Six African students locked up for standing up to lynching threats in Louisiana!
JENA, Louisiana — “Blacks do not stand a chance here. I want to see justice. This wasn’t it.” “They’re going to hang all them boys.” These are the observations of two African women, commenting on the case of the Jena Six. The case, which has garnered international media attention, is centered around six black teens, one white teen and an all white jury.
Welcome to Jena, Louisiana, a small town with no more than a few thousand people. The faint but distinctive smell of burning flesh from lynchings gone by is permanently integrated into the stale summer breeze. The local barbershop still refuses to serve or permit the entry of black customers. There is an unwritten rule that African students are not supposed to stand under certain “whites only” trees on school property. This is where the case of the Jena 6 begins.
Resistance to colonial policy
In September of 2006, an African student at Jena High School, sought permission from the principal to sit beneath the whites only tree. The principal did not articulate any objections, and the student went forth with the plan.
The following day, nooses were hanging from the tree. The noose is a symbol of the violent lynchings of Africans carried out throughout the U.S. mobs of ordinary white people, and it was an obvious statement and threat to the African community. The nooses had even been painted to reflect Jena High’s school colors. Most of the North American or white people in Jena saw the gesture as a harmless prank. The African community, who have historically been the victim of brutal lynchings, did not see it the same way — especially the students who the statement was directed at.
The day after the noose hangings, a group of African students including local Jena High football player Mychal Bell who was 16 at the time, decided that they were going to stand where they pleased. Mychal was joined by his other football teammates Theo Shaw, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Jesse Beard. Out of this stand for justice these young Africans would eventually become “the Jena Six.”
One by one, more and more African students followed the football players’ lead and gathered underneath the tree in bold and courageous defiance of Jena’s colonial rules and regulations. Infuriated by the political statement, the principal called the police and the district attorney to handle the students who had determined that enough was enough. District attorney Reed Walters would later call an assembly to address the protest where he declared to the African students that he would and “could end [their] lives with the stroke of a pen.”
Not long after that, in further defiance of Jena’s racist and colonial regulations, Robert Bailey Jr. showed up at an all-white party. His head would be cracked open with a bottle. Weeks of unrest ensued in Jena. At the local Gotta Go convenience store, a white man pulled out a loaded shotgun on three black teenagers — one of whom was Robert Bailey Jr. The teens desperately wrestled the shotgun away from the man and ran away. They reported the incident to the police, who promptly charged them with assault and theft and returned the shotgun to its owner.
District attorney delivers on threat against African students
Soon after that, on December 4, 2006 Mychal Bell and Justin Barker, one of the white Jena High students associated with the noose hanging incident, allegedly got into a fight in the lunchroom. Justin lost the fight and emerged with a black eye and bruises.
This is where district attorney Reed Walters attempted to deliver on his promise. For the simple school fight, Walters charged Bell and the other five students with 2nd degree attempted murder and conspiracy and face anywhere from 20 to 100 years in prison.
By comparison, the student that cracked Robery Bailey Jr.’s head open with a bottle only received a simple assault charge. Caseptla Bailey, Robert’s mother stated that “they want to take these kids — my son as well as these other children — lock them up and throw away the key… that’s the tradition for black males…because they want to keep institutionalized slavery alive and well.”
At press time, Mychal Bell, whose trial was first among the Jena Six, has been convicted of a lesser charge of second degree battery, and faces up to 20 years in prison. During the trial, Mychal’s attorney Blane Williams, who is an African, refused to request a change of venue, call any witnesses or present any evidence in Mychal’s defense. By all accounts, he failed to even execute basic cross-examination methods.
All the witnesses that testified in the trial were white. The entire jury was white, including one juror who was a fellow alumni with Justin Barker’s father. The other young Africans still face attempted murder cases and if Mychal Bell’s case is any indication, his aunt was correct when she said that the State would try to “hang them boys.”
The Uhuru Movement is calling on all freedom-loving people to defend the Jena Six and the right to resist. It is vital that we support this struggle. What these young Africans have done, should be upheld as an example of courage and fearlessness in the face of obvious oppression. Read next month’s Spear for ongoing coverage and updates.
What you can do
Write, join and or donate to:
The Jena 6 Defense Committee,
PO Box 2798,
Jena, LA 71342