The Jena Six

There may be some of you for which the title of this blog has no meaning. For those, here are the facts, and nothing more.

Jena, Louisiana is a small town with roughly 3,000 residents. The local high school (and the town itself) is roughly 80% white. On the campus of Jena High School there is a tree. It's big, it's pretty and students love to sit under it during lunchtime. Historically, only the white students have sat under this tree. In September 2006 a black student asked school officials if he could sit under the tree. They told him that he could sit wherever he wanted. The boy and a couple of his friends took the school officials up on it and sat under the "white tree". The next day three nooses, painted in school colors, were hanging from the tree. The three white students found to be responsible for hanging the nooses were originally expelled, but the Superintendent of the Parish School Board commuted that sentence, instead suspending the three boys for three days. He called it a "prank".

The black students of Jena High organized a "sit-in" under the tree to protest the lack of justice. The District Attorney and law enforcement officials came to the school to address the protesters reportedly telling the black students, "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen."

On Thursday, November 30th, someone tried to burn down the High School.

On Friday, December 1st, a black student attending a white party was beaten by a group of white students.

On December 2nd a young white man pulled a shotgun on three black boys at a Jena convenience store. The boys wrestled the gun away from the man, and fled. The boys were charged with theft of a firearm, the white man was not charged with anything.

On Monday, December 4th, a white student made harassing remarks, using racial slurs and supporting the students who hung the nooses and beat the black student the weekend before. That afternoon he was knocked down, punched and kicked by several black students. He suffered a concussion and several bruises. He was treated at the local hospital and sent home within hours. That evening he attended a social function.

Six black students, supposedly responsible for beating the white boy, were charged with second-degree attempted murder. Bail for the six boys was set between $90,000 and $138,000. All six were expelled from school. Most of the boys stayed in jail for months as their families were unable to come up with the funds for bail.

One of the boys' case has already gone to trial. Mychal Bell, a former star football player, was found guilty by an all-white jury of second-degree aggravated battery and conspiracy. The second-degree murder charge was mysteriously dropped at the last second when it became clear that Mychal wasn't going to plead guilty. Aggravated battery, some of you might know, requires that a deadly weapon be used in the attack. What was Mychal's deadly weapon? His tennis shoes, according to the DA. Mychal is currently awaiting sentencing and if given the maximum, he will be in jail until he is 40.

The other five members of the "Jena Six", as they are being called, await what will undoubtedly be similar fates. Theo Shaw will be the next one to face trial. He was just released on $100,000 bail. The "white" tree on Jena High School's campus is still standing, and still segregated.

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There are the facts. Now it's time for the opinion.

**Update** My way might be more poetic, but it appears it is not factual. One of my readers (thank you El Guapisimo) has informed me that the tree in question has recently been cut down. The Superintendent said it's removal was almost necessitated by the reconstruction after the fire. El Guapi did not have any info on where the white students are sitting these days.**End Update**

I've never been to Jena. As a Louisiana native, I've seen just about every square inch of this state, but I haven't been there. I don't know these six boys. There is ever possibility that they are troublemakers, with bad attitudes and a pre-disposition to violence. They might have methodically planned to gang up on the white student and "pay him back" for perceived wrongs. If given the chance to do it over again, they might beat him worse. I don't know.

But I do know injustice when I see it. The fact that the boys who made an obvious threat with the display of the nooses were not punished at all, the boys responsible for beating the black student at a party were given slaps on the wrist, and the man that pulled a gun on three unarmed black boys was not even charged, while these six boys, who happen to have what appears to be the wrong skin color to live in Jena, were charged to the full extent of the law for an act of violence no greater than what is commonly seen in after school fights, is the very definition of injustice. I've never been anything close to a bleeding heart. I believe in law and order, and a strict adherence to the rules. The DA here did not follow the rules.

There is some hope for the boys. Mychal's sentencing (originally scheduled for July 31st) has been postponed until September 20th. The Justice Department is finally paying attention to the case and has begun an investigation into possible civil rights violations. But, without pressure from the state and national level, this case could easily be pushed under the rug. We can't let that happen. The idea that our state is again being painted as such a hotbed of intolerance is unacceptable. The idea that six young black men could have their lives taken away from them without cause while we all stand by and watch is unacceptable.

If you agree with me, even one iota, I ask that you do two things.

1. Follow this link to an online petition. Sign it electronically showing you support for the investigation into civil rights violations in Jena, Louisiana.

2. Contact your Congressman, Senator, Governor or the White House and express your concern with this case. There are form letters for this sort of thing all over the internet. It will take you thirty minutes to find it, fill it in, and send it by email, but it could save these boys from a lifetime behind bars.

If you want more information on how you or others can help you can contact The Jena Six Defense Committee, PO Box 2798, Jena, LA 71342 or by email at jena6defense@gmail.com