Monday, September 17, 2007

The Jena Six

Hola Everybody,
I'm a little late with the following and I haven't done the kind of research I should have. In any case, if this doesn't disturb you, regardless of the color of your skin, then I don't know what will.


The Jena Six

All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke

A black student asked permission from school administrators to sit under the shade of a tree commonly reserved for white students. School officials advised the black students to sit wherever they wanted and they did. The next day, three nooses, in the school colors, were hanging from the same tree.

This occurred about a year ago in September 2006 in the small segregated rural Louisiana town of Jena.

The Jena high school principal found that three white students were responsible and recommended expulsion. His superior, a white superintendent of schools, over-ruled the principal and gave the students a three-day suspension, saying that the nooses were the actions of youthful indiscretion. Black students decided to resist and organized a sit-in under the tree to protest the lenient treatment given to the noose-hanging white students.

As a result, racial tensions remained strained throughout the fall. On Monday, December 4 2006, a white student who allegedly had been racially taunting black students in support of the students who hung the nooses got into a fight with black students. Allegedly, the white student was taken to the hospital treated, released, reportedly attended a social function later that evening.

As a consequence of this incident, six black Jena students were arrested and charged with attempted second degree murder. All six were expelled from school. The six charged were: 17-year-old Robert Bailey Junior whose bail was set at $138,000; 17-year-old Theo Shaw -- bail $130,000; 18-year-old Carwin Jones -- bail $100,000; 17-year-old Bryant Purvis -- bail $70,000; 16 year old Mychal Bell, a sophomore in high school who was charged as an adult and for whom bail was set at $90,000; and a still unidentified minor.

On the morning of the trial, the District Attorney reduced the charges from attempted second degree murder to second degree aggravated battery and conspiracy. Aggravated battery in Louisiana law demands the attack be with a dangerous weapon. This is where it begins to get shady: the prosecutor was allowed to argue to the jury that the tennis shoes worn by Bell could be considered a dangerous weapon.

When the pool of potential jurors was called, fifty people appeared, all white. The jury deliberated for less than three hours and found Mychal Bell guilty on the maximum possible charges of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. He faces up to a maximum of 22 years in prison.

The rest of the Jena 6 await similar trials. Theodore Shaw is due to go on trial shortly. Mychal Bell is scheduled to be sentenced July 31. If he gets the maximum sentence he will not be out of prison until he is nearly 40.

* * *

Some of us may be surprised or even shocked that something like the above could happen in 21st century America. The sad fact is that, for many people of color, this isn't shocking or even new. While many do not experience racism to this extreme, many of us have to live in a racially charged environment where taxis won't stop for you or store security guards follow you.

I don't care if you live in some backward southern town, or a huge cosmopolitan city, racism is one of the foundations upon which our society rests. Don't get it twisted: racism is not an individual choice, it's an institution. And even if no one will claim to adhere to it, it still exists. It would exist even if there weren't one racist person in this nation because it is the very fabric of our society.

But don't just stand there, do something:

Go here to click on an online petition:

And don't stop there: tell people about this. Teach your children. Tell your parents. The teachers. Your representatives. Tell everyone, because this makes your society sick and its hate infects you and everyone you love.

You can listen to a radio segment by one of my fave investigative reporters, Amy Goodman (click here)

In addition, Big Noise Productions will be coming out with an documentary on the Jena 6 (Click here)

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