Revolution #197, April 4, 2010

Operation Option Three Hits Jena

We received the following from correspondents in Houston who recently visited Jena:

Jena, Louisiana, July 9 2009: While most of the central Louisiana town of Jena slept, a small army assembled at the Jena Rodeo Building on the local fair ground. Over 75 cops gathered, from at least nine local, county, state, and federal agencies, including a total of five SWAT teams from the Louisiana State Police, the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, and the Pineville police department. Armed teams from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms were in the restless mob. All those from outside LaSalle Parish were administered an oath of office before beginning their day's work in Jena.

LaSalle Parish Sheriff Scott Franklin told the impatient crowd that they should be ready for anything: "This is serious business we're fixing to do. If you think this is a training exercise or if you think these are good ole boys from redneck country and we're going to good ole boy them into handcuffs, you're wrong. These people have nothing to lose. And they know the stakes are high."

From Lynch Mobs to SWAT Teams


The Jena 6

Louisiana: In 2006 a Black student at Jena High School asked if Black students could sit under what had "traditionally" been a "whites only" tree on school grounds. When students arrived the next day, three nooses were hanging from the tree. Dozens of Black students courageously stood under the tree in a defiant act of protest. The white students who hung the nooses were not punished. After a fight broke out at the school, in which a white student received minor injuries, six Black students were arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit attempted second degree murder. Most of them ended up in jail for months.

A struggle was built in Jena to defend the Jena 6 and let the world know about this outrage. After Mychal Bell was convicted of two felonies by an all-white jury, 300 people, including many from other cities, protested in Jena. Then on September 20, 2007, tens of thousands from throughout the country demonstrated in Jena—in defense of the Jena 6 and to protest the oppression of Black people in Jena and the entire country.

Mychal Bell was sentenced to 18 months in prison and in June 2009, the case ended with a plea bargain that resulted in fines and unsupervised probation for the five remaining defendants.

Armed mobs similar to this one have long gathered in the late night hours in the backwoods, small towns, and even cities of the South. Men wearing white hoods would burn crosses before embarking on their murderous mission—lynching Black people, often as a grotesque spectacle in full public view intended to terrorize an entire population. According to the Tuskegee Institute, from the years 1882 to 1951, 4,730 people were lynched in the United States, the vast majority of them Black men.

Racist vigilantes still roam the streets and police in blue and green uniforms also carry out mob terror against Black people. They affix helmets and body armor on themselves rather than hoods and sheets. They are the open and direct enforcers of a system of brutal, relentless oppression of Black people, and the targets of these raids are overwhelmingly Black and Latino people. In the past, the pretext for lynchings was often an alleged assault on a white woman by a Black man. Today, the pretext for police raids is almost always the "war on drugs."

In the U.S. today, one in eight young Black men is in prison or jail on any given day. Seventy-five percent of all the people in prison on drug related charges are Black or Latino, despite the fact that use of illegal drugs by Blacks and Latinos is statistically no higher than it is for white people.

Operation Option Three

Scott Franklin ran for his office with a pledge that everyone understood to mean he would launch an intense campaign of repression upon the Black community of Jena and surrounding LaSalle Parish. He said that he would offer "drug dealers" in the Parish three choices. As the local newspaper described it, "you either quit dealing drugs, you leave LaSalle Parish, or you go to jail." The slogan on his campaign literature stated: "Quit, Move, or Go to Jail."

The final court case involving the Jena 6 concluded a few weeks before the night of the "Operation Option Three" raids on June 26, 2009. Bold and courageous youths in Jena had stood up against overt and brutal racism. They had defied the racist tradition of a "whites only" tree on school property and protested the hanging of nooses at Jena High. Their actions had emboldened others in Jena and inspired people throughout the country to stand with them.

Less than a month after the final hearings in the Jena 6 cases, the authorities in Jena and LaSalle Parish unleashed their night of terror upon Jena. The nightmare continues to this day.

Soon after Franklin swore in his deputized agents on July 9, teams of cops spread out to cordon off about a one-square-mile area of Jena, populated overwhelmingly by Black people. No vehicular or foot traffic was allowed in or out. At about 5 a.m., SWAT teams broke through the doors of five homes.

