Revolution#109, November 18, 2007

Jena 6 Defendant Bryant Purvis Faces 22 Years “There’s racism still out there in the world...”

On November 7, Bryant Purvis, one of the Jena 6, was arraigned. District Attorney Reed Walters charged Purvis with second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit second-degree battery—the same charges all the Jena 6 face. Bryant Purvis pled not guilty on both counts and a jury trial was set for March 24, 2008. Robert Bailey’s court date is still set for November 26. Theo Shaw and Carwin Jones have trials set for January 2008. They were all 17 and 18 years old at the time of arrest and can be tried in adult court.

All this makes clear, once again, that the system, through its enforcers, is determined to press ahead with the unjust prosecution of the Jena 6. The system is determined to use this case to enforce white supremacy. And the only way this railroad can be stopped is by building a mass nationwide struggle that is determined to NOT STOP until all the Jena 6 are free.

Going into the hearing, Purvis faced charges of second-degree attempted murder. When asked about the charges being reduced, his mother, Tina Jones, said, “He’s still facing 22 years—that’s nothin’ to smile about.”

The September 20 protest in Jena, when tens of thousands of people demonstrated in support of the Jena 6, brought this case to the attention of people around the country and the world. And national and international reporters were present at the November 7 hearing. Many wanted to know what Purvis wants people across the country and the world to learn from this case. Bryant said, “There’s racism still out there in the world, you might not see it every day but it’s devastating to know it’s still out there.”

Bryant’s lead attorney, Dale Hickman, said that Purvis has maintained from the beginning that he had nothing to do with the fight on December 6, 2006 (in which a white student, Justin Barker, was hurt) that led to the Jena 6 being charged with attempted murder.

Mychal Bell, the only member of the Jena 6 who has gone to trial, had his conviction from adult court overturned in September 2007. After nine months in jail he was finally released—only to be put back in custody after 14 days when the court ruled that he had violated probation from a previous case. At a court hearing on November 8, Bell’s lawyers argued that to try Bell in juvenile court for the same charges he was tried for in adult court is a case of double jeopardy. But the judge rejected this motion to have the charges dismissed. Bell is now being tried in juvenile court and there is a media blackout and gag order on the lawyers and family, giving the judge and District Attorney the freedom to go forward with the prosecution of Mychal Bell out of the eyes of the media and public. A court hearing is scheduled for November 21 to consider a petition filed by a group of major media organizations that argues that according to a Louisiana statute the trial should be opened to the public.

District Attorney Reed Walters continues to spread the lie that this case has nothing to do with racism and the hanging of nooses. But the truth is: The Jena 6 are being prosecuted for standing up against the status quo of a racist town in a racist society. In September 2006 a student asked to sit beneath a “whites-only tree,” the principal said students could sit where they wanted, and so Black students sat under the tree. Nooses were hung by white racist students, and in response to this Black students protested. Then District Attorney Reed Walters threatened Black students at a school assembly, saying, “With the stroke of my pen, I can take your lives away.” Two months later he made good on this threat, arresting and charging the Jena 6, making the point that the system will not tolerate rebellion against segregation and racism.

The Jena 6 case both reveals and concentrates the fact that Jena is a racist and segregated town. And things are extremely polarized right now in Jena, with white racists jumping out and defending the status quo of white supremacy. Case in point: Revolution correspondent Hank Brown recently went to a local printer in Jena to have copies made of an editorial piece we wrote in response to the latest court rulings to move ahead with the unjust prosecution of the Jena 6. It commented, “The District Attorney Reed Walters now along with a reporter from the Jena Times have been spreading lies and half truths in the media to justify the outrageous persecution of the Jena Six and confuse those who have stood up for what is right.”

After Brown paid and waited for over an hour, the manager emerged to say he would not print the flier. He said: “I don’t know who you are, but I know the District Attorney and the Jena Times writer, and they aren’t liars.” To this Brown replied, “Is this another case of Jena not being racist? A Black person comes in and you refuse to serve them?” The store manager still refused to print the statement. And as for his defense of the DA and Jena Times: there are many, but take just this one example of how they distort and outright lie about the Jena 6 case. They don’t even mention the fact that Black students protested nooses being hung on a “whites-only tree.” In fact they deny that there even was a “whites-only tree”!

Talk to the students at Jena High, both Black and white. Talk to the Jena 6 and their families. And they will all recount stories that show how the school is segregated, in the schoolyard, in the classroom, at basketball games, etc. When we interviewed Marcus Jones, Mychal Bell’s father, about the school assembly where the DA threatened Black students, he said: “At any activity done in the auditorium—anything—Blacks sit on one side, whites on the other side, okay? The DA tells the principal to call the students in the auditorium. They get in there. The DA tells the Black students, he’s looking directly at the Black students—remember, whites on one side, Blacks on the other side—he’s looking directly at the Black students.”

The case of the Jena 6 has touched a raw nerve and outraged people around the country who see this as a concentrated example of the unequal and racist justice system that criminalizes Black youth today. At the courthouse a Black student from Jena High was waiting to find out whether or not he would be sent to a juvenile facility. He showed us the long list of alleged offenses for which he was written up—things like taping a piece of paper to his desk and drawing on it and waking up another student who was sleeping. He said that at a certain point the “write ups” lead to legal prosecution, that this was a new policy at Jena High. And now he had been accused of stealing a wallet he found on the ground. He said he wished that there could be a camera inside Jena High School so people could see what goes on.

Many more people need to join the struggle to free the Jena 6. At the courthouse Bryant Purvis told reporters it was “amazing” to see tens of thousands of people in Jena on September 20. This was a great day for the people and this must be built on, taken higher and wider—and must not stop until all the Jena 6 are free.

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