Monday, July 30, 2007

Race Hate in Louisiana: Support the Jena 6

One of my former students, Eileen, forwarded me this email from a friend of hers on a subject I've been meaning to post about, the horrible situation of the Jena 6 of Jena, Louisiana (at right, Jesse Rae Beard, one of the students on trial). If you aren't familiar with the case, here's a BBC report from May, and here's a brief description of it, from While Seated:

See this photo on flickr

In September 2006, a group of African American high school students in Jena, Louisiana, asked the school for permission to sit beneath a "whites only" shade tree. There was an unwritten rule that blacks couldn't sit beneath the tree. The school said they didn't care where students sat. The next day, students arrived at school to see three nooses (in school colors) hanging from the tree.

The boys who hung the nooses were suspended from school for a few days. The school administration chalked it up as a harmless prank, but Jena's black population didn't take it so lightly. Fights and unrest started breaking out at school. The District Attorney, Reed Walters, was called in to directly address black students at the school and told them all he could "end their life with a stroke of the pen."

Black students were assaulted at white parties. A white man drew a loaded rifle on three black teens at a local convenience store. (They wrestled it from him and ran away.) Someone tried to burn down the school, and on December 4th, a fight broke out that led to six black students being charged with attempted murder. To his word, the D.A. pushed for maximum charges, which carry sentences of eighty years. Four of the six are being tried as adults (ages 17 & 18) and two are juveniles.

Yesterday, I was in Jena for the first day of the trial for Mychal Bell, one of the Jena Six. The D.A., perhaps in response to public pressure, tried to get Bell to cop a plea. Bell refused, and today, jury selection began. After today, we'll know whether or not the case will be tried in front of an all-white jury. Jena's 85-percent white, and it remains to be seen whether or not the six can get a fair trial.

Both off-the-record and on, Jena residents told me racism is alive and well in Louisiana, and this is a case where it rose above the levee, so to speak.

In the next few days, I'll be posting a few photos from Jena that are related to the case, as well as linking to a multimedia piece I'm working on. CNN began reporting on the story today, following the lead of the BBC, who crafted an excellent hour-long documentary that can be found on P2P networks.

Update: Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena Six to face trial, was found guilty of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit the same on June 28th. A comprehensive look at the case, the trial and the verdict was published on July 2nd at friendsofjustice. Plus, Democracy Now did a full story. To send a letter to Governor Blanco, please visit Color of Change.

And from Eileen's friend, Matthew Olson:

Lately I've started a blog about my work in New Orleans and other musing about the city or things I read.

More importantly, however, is that I'm devoting a lot of time, research and writing to civil rights infringements happening in a rural town in Louisiana. I'll be heading up to Jena (about 4 hours away) on Tuesday for a march as part of the New Orleans Jena 6 Support Group.

If you're unfamiliar with what's going on in Jena, Louisiana--where six black teens are being charged with attempted murder (and life in prison) for a fist fight in which only one punch was thrown--then check out the timeline I pieced together to give some context to the issue: Jena 6 Timeline.

this is such a clear act of discrimination at every turn, which is why everyone should get behind this effort for justice!

for actions to take SEE BELOW!

hope everyone is doing well and keep in touch with me through the blog if you want or by email! here's to hoping i see some of your beautiful faces before an awkward class reunion.

peace, matt

* here is an email update from Jordan Flaherty, a respected journalist-activist who lives in New Orleans and broke the story of the Jena 6 to the national scene.

Friends and Allies,

Many of you have asked for updates on The Jena Six case, a major injustice unfolding in Jena, Louisiana, where six Black youths who stood up to racism are facing a lifetime in prison.

On June 28, 2007, Mychal Bell, the first defendant, was convicted by an all-white jury of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery. Bell, a high school student, faces up to 22 years in prison for a schoolyard fight. The fight was initiated by white students, who hung three nooses in a tree at the high school courtyard, to warn black students not to sit there. After this hate crime was dismissed as a harmless prank by the school administration, black students protested under the tree. The local District Attorney was called in to warn the black students that he could take their life away with the stroke of a pen. After authority figures refused to take a stand against racism, the noose incident led to a series of fights between white and black students. After these fights, only the black students were charged–with attempted murder. The prosecutor has refused to back down in prosecuting these young men, or to admit that hanging nooses is a hate crime.

Mychal Bell's sentencing was originally scheduled for next Tuesday, July 31, and a mass protest was scheduled for 9:00am on that date. The sentencing has been rescheduled to September 20, but the July 31 protest will still happen. Hundreds of people from around the US have expressed interest in coming, including national civil rights leaders, as well as large delegations from Houston, New Orleans, and other cities. A petition, signed by tens of thousands of people from around the world, will be delivered to Lasalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters on that day.

Below are some resources for information and action.

For background on the case, see:

Take Action:
Sign the petition at

Throw a benefit to support the Jena 6!

Then donate online at:

Or mail donations to:
Jena 6 Defense Committee
PO BOX 2798
Jena, LA 71342

If you are planning to come to Jena to join the July 31 protest, email .

If you are coming from New Orleans and can either offer a ride, or if you need a ride, email
If you are coming from Houston, and want to join a caravan coming from there, call Bro. Garnet at 832.258.2480.

To ask specific questions, or to keep updated, please email:

Both sites offer links to send emails, money, and express your support for these young people who have been ensnared in the jaws of American racist injustice. Technorati also features a series of links as well. If you can, please lend them your support.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think that is right because if a white prson beat a black person they wouldn't be charged