JPANet Action Alert: Help the Jena 6 July 30, 2007
For most of the past year, residents of Jena, Louisiana have suffered under racial unrest that has manifested in blatant injustices against young black men. We encourage you to join forces with those who oppose the hate crimes and conditions that are being perpetrated in Jena.
On the grounds of the Jena, Louisiana high school, there is a single tree. Its shade has been generally reserved for use by white students. In September of last year, a black student asked permission from school authorities to sit under the tree, and did so. By the next morning, three nooses in school colors were hung from its branches. Although the school’s principal found three white students responsible for hanging these nooses and recommended their expulsion, the superintendent overruled the principal and gave them a three day suspension. The students were never charged with a crime.
Since the hanging of the nooses, a number of racial confrontations have ensued:
- On November 30, 2006, the main academic building of Jena High was burned down.
- On December 1, a black student who attended a white party was beaten (for which a white man was later arrested and charged with simple battery).
- On December 2, a young white man threatened a group of young black men with a shotgun at a convenience store (for which the black men who took the shotgun away from the white man were later arrested, but no charges were filed against the white man).
- Court testimony documents that the District Attorney, accompanied by law enforcement officers, addressed a Jena school assembly and threatened protesting black students, saying that if they did not stop the fuss over the “innocent prank – I can…take away your lives with a stroke of my pen.”
- On December 4, a white student who allegedly made racial taunts and supported the students who hung the nooses was knocked down, punched and kicked by black students (for which the white student was treated and released, and six black students were charged with felonies and assessed high bail.)
The six young men were charged with attempted second degree murder. They were all expelled from school. The six charged were Robert Bailey, Jr. (17 years old, bail set at $138,000); Theo Shaw (17, bail at $130,000); Bryant Purvis (17, bail at $70,000); Carwin Jones (18, bail at $100,000); Mychal Bell (16 at arrest, charged as an adult, bail at $90,000); and an unidentified minor.
Mychal Bell was the first to be tried. He was convicted this month of two felonies: aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. Aggravated battery requires the use of a weapon; in this case, Mr. Bell’s tennis shoe was considered the weapon. He was convicted by an all-white jury; there were no black citizens in the jury pool of 150. He will be sentenced at the end of this month, and faces up to 22 years in prison.
On a historical note, Jena is the location of a Juvenile Correctional Center for Youth that was forced to close in 2000, two years after it opened, because of widespread racism and brutality including guards choking a juvenile after he met with an attorney, guards paying inmates to fight one another, and guards laughing at juveniles who attempted to commit suicide.
Our denomination has long stood for justice and racial equity. We urge you to stand again to address these issues, and to help protect the young men who are being prosecuted in Jena.
Write Governor Blanco to ask that the conviction of Mychal Bell be commuted or that he be pardoned.
Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco
Office of the Governor of Louisiana
PO Box 94004, Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9004
Phone: 866.366.1121 or 225.342.0991 or 225.342.7015
http://www.gov.state.la.us (e-mail available through website)
To support the defendants financially, contact:
The Jena 6 Defense Committee, PO Box 2798, Jena, LA 71342
Friends of Justice, 507 North Donley Avenue, Tulia, TX 79088
ACLU of Louisiana, PO Box 56157, New Orleans, LA 70156
To contact U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, go to these two sites:
To contact U.S. Congressman Rodney Alexander, Louisiana 5th District, go to:
For more detailed information on this case, refer to:
• BBC News at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/this_world/6677057.stm (accessed July 23, 2007)
• Chicago Sun Times at http://www.suntimes.com/news/nation/444742,CST-NWS-beat27.article (accessed July 23, 2007)
• Human Rights Watch at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/10/05/usdom13924.htm (accessed July 23, 2007)