Revolution#111, December 9, 2007


The Battle to Free the Jena 6

As we go to press, the second trial of Mychal Bell—one of the Jena 6—is scheduled for December 6. Mychal Bell faces charges of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. His first conviction was thrown out by an appeals court, which ruled that he should not have been tried as an adult. Judge J.P. Mauffrey then imposed a gag order preventing people involved in the case from speaking out, and refused to let the media cover the trial or see court documents. On November 21, in response to a legal challenge by a coalition of news media, another judge ruled that the proceedings in the juvenile court trial must be open to the media and overturned the gag order. Judge Mauffrey is attempting to appeal that decision. At this writing, the December 6 trial date is on, and will mark a critical nodal point in the battle to Free the Jena 6.

The case of the Jena 6 goes back to September 2006, when Black students sat under the “whites-only tree” in the schoolyard of Jena High School, in rural Louisiana. The next morning when students came to school, nooses hung from the tree. In defiant protest, dozens of Black students courageously stood under the tree that morning. This protest was followed by a visit to the school by District Attorney Reed Walters and local police officers. Walters warned Black students at an all-school assembly against further protests against the nooses: “With one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear.”

After a series of incidents where Black students were threatened with a gun and jumped by white racists, a white student at Jena High, who reportedly was taunting Black students with racist insults, was jumped by Black students. He was treated at a hospital and attended a school ceremony that night. The next day, December 4, 2006, DA Walters made good on his threat. Six Black students were arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. They were held on tens of thousands of dollars in jail—most for many months, with charges that could bring decades in jail.

On June 28, 2007, Mychal Bell was convicted after a three-day trial, by an all-white jury. The prosecutor called 16 witnesses, mostly white students. The court-appointed defense attorney called no witnesses. Mychal Bell was convicted of two felonies: aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery. On September 14, in response to an appeal by a new set of defense lawyers and in the face of a growing nationwide movement to free the Jena 6, Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Mychal Bell’s conviction of second-degree battery on the grounds that he should not have been tried as an adult. Bell was released from Jail briefly in the wake of the massive march on Jena, on September 20, but then sent back to jail by the juvenile court judge. He remains in jail, while the remainder of the Jena 6 are on bail facing charges in adult or juvenile court.

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