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Jena, LA – It began when a black high school freshman, Justin Purvis, asked permission to sit in the cool shade of his school’s courtyard tree, one that?only white kids usually sat under. The school told him to do what he liked. The following day, three nooses hung from the tree in school colors. The school superintendent dismissed the nooses as a prank and gave the three white students who hung them three days suspension. Parents were never told.
(The majority of this post comes from my notes on two Democracy Now! segments: The Case of the Jena Six: Black High School Students Charged with Attempted Murder for Schoolyard Fight After Nooses Are Hung from Tree and “A Modern-Day Lynching” – Parents of Jena Six Speak of Injustice, Racism in Sons’ Prosecution.)
Robert Bailey, 17 year old safety receiver for the football team and one of the “Jena Six” facing life in prison, explained his reaction to the nooses:
It was in early morning I seen them hanging. I’m thinking the KKK hanging nooses, they want to hang somebody…. We do little pranks. Toilet paper, that’s a prank. Nooses hanging? Nooses ain’t no prank.”
Caseptla Bailey, Robert’s mother, found out a week later. To her, the nooses meant? hatred.
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 are to remain in your place, know your place and stay in your place.’
According to her, the sheriff, the police department, and the superintendent said one incident had nothing to do with the other. Not everyone agreed. Parents congregated and contacted political leaders. The entire black student body staged an impromptu and civil demonstration, standing under the tree a few days later. For this, the school called the police and the district attorney. According to Michelle Rogers, one of the few black teachers at the school, DA Reed Walters called an assembly, “held a pen in his hand and told those kids ‘See this pen in my hands? I could end your life with the stroke of a pen.'”
Anger escalated. In October, Robert Bailey was beaten for attending a party after asking permission to enter. Later that month, a young white man pulled a sawed-off shotgun on a group of black students at a gas station claiming self defense. The black students wrestled the gun away and called the police only to be charged with assault and robbery of the gun. The white man was charged with nothing. In November, someone tried to burn down the school, an unsolved crime. On December 4th , a white student was allegedly attacked in a school fight. The victim was taken to the hospital, released with a concussion, and was well enough to attend a school function that evening.
The school fight required discipline. Six black students were charged with attempted second degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder on charges that leave them facing 20-100 years in jail with bonds set at $70-138 thousand dollars. When the local paper published the story as fact, DA Reed Walters published the following statement, “When you are convicted, I will seek the maximum penalty allowed by law.” Robert Bailey has no criminal record, the only weapon claimed to be used in the fight were a pair of sneakers, yet he sat in jail for two months until his mother was able to raise bail.
Mychal Bell , another promising student and a football player with scholarship opportunities, also faced charges. Mychal’s lawyer put his father, Marcus Jones, on the witness list. The judge instated a gag order, preventing Jones from speaking to the press or asking for help. Jones was never asked to testify. Further, Mychal’s lawyer never contested an all white jury. He didn’t call any witnesses. Nor did he cross examine the state’s witnesses. He told Mychal to plea bargain. Mychal refused, believing he would appear guilty in such an emotionally charged town. Today, Mychal was convicted of 2nd degree aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit same for his role in the unarmed school fight. Mychal’s father says this will teach Mychal “what it means to be black now.”
When Robert Bailey sustained a head injury from a beer bottle at a party before the December 4th school fight, his white assailant received a “simple battery” charge. In Louisiana, simple battery is a misdemeanor. Comparatively, Bell faces 22 years in prison.
The family is unable to hire another lawyer at this time.?Democracy Now! posts that financial support can be sent to:
The Jena 6 Defense Committee
PO BOX 2798
Jena, LA 71342.
They also need legal volunteers and activists to demonstrate locally. According to Caseptla Bailey, those members of Jena’s white community who are in support of justice for the Jena Six are afraid to come forward.
While this story is not prominent in mainstream media, AfroSpear: A Think Tank For People of African Descent has compiled a vast collection of facts and resources. They also provide an update and more documents here. These families need our help. Please educate yourself, spread the word, and add your name to the following petition:
To: Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice
We respectfully request that the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice review events surrounding the prosecution of six Black students in Jena, Louisiana, to determine whether the civil rights of Jena residents have been violated.
In a May 20, 2007 Chicago Tribune article titled “Racial Demons Rear Heads,” Howard Witt reported that the six students faced prosecution for charges including second degree attempted murder — and possible prison sentences of up to 100 years — for allegedly participating in an unarmed school brawl that resulted in no serious injuries. The alleged brawl followed months of racial tension after hangman’s nooses were hung from a tree at the students’ school.
From the same Chicago Tribune article:
“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.”
The prosecution of these young men represents a gross miscarriage of justice, punishing Black students for opposing segregation of their schools while ignoring the threatening and provocative acts of those engaging in segregation.
We respectfully request that the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice launch a full investigation into events in Jena, Louisiana, beginning with the noose incident of August 31, 2006, and culminating in the alleged fight of December 4, 2006 to determine whether the civil rights of Jena residents have been violated.
NPR – Searching for Justice in Jena 6 Case
News & Notes, July 5, 2007 Six black teens have been charged with the beating of a white high school student in the rural town of Jena, La. Jordan Flaherty, a journalist living in New Orleans, and Caseptla Bailey, the mother of one of the defendants, give an update on the case.
The Jena Six
Michael David Murphy, 2007
This video was made with audio, video, photographs, and scans of court documents on June 25, 2007, in Jena, Louisiana.