell, a 16-year-old 
sophomore football star at the time he was 
arrested, was convicted by an all-white jury, 
without a single witness being called on his 
behalf. And five more Black students in Jena 
still face serious charges stemming from the fight.

* * *

Caseptla Bailey, a Black community leader and 
mother of one of the Black students, told the 
London Observer, "To us those nooses meant the 
KKK, they meant, 'Niggers, we're going to kill 
you, we're going to hang you till you die.'" The 
attack was brushed off as a "youthful stunt." The 
three white students responsible, given only 
three days of in-school suspension.

In response to the incident, several Black 
students, among them star players on the football 
team, staged a sit-in under the tree. The 
principal reacted by bringing in the white 
district attorney, Reed Walters, and 10 local 
police officers to an all-school assembly. Marcus 
Jones, Mychal Bell's father, described the assembly to Revolution:

"Now remember, with everything that goes on at 
Jena High School, everybody's separated. The only 
time when Black and white kids are together is in 
the classroom and when they playing sports 
together. During lunch time, Blacks sit on one 
side, whites sit on the other side of the 
cafeteria. During canteen time, Blacks sit on one 
side of the campus, whites sit on the other side of the campus.

"At any activity done in the 
auditorium-anything-Blacks sit on one side, 
whites on the other side, okay? The DA tells the 
principal to call the students in the auditorium. 
They get in there. The DA tells the Black 
students, he's looking directly at the Black 
students-remember, whites on one side, Blacks on 
the other side-he's looking directly at the Black 
students. He told them to keep their mouths shut 
about the boys hanging their nooses up. If he 
hears anything else about it, he can make their 
lives go away with the stroke of his pen."

DA Walters concluded that the students should 
"work it out on their own." Police officers 
roamed the halls of the school that week, and 
tensions simmered throughout the fall semester.

In November, as football season came to a close, 
the main school building was mysteriously burned 
to the ground. This traumatic event seemed to 
bring to the surface the boiling racial tensions in Jena.

On a Friday night, Robert Bailey, a 17-year-old 
Black student and football player, was invited to 
a dance at a hall considered to be "white." When 
he walked in, without warning he was punched in 
the face, knocked on the ground and attacked by a 
group of white youth. Only one of the white youth 
was arrested-he was ultimately given probation and asked to apologize.

The night after that, a 22-year-old white man, 
along with two friends, pulled a gun on Bailey 
and two of his friends at a local gas station. 
The Black youths wrestled the gun from him to 
prevent him from using it. They were arrested and 
charged with theft, and the white man went free.

The following Monday students returned to school. 
In the midst of a confrontation between a white 
student, Justin Barker, and a Black student, 
Robert Bailey-where Bailey was taunted for having 
been beaten up that weekend-a chaotic fray 
ensued. Barker was allegedly knocked down, 
punched, and kicked by a number of Black 
students. He was taken to the hospital for a few 
hours and was seen out socializing later that evening.

Six Black students-Robert Bailey Junior, Theo 
Shaw, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Mychal Bell, 
and a still unidentified minor, allegedly the 
attackers of Justin Barker-were arrested, charged 
with attempted second degree manslaughter, and expelled from school.

White Supremacy Then and Now

This did not all happen in the "Red Summer" of 
1919 when Jim Crow segregation thrived, and 
Blacks in major cities faced race riots that 
raged throughout the country. This did not occur 
in the 1950s after Brown vs. Board of Education 
was decided in 1954 and young children faced 
angry white mobs to make history in desegregating 
public schools. This did not happen in the summer 
of 1955 when, in Money, Mississippi, a vibrant 
Black youth by the name of Emmett Till was 
brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman. 
This did not occur in 1960, when on February 1 
four Black college students sat in at a "white 
only" lunch counter, demanding service and 
launching the civil rights movement to another 
level. This did not happen during the period 1865 
to 1965 during which 3,446 Black people were lynched in the United States.

