Revolution #101, September 16, 2007

Sept. 4 Hearing:
Jim Crow Injustice Moves Ahead

Jena, Louisiana. A court hearing was held on September 4 for Mychal Bell who is one of the Jena 6—six black youth who face the possibility of years in prison for standing up against racism. Bell was convicted by an all-white jury of second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit second-degree battery and faced up to 22 years in prison. At this hearing, the conspiracy conviction was struck down, not the second-degree battery conviction, and so Bell still faces 15 years in prison! Two other youth who are part of the Jena 6 were also in court on September 4 and had their charges read.

In other words, the prosecution and UNJUST persecution of the Jena 6 is definitely going ahead. And this underscores even more urgently the need for a mass, determined, and broad political struggle to FREE THE JENA 6!

The Jena 6 face years of prison for daring to stand up against white supremacy – for standing up against the hanging of NOOSES after Black students sat under a “WHITES-ONLY” tree.

At every turn, the school, the city, the federal officials, the police and courts have stepped in to officially enforce white supremacy. Government and school officials threatened Black students who stood under the “white-only” tree in a defiant protest, telling them to shut up about the nooses. The school board stepped in to prevent the students that hung the nooses from being expelled, giving them only three days’ suspension. Racist white students who jumped a Black student were given a slap on the wrist (probation). But when a Black student disarmed a white student who was threatening him with a gun, he was arrested. In December Bell and five other Black students were arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder, stemming from a fight where a white student, Justin Barker, sustained injuries that required a couple of hours in the emergency room.

The court procedures on September 4 were a further continuation of this same kind of racist Jim Crow injustice.

A wealth of evidence was brought before the court on September 4 showing violations of constitutional rights during Mychal Bell’s trial. At this hearing, Bell’s lawyers filed several motions, arguing that the court should reverse the conviction and provide a new trial, or drop the charges altogether. The system responded loud and clear: DENIED.

Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr., with the 28th Judicial Court, denied every appeal made by Bell’s lawyers except for the one on the conspiracy conviction. But Bell still faces the possibility of 15 (it was 22) years in prison—which is still completely unjust. The only fair outcome of this court hearing would have been for ALL the charges to be dropped against Mychal Bell, as well as ALL charges dropped on the other five youth, AND an apology for the blatant and racist persecution that has already gone down. Nothing less than that should be acceptable to the people.

One of the motions filed by Bell’s lawyers stated: “Mr. Bell was denied his constitutional right to a fair trial by an impartial jury when biased jurors with relationships to the victim and his family, the district attorney, and witnesses for the prosecution sat on his jury.” Court documents contained several pages documenting this.

The motion for a new trial stated that Bell's lawyers have testimony from a witness at the high school which, according to court documents, “would have challenged other versions of the events” that were presented by witnesses called by the State. But at the time of the trial Bell's court-appointed attorney didn't call up this witness or any other witnesses who were available and could have testified on on Bell’s behalf. .

Evidence brought out by Bell’s lawyers exposed the Jim Crow ways this case has been handled from the very beginning. But the judge denied motion after motion, clearly upholding the unjust way Bell was convicted—from the all white jury, to the outrageous argument that Bell's tennis shoes were a lethal weapon, to the fact that Bell’s court-appointed lawyer didn’t even make a pretense of defending Bell.

Before Bell’s hearing, two other youth of the Jena 6, Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw, pleaded not guilty to second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit second-degree battery. As they had done earlier in Mychal Bell’s case, the DA had reduced the charges from attempted murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree battery. Carwin Jones court date was set for January 28, 2008 and Theo Shaw's trial has not yet been scheduled.

Theo Shaw's attorney, George Tucker commented, "If this is how all of the cases were prosecuted, there would be no one on the street. Everyone would be locked up."

Tucker’s comment hits at how the only future this system has to offer Black youth is a future of low-wage jobs, criminalization, and imprisonment. This had also come out in the bond hearing for Mychal Bell on August 24. DA Reed Walters brought out Bell’s supposed “criminal record” of minor offenses to argue that he was a danger to the community and should not be allowed out on bail. Walters made racist analogies, vilifying Bell as being like an animal that needs a fence erected around it. (See “Bond Hearing For Mychal Bell: A Vicious Attack on Black People Everywhere,” Revolution #100)

This case is not about a schoolyard fight. It is about six Black youth being punished with the force of the law for daring to stand up against outrageous discrimination.

The case of the Jena 6 has ripped through the lie that says the oppression of Black people is “a thing of the past” or that what happened in Jena is just about “racial tension” between people. NO. This is a struggle against the workings of a white supremacist system, a system whose very foundations are deeply entwined with the outright slavery and oppression of Black people.

To the backward view that says youth like the Jena 6 are “out of line” thinking that someone “owes them something”—I say, this system does owe these youth something. It owes them their life back. And not only should the charges be dropped but the system should apologize to them and to the entire Black community for this outrageous, blatantly racist, and unjust persecution. This system cannot offer them justice, let alone a future. But we cannot stand by and let this happen.

Wherever justice has been achieved for Black people in this country, it has only been through fierce, determined, and broad mass struggle. And this is the kind of upsurge now required to free the Jena 6. This must be powerfully expressed on September 12 across the country and in Jena and throughout the nation again on September 20. Whenever and wherever people call for action demanding “Free the Jena 6,” this must be built on. Wherever the demand “Drop the Charges, Free the Jena 6” is manifested, it must be supported and spread.

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