Heavily armed cops burst through inside. People were roused from their sleep at gunpoint. Several people, in different locations, were shot multiple times with tasers. Children were woken, guns poking them in the ribs. Homes were ransacked, turned upside down in a frenzy of destruction that the cops call their "search for evidence." Smoke bombs were sent through windows, and at least one house was set on fire. Houses and lots were marked off with the infamous yellow tape of a "crime scene," establishing the parameters for the massive seizure of property that was to follow in the aftermath of the raids.

Mike Patterson, who owns a detail shop in Jena and was one of the people arrested that night, described what happened in the raid on his home. "I had kids in the house. We were sleeping. They come in about 4 o'clock in the morning. All of a sudden you heard, 'BOOM, BOOM,' and them yelling 'Search warrant, search warrant.' I could hear them coming down the hall, and I was in my room with my hands up in the air. They got all these guys with guns and flashlights, and they came in and hit me. I'd say something like 'cut the light on,' and they'd hit me with the taser.

"They got me up and cuffed me. They didn't say nothing to me about what it was about. They didn't read me my rights or anything like that. I have an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old. The 11-year-old was woke. I could hear him in the next room. He was saying 'Quit poking me with the gun. Quit poking me with the gun'. I said 'Let me go in there and talk to my son.' Then I heard him say, 'Quit fucking point the gun at me.'

"My oldest is 14, he's very quiet. He told me they pulled the covers off him. You know how you're taught to protect your kids? There was nothing I could do. They pulled the covers off him and were poking him, 'get up, get up.' They put handcuffs on him, but they didn't put shoes or nothing on him. This kid has never been in any kind of trouble. They had cuffs on him for three or four hours. They had him on TV.

"I'm a grown man, whatever they do, I can take it. What can they do that's worse than living here? They took a lot from my kids. You take kids, and you handle them all rough like that, 11 years old and 14 years old, I don't wish that on nobody. He was a happy kid, and he's getting punished for something his daddy supposedly did? That's bad. Talking to these kids like they're 20, poking them, telling them to shut up.

"You see my kid is sleeping, don't be poking him and cuffing him. They took his bike, they actually took all my kids stuff. Dirt bikes and stuff. They won't let us have it—they keep saying 'how do we know it wasn't bought with drug money.' I've been owning this shop for 9, 10 years; I've been working since I was 16. Working in this town for seven years, every day, in front of them.

"They put the kids in the cop car with me. The 14-year-old was cuffed just like me. Then they took us to the park. They set their whole thing up in our ballpark, in our neighborhood. They had a big barbeque in the Black neighborhood. They had all the vehicles they took that night to show them off, for people to come by and see. And they had us standing there like goldfish in a tank, for all the TV people to take pictures. Then when they took us to they courthouse, they had us stand there, just stand there, for people to see and take pictures."

The sun was breaking open another morning when the people snared in the raids were taken in shackles to the courthouse. At least one man was naked. They were paraded before the media of Central Louisiana for display in the local newscasts—before they were taken off to prisons throughout central Louisiana.

The cops then began a day long barbecue to celebrate their "catch." Tina Jones—whose son is one of the Jena 6—told us, "It's almost like they're mimicking what we did during the Jena 6 to get a message across. They had their little barbeque at the fairgrounds like we had rallies. They called in media like we called in people. They even made t-shirts—with men looking through bars and 'Operation Option Three' on them."

From the days of runaway slaves being captured and returned in chains to triumphant masters; to the days when howling racist mobs advertised public lynchings in local newspapers; to today, when Black people are displayed in an exhibition meant to intimidate and shame them and an entire community before they are marched off to prison, some of the forms of the oppression of Black people have changed.

But the cold fact remains that this oppression soaks into every aspect of life and every institution of this society, and is in fact in many ways more savage, more soul and body crushing than ever.

As the special edition of Revolution, titled "The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of this System, and the Revolution We Need," puts it: "…this system, even when given a chance to reform, has time and again betrayed Black people and demonstrated that, because of its very nature and essential dynamics, it cannot reform or be reformed.... [F]ar from being 'post racial' or even 'improving,' the oppression of Black people continues in many horrendous forms and has been reinforced and intensified over the past period—with real prospects of even worse horror now posing themselves."