This is now. When three white students in Jena 
committed this hate crime, hanging three nooses 
from the "white tree," they evoked the ugly 
history of slavery, segregation, lynching, and 
police brutality to threaten the lives of Black 
students at their school. The "white tree" stands 
in Jena, Louisiana. The Jena 6, as the Black 
students have come to be called, are in prison 
and on trial for defending themselves against white supremacist attacks.

The Jena 6 were arrested in December 2006. The 
outrageously high bail ranged from 
$70,000-$138,000, leaving most of them stuck in jail for months.

The first student to go to trial this June was 
Mychal Bell, who waited behind bars, unable to 
post bail. Like a scene from the Jim Crow South, 
he was judged by an all-white jury, in a 
courtroom run by a white judge. Whites sat with 
Justin Barker and his white lawyer on one side. 
Blacks sat with defendant Mychal Bell, who was 
represented by a court-appointed attorney.

The prosecutor called 16 witnesses, mostly white 
students. The court-appointed defense attorney 
called none. Accounts of the incident, who was 
involved, and who did what, vary highly, 
including whether Mychal Bell was the one who 
first punched Justin Barker. Barker's attorney 
argued that Bell's tennis shoes on his feet were 
a "dangerous weapon." The trial was so outrageous 
that when a Louisiana TV station polled viewers, 
62% said that Mychal Bell was not getting a fair trial.

Mychal Bell was convicted of two felonies: 
aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy 
to commit aggravated second-degree battery. He 
faces up to 22 years in prison. The remaining 
five defendants await their trials.

Standing Up to Racism

Few people in the United States have heard of the 
case of the Jena 6. But the trial was covered by 
the French newspaper Le Monde, and the BBC aired 
a documentary on the case. The London Observer reported on the Jena 6 story.

Family, friends, and supporters of the young men 
are protesting and struggling to free the Jena 6. 
The Black community in Jena and people from 
across Louisiana and Texas have come together to 
support the Jena 6 and fight the injustice of 
their trials. People have put their lives on 
hold, and churches have opened their doors. The 
Jena 6 and their supporters are defiant and 
continue to be under attack. Marcus Jones described the most recent event:

"Thursday night we had an NAACP meeting here at 
the church. The next day, in the morning, the 
pastor goes to his church and somebody just clean 
ran through his church yard, knocked his sign 
down, ran over back and forth on it with they 
truck, and just took off, you know. People report 
it to the police (laughs). What good they gonna do here, I don't know."

The majority of Jena's estimated 385 Black people 
live in an area of town known as Ward 10. Many 
homes there are trailers or wooden shacks. 
Rubbish lies in the streets. Only two Black 
families live in the all white middle class 
suburban area of Jena. An article in the Observer 
recounts how one of them bought a house: "A 
teacher from Jena High had enough money to buy 
his way in. But when he arrived local estate 
agents refused to show him a 'white' property 
even though several were advertised in the local 
paper ('they're all under contract,' the agents 
lied). The teacher eventually went to see one 
white owner and offered him cash. 'The guy 
preferred green [dollars] to Black, so I got the 
property,' laughed the teacher, 'but since we 
moved in three years ago we haven't been invited by a single neighbor.'"

The "white tree" stands in Jena, Louisiana today 
while entire neighborhoods and precious lives in 
the 9th ward of New Orleans are left wasting 
away, even as the more profitable and less Black 
areas of the city are rebuilt. It stands while a 
father, a mother, a fiancée, a child, and many 
friends are still feeling the devastating loss of 
Sean Bell who was murdered by the NYPD. It stands 
while the Rutgers University basketball team gets 
subjected to racist and sexist verbal assault 
from a national talk show host. While the N word 
is spouted with rage by a comedian.

In a world such as this, there's nothing left to 
do but pull this tree up by its roots and get rid of it for good.

Alice Woodward writes for <http://www.revcom.us/>Revolution.

For more on the Jena 6 visit Friends of Justice 

On youtube.com, search for "Jena Six, A photo story."

Freedom Archives
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415 863-9977

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