Online Update: August 6, 2007
New Developments—Struggle Sharpens
Free the Jena 6!
An intense and growing struggle in the small southern town of Jena, Louisiana reveals this country’s deep roots of slavery, Jim Crow law, and lynch mobs:
Black high school students sit under a “whites-only” tree in the schoolyard. Racist white students respond by hanging nooses from the tree. After Black students stand under the tree as a form of protest, a school assembly is called. A white district attorney tells the Black students to keep their mouths shut about the nooses and that if he hears anything else about it, he “can make their lives go away with the stroke of his pen.” When racist white students jump a Black student, one white student gets probation. But when a fight breaks out that sends a white student to the hospital for an hour, the law comes down on six Black students—now known as the Jena 6. Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey, Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, and an unnamed minor are arrested, originally charged with attempted murder, and now face decades of prison time (see “Free the Jena Six! Jim Crow Injustice in Jena Louisiana,” Revolution #96).
Mychal Bell has already been convicted of second degree battery and conspiracy to commit second degree battery and could be sentenced for up to 22 years in prison. And the system is trying to make good on the threat to ruin the lives of the other five youth who still face serious charges.
On July 31, some 300 people rallied in support of the Jena 6 at the courthouse where Mychal Bell was scheduled to be sentenced. People came from all over the country, including people from New Orleans fighting for justice in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And a massive stack of petitions, which organizers said contained 43,000 signatures, was delivered to the Assistant District Attorney of Jena. On August 5, Al Sharpton spoke at a church in Jena. And in recent weeks this story has started to get more national and international coverage
Still, the story of the Jena 6 has been way downplayed in the mainstream media. Many people still do not know about this tremendous outrage—and the importance of a real battle to free the Jena 6. And the authorities, from the local DA on up to the U.S. Department of Justice, are moving to both ruin the lives of these youth, and to confuse and demobilize the people who are struggling to free them.
Mychal Bell has now been sitting in jail since December 4 and was not able to graduate. His trial was a complete outrage, with the court-appointed lawyer not even calling any witnesses! Now, a group of lawyers from Monroe, Louisiana have come forward to take up Bell’s case, and upon their request his sentencing date has been moved to September 20. Bell’s new legal team says their goal is to overturn Bell’s conviction. Bob Noel, one of the lawyers now on the case, said they got involved not only because Bell came to them, but because it was the right thing to do. "The interest of justice cried out [for us] to get involved," Noel said.
“We Want the Entire World to Hear”
The weekend before the July 31 scheduled sentencing of Mychal Bell, the “whites-only” tree in front of the high school was cut down. NPR reported that “Jena High School had the big shade tree in the courtyard chopped into firewood.” But the tree disappearing hasn’t in any way lessened people’s anger and their determination to spread the word about this case and build the struggle to free the Jena 6.
Talking about the significance of the July 31 rally, Caseptla Bailey, mother of one of the defendants, Robert Bailey, Jr., said, "This is a beautiful thing that I’m seeing here today—all types of browns, seeing all types of blacks, all types of whites. We love that, people coming together." And Khadijah Rashad, representing Lafayette’s Community Defender television show, said, "We must remember that the entire world is watching… When there is going to be sentencing again, we need to flood this area with as much people as we possibly can. We want the entire world to know” (thetowntalk.com).
Bell’s father, Marcus Jones, agreed: “Justice, that’s the main thing we want. He’s still in jail, and we want justice for him and the other boys. And now the whole world sees the wrong done to these boys.”
Bell’s mother, Melissa Bell, told The Town Talk (a paper in Alexandria, Louisiana), that the actions on July 31 should send a message to the community: “We are serious, and everyone is serious about freeing these kids.”
U.S. Department of Justice: Nothing “Irregular” or Wrong with Jim Crow “Justice”
Jena is a small town where racism and segregation is the status quo—enforced in official and unofficial ways as well. A young Black man told us, “Well you walk a sharp line and you cross the line and you face the consequences.” He told us there was a history of the KKK in Jena. One resident told us that not that long ago, a Black man was killed by a group of white men because of his relationship with a white woman—and that the murderers are now free.
But the forceful imposition of white supremacy is not simply or even fundamentally a case of “good ole boys” going wild. The case of the Jena 6 is happening at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the land, has overturned Brown vs. Board of Education—officially fortifying segregation and savage inequalities in the schools. And from the school officials to the police to the courts—authorities and government officials have been and are a part of the completely unjust and racist treatment of the Jena 6.
