Justice for Jena 6 Campaign

Jena is a small highly segregated rural Louisiana town that we published a story about a few weeks ago that many other outlets had ignored. It is now in the news front and center so we thought we would revisit the topic and perhaps introduce it to those who are reading about it for the very first time. In September of 2006, a black student asked permission from school administrators to seek the cool offering of solice under the shade of a tree that is commonly reserved for the enjoyment of the white students of the school. School officials allegedly told the Black students that it was ok to sit wherever they wanted and they went ahead and did so. The next day, three nooses, in the school colors, were found hanging from the same tree. After an investigation, the Jena high school principal determined that three white students were responsible and it was recommended that they be expelled. The expulsions would subsequently be overturned by the white superintendent of schools and issued the students a three day suspension, saying that the nooses were simply "a youthful stunt." As a result, black students organized a sit-in under the tree to protest the soft treatment given to the white students. African American parents tried to voice their opinions and were repeatedly shot down. The town's district attorney quickly arrived, flanked by police officers, and told the Black students to stop making such a big deal over the nooses. The school assembly, like the schoolyard where all of this had begun, was divided by race, with the Black students on one side and the white students on the other. Directing his remarks to the Black students, District Attorney Reed Walters said, "I can make your lives disappear with a stroke of a pen." In November, tension was still high and the academic wing of the school burned in a fire. An attack ensued outside of school where the assailant, a white student, was charged with simple battery after an Black student was punched and beaten with beer bottles. Hostilities grew. On Monday, December 4 2006, a white student named Justin Barker got into a fight with Black students. Allegedly, the white student had been allegedly racially taunting the black students in support of the students who hung the nooses and was reportedly taken to the hospital treated and released. Six Black Jena students (Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Theo Shaw and Jesse Beard) were subsequently arrested and charged with attempted second degree murder. All six were expelled from school. On the morning of the trial, the District Attorney reduced the charges from attempted second degree murder to second degree aggravated battery and conspiracy. The all-white jury deliberated for less than three hours and found Mychal Bell, the only one charged as an adult, guilty on the maximum possible charges of aggravated second degree battery and conspiracy. He awaits a Sept. 20 sentencing hearing. Mychal Bell faces up to a maximum of 22 years in prison. The cases against the other five Black students are pending.

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