[Ppnews] White Supremacy and the Jena Six
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jul 10 12:11:03 EDT 2007
July 10, 2007
White Supremacy and the Jena Six
By ALICE WOODWARD
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."
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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