The Charges; the (Lack of) Evidence

Thirteen people were arrested that night. Franklin claimed the arrested included a "high level drug trafficker and money launderer" and people in the man's "drug ring." The people arrested in the initial "Operation Option Three" raids—eleven men and two women—were almost all charged with "distribution" (not possession) of controlled substances, mainly cocaine and meth. One was charged with "conspiracy to distribute." Bonds for these people ranged up to $200,000, and the alleged "king pin," Darren Brown, was immediately turned over to federal authorities and bond was set at $500,000. The two people actually arrested for "possession" were charged with having small amounts of marijuana.

"Operation Option Three" didn't stop on July 9. At least two dozen people have been caught up in the snare set by Franklin and LaSalle Parish D.A. Reed Walters. Walters is notorious for, among other things, telling the Black students at Jena High who dared protest nooses displayed on school grounds, "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. With the stroke of a pen I can make your life miserable or ruin your life."

The authorities also set about destroying people's homes and businesses, and confiscating their property. Darren Brown was the town barber. He had a shop near the center of town. People we spoke to said Darren was known for his generosity—giving free haircuts to kids, going out to the homes of old folks who couldn't make it into town for a trim.

Darren's shop was torn apart by the police in the aftermath of the July 9 raids. The floors were torn out by cops claiming they were searching for hidden drugs and money. The grounds around Darren's shop and home were dug up. One man told us what they did to the barber shop: "They took a bulldozer and tore up the ground, saying they were looking for money. They tore up the floor of the shop. They never found anything. What they tore up they left tore up."

And to this day, physical evidence of the alleged "drug dealing" has not been produced.

People's vehicles—which are lifelines in this small and isolated community—were taken. Tina Jones took us to a lot outside town where at least 50 vehicles—including hers—were taken by police and are being held behind chains and barbed wire. The police claim these are all being held as "evidence," but have thus far successfully stonewalled and suppressed any attempts to produce that evidence or to turn the cars and trucks back to their rightful owners. This is the case even when, as in Tina's, she wasn't even in the car when it was impounded.

The police claim they have videotaped evidence that proves their charges of "distribution," and "conspiracy to distribute." No one outside of them has seen these tapes, despite attempts of several lawyers to force the state to produce its evidence.

Tina and several others told us what the authorities are relying upon to build their cases: snitches—usually people who are threatened with more serious charges if they don't "cooperate," and often paid off with petty bribes like cell phones and hundred dollar bills—threats, and planted evidence.

"They're using these guys who have a little charge on them, telling them it'll be dropped, and they're believing that. Some of them are. They're giving them $20 for a cheap cell phone and $100 for dope. Then they turn around and say someone is charged with possession with intent to distribute—based on a conversation they started. Anyone who's been in their system—and that's a lot of people who get caught up in it just by living here—is being rearrested. If you have a little something hanging over your head, they'll use it against you. And then they pressure you to talk about other people."

Mike Patterson said, "Then they give the impression these are hard core criminals they're arresting! I've never had a charge against me in my life before this. I've worked all my life, and now I have my own little business. But they just lied about me, and they lied about others. There are people who've worked in logging since they were kids. I think if you do wrong, you're wrong, and you should pay a price for it. But I ain't done nothing wrong."

The people arrested have been scattered to different jurisdictions, with different trial dates. Those forced to rely on court appointed attorneys, as one man said to us, "might as well write themselves a ticket to Angola [the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary], because they're looking at some serious time."

Several evidentiary hearings and trials are to begin in April in Jena. People are being kept in the dark about what's going on with all these arrests and property confiscations—the number of people arrested, all the charges they're facing, when they are going to trial, who's testifying against them, what evidence (if any) the state claims it has. Tina Jones said, "Nobody knows anything, really, about how all this is going on. People don't even really know where things stand with their own cases."

Let People Know What's Happening Here

A lot of people in Jena are proud of the fact that they stood up to the racist intimidation that reached a boiling point when nooses were hung at Jena High. Many people told us that LaSalle Parish has always been known for its corruption and racism, but that things have just gotten totally out of hand. Most of them think it is because the authorities are retaliating for what people did during the battles around the Jena 6.

Tina Jones said, "They don't like the fact that we came in and did something, and they didn't win. They don't want anyone else to have the upper hand. The Jena 6 took us on a whirlwind. We called some people, and before you knew it people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were in town. It all was a shock to us. My son [who was one of the Jena 6] felt he had to leave town.

"But at the end of the day, I'd do it all over again. We're still being affected by what happened at that school. We want people to know what's happening here."

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