[Ppnews] The Case of the Jena Six

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jul 10 12:35:44 EDT 2007


Tuesday, July 10th, 2007
http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/07/10/1413220

The Case of the Jena Six: Black High School 
Students Charged with Attempted Murder for 
Schoolyard Fight After Nooses Are Hung from Tree


----------
Six black students at Jena High School in Central 
Louisiana were arrested last December after a 
school fight in which a white student was beaten 
and suffered a concussion and multiple bruises. 
The six black students were charged with 
attempted murder and conspiracy. They face up to 
100 years in prison without parole. The fight 
took place amid mounting racial tension after a 
black student sat under a tree in the schoolyard 
where only white students sat. The next day three 
nooses were hanging from the tree. [includes rush transcript]

----------
Jena is a small town nestled deep in the heart of 
Central Louisiana. Until recently, you may well 
have never heard of it. But this rural town of 
less than 4,000 people has become a focal point 
in the debate around issues of race and justice in this country.

Last December, six black students at Jena High 
School were arrested after a school fight in 
which a white student was beaten and suffered a 
concussion and multiple bruises. The six black 
students were charged with attempted 
second-degree murder and conspiracy. They face up 
to 100 years in prison without parole. The Jena 
Six, as they have come to be known, range in age from 15 to 17 years old.

Just over a week ago, an all-white jury took less 
than two days to convict 17 year-old Mychal Bell, 
the first of the Jena Six to go on trial. He was 
convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy 
charges and now faces up to 22 years in prison.

Black residents say that race has always been an 
issue in Jena, which is 85 percent white, and 
that the charges against the Jena Six are no exception.

The origins of the story can be traced back to 
early September when a black high school student 
requested permission to sit under a tree in the 
schoolyard where usually only white students sat. 
The next day three nooses were found hanging from the tree.

Democracy Now! correspondent Jacquie Soohen has more on the story from Jena.

    * Report on the Jena Six by Jacquie Soohen, 
from an upcoming feature documentary by 
<http://www.bignoisefilms.com>Big Noise Films.

Jena 6 Defense Committee
PO BOX 2798
Jena, LA 71342

----------


AMY GOODMAN: Jena is a small town nestled deep in 
the heart of Central Louisiana. Until recently, 
you may well never have heard of it. But this 
rural town of less than 4,000 has become a focal 
point in the debate around issues of race and justice in this country.

Last December, six black students at Jena High 
School were arrested after a school fight in 
which a white student was beaten and suffered a 
concussion and multiple bruises. The six black 
students were charged with attempted 
second-degree murder and conspiracy. They face up 
to 100 years in prison without parole.

The Jena 6, as they have come to be known, range 
in age from fifteen to seventeen. Just over a 
week ago, an all-white jury took less than two 
days to convict seventeen-year-old Mychal Bell, 
the first of the Jena 6 to go on trial. He was 
convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy 
charges and now faces up to twenty-two years in 
prison. Black residents say race has always been 
an issue in Jena, which is 85% white and that the 
charges against the Jena 6 are no exception.

The origins of the story can be traced back to 
early September, when a black high school student 
requested permission to sit under a tree in the 
schoolyard, where usually only white students 
sat. The next day, three nooses were found hanging from the tree.

Democracy Now! correspondent Jacquie Soohen has more on the story from Jena.

JESSE BEARD: Black girls over there, black boys 
right here. Some black people standing right -- a 
couple. All the band geeks right there. White 
folks under the tree. And then you might -- it’s like


JACQUIE SOOHEN: Jesse Beard, a freshman in high 
school and one of Jena 6, took us to where the nooses were hung.

JESSE BEARD: One day, I just wanted to -- maybe 
the first, second day, we started riding the bus, 
me and Robert. And we came through, and I seen 
something hanging there. I told Robert. He looked 
at it. He’s like, “Them nooses right there.” He 
was getting mad. Everybody was getting -- I 
started getting mad. By the time everybody came, 
they was trying to cut them down.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Robert Bailey, seventeen years 
old and a safety receiver for the school football 
team, is another of the Jena 6 facing life behind 
bars. He described his reaction to the nooses.