For anyone who doubts this, officials from the highest levels of the U.S. government recently descended on Jena to make this crystal clear.
On July 26, more than 165 people packed into the Good Pine Middle School auditorium. The crowd was almost all Black. The event was billed as a “community forum” to discuss issues arising out of the Jena 6 case. But this was definitely a case of the fox guarding the chicken coop.
The four-hour forum hosted by the U.S. Department of Justice featured Lewis Chapman, assistant special agent in charge of the New Orleans FBI office; U.S. Attorney Donald Washington from the Justice Department; and Carmelita Freeman, regional director of the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service.
Washington (who is Black) told the crowd that he empathized “very publicly with all the families involved in this dispute…white, black, purple and green.”
Some people in the crowd may have thought this was good because it was an attempt to “bring people together.” But this is not about “can’t we all (including racists and the government that enforces this whole racist setup) get along.” This is about justice and stopping and reversing a terrible outrage that is now going on. And what kind of “justice” is it when someone from the U.S. Justice Department says he supports all sides in this conflict? The lynching nooses, and those Black students who sat under a “whites-only” tree? You can’t support all sides. The question is—which side are you on? What Washington said means support for the status quo of racism and segregation and all the rights this gives to racist whites. What Washington said means supporting the racist white students who hung nooses and attacked Black students. What Washington said means NOT taking a stand against the injustice of what is being done to the Jena 6.
During the Q&A period at the end, someone in the audience asked whether the hanging of the nooses on the tree was a “hate crime.” Chapman, from the FBI, responded, first of all, by revealing that the FBI had agents in Jena a week or so after the incident. Then Washington claimed that there were all the elements of a “hate crime”—except for the threat of use of force. In fact, force was used—by the goverment—to back up those nooses. The arrest of the Jena 6, who are facing decades in jail, is all about enforcing those nooses with the force of the state.
The Department of Justice serves as an enforcer for a system that has enslaved, worked to death on plantations, lynched, enforced Jim Crow against, segregated against, and turned fire hoses and KKKers (often organized by the FBI) on Black people and those who joined in the struggle for equality. This is part of the same “justice” system that sent a DA to the school assembly to threaten Black students who protested the nooses. Washington and the FBI are no friends of the people, and identifying with the system's logic is not any kind of way for the people to be thinking.
History tells us, no question about it—when white people hang nooses on trees, this is nothing but a murderous, racist threat against Black people. And Washington and Chapman, as representatives of the FBI and U.S. Justice Department, have only underscored how this kind of lynch mob “justice” is bolstered and supported by the government institutions of this system.
And then came the most revealing moment in the so-called “community forum.” The Jena Times quoted Washington discussing the high school’s handling of the noose incident and the fight for which the Jena 6 are on trial. He said: “We have examined all of their actions and I'm not saying I agree with what they've done but I can say that we could find no violation in the way they handled each event. All of their procedures were ‘regular’ and not ‘irregular.’”
“All their procedures were regular and not irregular.”
Well, this was the one statement in the meeting by Washington we have to agree with.
No punishment for white students who hang lynch nooses on a schoolyard tree: REGULAR. Threatening Black students who protest this racist threat: REGULAR. Giving a slap on the hand to white students who attack Black students: REGULAR. Black students facing decades of prison time for fighting with white students: REGULAR.
On this, Washington is right: This is the “regular” workings of a white supremacist system.
And we would add another “regular.” Officials from the highest offices of the system, holding a “community meeting,” wolves in sheep’s clothing—to cool things out and at the same time justify and bolster the enforcement of segregation and white supremacy: REGULAR.
People of conscience who know about the case of the Jena 6 cannot stand on the sidelines, which would amount to a form of complicity in this great injustice.
Right away, and especially when Mychal Bell is scheduled to be sentenced on September 20, many, many more people should come to Jena and help build the movement to free the Jena 6. And there should be rallies in many other places as well. In small towns, cities and suburbs, in colleges and high schools, people of ALL nationalities should make it clear that we will NOT tolerate white supremacy in any form and demand that ALL the charges be dropped on the Jena 6.
Everyone must take a stand. Are you for or against everything represented by those nooses hanging on the tree?
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