Revolution Online: September 21, 2007
Sept. 20, Jena, Louisiana:
Tens of Thousands Demand “Free the Jena 6!”
The sun had not even come up, it was still dark, and the small town of Jena, Louisiana was already different than it had ever been before. Thousands were already streaming in, tens of thousands were on their way. The usually lonely two-lane country highway was clogged with traffic bumper to bumper. Cars were already starting to park every which way, people piling out and walking toward the convergences. Motorcycle clubs roaring in. Windows of cars sporting hand-painted signs: “Jena Bound, Follow Us,” “Journey to Jena,” and “Jena 6—We got your back.”
The groundswell of outrage and grassroots organizing that had been steadily, and then by leaps and bounds, growing over the last few weeks was coming together—manifesting in a powerful, visible, and concrete way.
By 5:30 a.m. downtown Jena was packed with people. City officials had declared a state of emergency and most businesses were closed. A lot of people in buses had come in the night before and stayed in nearby Alexandria. Other buses had driven all night and were joining a big caravan into Jena.
People quickly filled the lawn, the sidewalks, and out into First Street from the LaSalle Parish courthouse to nearby Jena High School—the scene of the crime, where the nooses had been hung and where Black students had taken a courageous stand against racism. When people marched over to the place where the “Whites-Only Tree” had stood and then later removed by school officials, many people knelt down and touched the ground. At the same time, in Ward Park about two miles way, a crowd of 1500 gathered to rally and then march over to the courthouse. Then people got back on buses headed for Alexandria for another rally before heading home.
The outrage, determination, and creativity of the people was evident wherever you looked. There were groups of people, especially students, and individuals who just heard about this and felt they had to go to Jena and organize others to come as well. One journalist from New York City commented, “It’s so amazing how people found out about this and ‘self-organized.’”
The word had gotten out to “wear black” and just about everyone had black t-shirts. Everywhere you looked groups of people were standing together—wearing the unique t-shirts they had made, carrying home-made signs, to express the struggle to Free the Jena 6: “Enough is Enough,” “Stop the ‘Jenacide,’” “Release to the Captives,” “Get to the Root of the Problem,” “Jena Six Did What Was Right!” “Jena Six, Harlem's Got Your Back,” “The noose is loose, handcuff free clothing, Free the Jena Six!” “No room for racism.”
Everywhere people were asking others where they had come from, happy and surprised when they found out how buses of people had come from as far away as California and New York. When a lot of the buses were stuck on the road, unable to get to the rally, a woman from Philadelphia said: “We can't allow them to derail why we came here which is to free the Jena Six, to get Mychal Bell out of jail. That's why we came here all the way from Philadelphia, from Texas, from Los Angeles, from New York, from Baltimore, from all over this country, that's what we're here for.”
When one man was being interviewed by a Revolution reporter, he handed us his camera and asked that we video it for him—he wanted a record for his five-day-old granddaughter to show to her friends when she got older, showing that her grandfather had been part of this historic event.
Indeed, as people headed home, there was a real sense that HISTORY HAD BEEN MADE. Many people talked about how this was the beginning of something that was long overdue, the beginning of a new movement. And as people got back on the bus, there was a feeling that all that had been manifest on this day now had to be spread and built on to continue the struggle, even bigger and farther, to Free the Jena 6.
UPDATE ON THE JENA 6 CASE: In the afternoon of Sept. 20, news broke that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana had ordered that a bond hearing be held for Mychal Bell within 72 hours time. Attorney Bob Noel reported to CNN that this means the legal team will go before the court for a hearing which will determine whether Mychal can be released on bond and what amount the bond will be set at. Mychal Bell has been in prison since he was first arrested on December 4, 2006, his bond set at $90,000. On September 4 a bond hearing was held where the judge denied bond and further criminalized Mychal Bell. The judge compared the Black community to a "fence erected around the cattle," when they gave their word before the court that Mychal Bell would be cared for upon release. The judge and the District Attorney brought out Mychal Bell's so-called “criminal record” of minor juvenile offenses. A week before, as it became clear that thousands would be coming to Jena to demonstrate in support of the Jena 6, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals had reversed Bell’s conviction. The DA has subsequently made it clear that he intends to press forward with the prosecution of the Jena 6.
Hank Brown and Li Onesto contributed to this report.
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