ROBERT BAILEY: It was in the early morning. 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, the ones they play 
in the movies and they were hanging all the 
people, you know, and the thing dropped, those 
were the kind of nooses they were. I know it was 
somebody white that hung the nooses in the tree. 
You know, I don’t know another way to put it, 
but, you know, I was disappointed, because, you 
know, we do little pranks -- you know, toilet 
paper, that’s a prank, you know what I’m saying? 
Paper all over the square, all the pranks they 
used to do, that’s pranks. Nooses hanging there -- nooses ain't no prank.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: The school’s superintendent 
dismissed the nooses as a prank, and after three 
days’ suspension, the three white students who 
hung the nooses were allowed back to school. 
Caseptla Bailey, Robert's mother, said the school 
did not inform the parents of the incident.

CASEPTLA BAILEY: The school didn’t tell me. I 
didn’t know that it happened, so therefore I 
didn’t call to find out what happened on that particular day.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: To Caseptla Bailey, the meaning of the nooses was clear.

CASEPTLA BAILEY: It meant hatred, to the other 
race. It meant that “We’re going to kill you, 
you're going to die.” You know, it sent a 
message: “This is not the place for you to sit. 
This is not your damn tree. Do not sit here. You 
know, you ought to remain in your place, know 
your place and stay in your place. You’re out of 
your boundaries.” And the first thing now that 
the sheriff department or that the chief of 
police want to say that -- as well as the 
superintendent -- one had nothing to do with the other. Now, come on now!

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Most people we spoke to in Jena’s 
white community, however, see no connection 
between the students’ charges and race. Barbara 
Murphy, the town librarian, claims there isn’t a race problem in Jena.

BARBARA MURPHY: We don’t have a race problem. 
It’s not black against white. It’s crime. 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.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: A few days after the nooses were 
hung, the entire black student body staged an 
impromptu demonstration, crowding underneath the 
tree during lunch hour. Justin Purvis, the 
student who first asked to sit underneath the 
tree, described how the protest came about.

JUSTIN PURVIS: It was like, the first beginning, 
in the court, 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.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: The school responded to the 
protest by calling police and the district 
attorney. At an assembly the same day, the 
District Attorney Reed Walters, accompanied by 
armed policeman, addressed the students. 
Substitute teacher Michelle Rogers, one of the 
few black teachers at the school, was there. She 
recalls the DA's words to the assembled high schoolers.

MICHELLE ROGERS: The kids didn't say anything. 
They were listening. The kids were quiet. And so, 
District Attorney Reed Walters, you know, 
proceeded to tell those kids that “I could end 
your lives with the stroke of a pen.” And the 
kids were just -- it was like in awe that the 
district -- you know, Reed Walters would tell 
these kids that. He held a pen in his hand and 
told those kids that, “See this pen in my hand? I 
can end your lives with the stroke of a pen.”

JACQUIE SOOHEN: A series of incidents followed 
throughout the fall. In October, a black student 
was beaten for entering a private all-white 
party. Later that month, a white student pulled a 
gun on a group of black students at a gas 
station, claiming self-defense. The black 
students wrestled the gun away and reported the 
incident to police. They were charged with 
assault and robbery of the gun. No charges were 
ever filed against the white students in either 
incident. Then, in late November, someone tried 
to burn down the high school, creating even more tension.
Four days later, a white student was allegedly 
attacked in a school fight. The victim was taken 
to hospital and released shortly with a 
concussion. He attended a school function that 
evening. Six black students were charged with 
attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to 
commit murder, on charges that leave them facing 
between twenty and one hundred years in jail. The 
defendants, ranging in age from fifteen to 
seventeen, had their bonds set at between $70,000 
and $138,000. The attack was written up in the 
local paper as fact, and DA Reed Walters 
published a statement in which he said, "When you 
are convicted, I will seek the maximum penalty allowed by law."

MINISTER: We have come today to stand against 
what we consider to be a great evil.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Since their arrest, the 
defendants’ families have been speaking out and 
fighting for the release of their sons. Two of 
the six, including Mychal Bell, who was recently 
convicted, were unable to make bond and have 
spent close to seven months in jail to date.

CASEPTLA BAILEY: No justice!

PROTESTERS: No peace!

