The Jena Six
June 29, 2007 § 2 Comments
Background: “In September 2006, a group of African American high school students in Jena, Louisiana, asked the school for permission to sit beneath a “whites only” shade tree. There was an unwritten rule that blacks couldn’t sit beneath the tree. The school said they didn’t care where students sat. The next day, students arrived at school to see three nooses (in school colors) hanging from the tree….
Black students were assaulted at white parties. A white man drew a loaded rifle on three black teens at a local convenience store. (They wrestled it from him and ran away.) Someone tried to burn down the school, and on December 4th, a fight broke out that led to six black students being charged with attempted murder. To his word, the D.A. pushed for maximum charges, which carry sentences of eighty years. Four of the six are being tried as adults (ages 17 & 18) and two are juveniles.
Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena Six to face trial, was found guilty of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit the same on June 28th.”
From the accused’s own defense counsel: “This is a trial of Mychal Bell,” [Bell’s attorney Blane Williams said in closing arguments], raising his voice. “It ain’t a trial of LaSalle Parish. It ain’t a trial of Jena. It ain’t a trial of anything else on people’s mind. … Things have a tendency to get blown out of proportion. Step outside of the courtroom, and you’ll see blown out of proportion.”
From Tom Mangold at The New Zealand Weekend Herald: “Today it will be the focus for a race trial that shows how lightly sleep the demons of racial prejudice in the Deep South…. The town’s mind seems to be made up. But with the world media watching, when the accused shuffle into court today, Jena will also be on trial.”
This is a trial of LaSalle Parish, Jena, and Louisiana, and the Deep South generally. This is what I never understand when racism is brought to light in courtrooms all across the South. The ‘this trial is completely divorced from the community’ justification. The ‘this action was perpetrated in a vacuum’ argument. Bullshit.
After creating a toxic atmosphere of racial tension (in which a white guy! pulled a loaded shotgun on three black teenagers! who were coming out of a convenience store! and wasn’t charged with anything!) and ignoring several instances of white-on-black violence of the preceding weekend, the DA chose to charge six black teens as adults in the light* beating of a white student. This a few months after threatening to ruin the lives of any Black students engaged in peaceful protest on school grounds. On that occasion, he said, “[I will] end their life with the stroke of a pen.”
*Please don’t think I’m minimizing the violence the white student endured. Being jumped at in a school, or anywhere, is always unacceptable. But the law was not applied equally in Jena. And the white majority there is just fine with that.
On-hundred-fifty years ago blacks were property in Louisiana. Fifty years ago they were lynched from trying to exercise their civil rights. Less than one year ago, white students strung up nooses on school grounds as a clear threat to their black peers who chose to sit under their Jim Crow tree. It’s not hard to connect the dots.
Do read BBC commentary and Listen to Me for a Minute for more in-depth coverage. And if you’ve got a couple minutes, The Town Talk (a local news site from Alexandria, LA) features comments at the bottom of every story on the Jena Six displaying that awesome racist attitude I described above. An excerpt: “Getting mad at the media because they shined the light on the cockroaches (read criminals) doesn’t make sense. Reporting the particulars of the six gangsta thugs doesn’t diminish/embellish their CRIMINAL act either.”
Cockroaches, eh? Nice.
I’ve gotta think if we’d let them secede, the Confederacy would have imploded in thirty years and this shit would be over by now.