CASEPTLA BAILEY: No justice!

PROTESTERS: No peace!

CASEPTLA BAILEY: No justice!

PROTESTERS: No peace!

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Caseptla Bailey began writing 
letters to state and national agencies, including 
the Department of Justice, immediately after the charges were filed.

CASEPTLA BAILEY: The first thing was devastation. 
You know, I was down when it first happened. You 
know, I was very devastated. I was hurt, upset, 
angry, mad, frustrated. You know, I had so many 
emotions, crying a lot of nights, you know, 
trying to figure out where can I go from here. 
You know, a lot of times when you're backed into 
a corner or you’re backed into a wall, naturally 
you're going to come out fighting. You know, 
you're not going to -- you’re either going to 
fall and die, or you're going to come out fighting.

You know, I’m just sending out these letters to 
anyone that would have a listening ear and to 
anyone that, you know, I thought that might help 
the situation. That's how I fight back, you know, 
by putting the pen to the paper.
They want to take these kids -- my son, as well 
as all these other children -- lock them up, 
throw away the key. You know, that's a tradition 
for black males. So they want to keep that 
tradition going, because they want to keep 
institutionalized slavery alive and well.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: At a friendly pickup game of 
football, Caseptla’s son Robert shows off the 
skills that made him a star player of the high 
school football team. Robert was in jail for over 
two months before his mother was able to raise 
the money for her son's bond using three pieces 
of property from different family members. 
Seventeen-year-old Robert Bailey has no criminal record.

ROBERT BAILEY: I ain’t got no criminal record, 
nothing. I ain’t got no probation, community 
service or nothing, nothing like that. The DA, he 
ain’t after finding the truth. That’s what a DA’s 
for, to after find the truth, you know, of the 
case. He’s just, you know, trying to put me up in 
a jail cell, for life. Fifty years, twenty-five 
to a hundred years, you can just say “forever.” 
Twenty years is forever, to me.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Robert wasn’t the only one with a 
promising future. All of the Jena 6 were 
athletes, and five of the six were on the high 
school football team. Marcus Bell, the father of 
seventeen-year-old Mychal Bell, has a stack of scholarship offers for his son.

MARCUS BELL: LSU, Southern Miss, Ol’ Miss, University of New York


JACQUIE SOOHEN: Mychal is a star running back and 
a strong student who is being actively scouted by a number of colleges.

MARCUS BELL: We're not blaming the victim for the 
charges or none of that. The DA is a racist DA. 
You know, I’m not calling him out for being a 
racist. I’m calling him out as being a racist due 
to his track record. The reason we is taking a 
stand for our kids for what he’s not doing is 
right, ’cause, you know, we’re tired of it, you 
know, ’cause if we, you know, we sat down and lay 
back and let him railroad our kids, too, he’s 
going to continue to do that to black people in 
this town. You know, so we have to take a stand 
now. Somebody has to take a stand now. If not, 
he’s going to continue to fill the prisons up with black people more and more.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Mr. Bell believes that his son is 
learning a valuable lesson from this experience.

MARCUS BELL: One of the best lessons that my son 
could learn that’s one of the best lessons: to 
know what it is to be black now. You know, if 
this don’t teach him what it is to be black now, 
I don’t know what will. But he’s seventeen now. 
You know, he’s got a lot of life left ahead of 
him. And the day he set foot out of jail, I’m 
going to tell him, I’m going to tell him again, 
“You know what it is to be black now. Here it is.”

JACQUIE SOOHEN: For Democracy Now!, this is 
Jacquie Soohen, reporting from Jena, Louisiana.

AMY GOODMAN: That piece is from an upcoming 
feature documentary by Big Noise Films. Mychal 
Bell faces up to twenty-two years in prison when 
he’s sentenced July 31st. The five other students 
await trial on charges of attempted second-degree 
murder and conspiracy. They face up to 100 years 
in jail. When we come back from break, we’ll be 
joined by parents of three of the Jena 6, as well 
as the journalist who broke the story nationally.

To purchase an audio or video copy of this entire 
program, 
<https://store.democracynow.org/?pid=10&show=2007-07-10>click 
here for our new online ordering or call 1 (888) 999-3877.




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