A story that has been making its way around the Daily Kos and the internet for months may finally be breaking, thanks to a fresh look by Anderson Cooper 360 at the series of incidents in Jena, Louisiana. May justice finally start happening for the Jena Six?
For those that are just hearing about this for the first time, 6 high school students are facing felony attempted murder charges for a fight that ended a series of incidents in Louisiana. A day after a group African-American students asked to sit under a "whites-only" tree in the courtyard, three nooses were hung from the tree in response. Over the course of the next few months, a wing of the school was burned, black students were beatened and threatened, and the District Attorney was called in to quell the violence. What the DA did next should be shocking to most, and shows just how far we have to go to see real racial equality in America.
I'm sorry for the length of this post, if you are already familiar with the story, please just jump down the the request for action
As I diaried back in June, the story of the Jena Six is one that most people would dismiss as ancient history, something that could only happen 50 years ago, before Martin Luther King, before Rosa Parks. But as the railroaded charges against Mychal Bell and the other 5 black students illustrate, there are many areas of this country where there are two judicial systems-one for blacks and one for whites. And in Jena, there is one man in the center of the issue who is trying to keep it that way.
During his speech to the students, DA Reed Walters took aim at the black students who in the middle of all of the controversy and issued a prophetic warning. Flanked by police, Walters told a group of high schoolers assembled that he could be their best friend or their worst enemy. Looking at the small group of African-Americans, he stated, "I can make your lives disappear with the stroke of a pen.".
And sure enough, after refusing to charge the white students who hung the nooses, after ignoring the school arson, after a misdemeanor charge for one white man who beat up a black teen, and after charging a group of black students with theft after they wrestled a sawed-off shotgun from a white person who'd threatened them, Walters saw fit to bring the full weight of the justice department for 6 black students who were implicated in a fight with a white student. A white student who was friends with the three kids who hung the nooses and was bragging that one of the Jena Six was the "N****r who got his ass whipped" was knocked unconscious in a fight in the Jena High School, and his alleged attackers now face charges that none of the other antagonists faced.
Up until recently the mainstream media had been ignoring this issue, and the local media has been decidedly one-sided. In fact, only in the blogosphere and the progressive news media has this story gained any attention, as many in Jena chalked up the whole incident as "a group of thugs" who were terrorizing the town were now being brought to justice (see comments). Others blamed the African-Americans in town for allowing Mychal Bell to face an all-white jury, disseminating the DA's talking points that the jury pool was computer-generated and blacks didn't show up to be questioned. And the tired old claim is being made that outsiders are just stirring up trouble.
Without mainstream media coverage, however, will anyone talk about racial divide in Jena, a town where African-Americans are supposed to "know to stay in their part of town", a town where every black family but 2 lives in a socio-economically depressed area called Ward 10? Will they ask why white people told Jena protesters that before this incident, the town of Jena never had a problem with "our blacks"? Without the mainstream media presence, will anyone ask why 50 years after Rosa Parks, why is civil disobedience not protected? And will anyone investigate why will the police enforce one set of laws for blacks and one for whites?
As Anderson Cooper reported last night, and as CNN is questioning today, we need to know what kind of justice exists in Jena and why are so many insisting on defending it. Just last week, the Department of Justice Civil Rights division held a town hall meeting in Jena to address the racial tensions in that town, a meeting that many had been looking forward to as a way of shedding light on the situation. However, anyone suspecting that this administration would take an objective look at our society's social ills would be greatly disappointed, as at the meeting, US Attorney Donald Washington refused to connect the initial noose-hanging incident to the fight that led to the arrests of the Jena Six. And the rest of his "findings" simply parroted the talking points of DA Walters.
So, as this case goes forward, please help keep it in the public eye. Please write Anderson Cooper and thank him for covering, and hopefully continuing to cover, this story. Email and call the other MSM outlets and ask where their investigations are of the Jena Six. And support those who have been working so hard to keep these boys from becoming another statistic in our criminal justice system and another victim of its racial inequities.
The ACLU and Friends of Justice have followed this story, supported the parents, and led the protests to bring justice to Jena. Please give support Alan Bean and the Friends of Justice by going to their homepage and following the Paypal link. The Color of Change has been collecting money for the Jena Six defense fund and circulating a petition. And a group of lawyers have signed on to help Mychal Bell get the defense he didn't get the first time around. Please support them by pressuring the media to cover this story. In 2007, civil disobedience should not lead to hanging nooses, burned schools, and attacks on blacks. And in 2007 an all-white jury, listening to the testimony of all-white witnesses, should not be allowed to hand out one set of justice for blacks.
Let's make sure that the story of the Jena Six really is breaking.
Update:Thank you to so many of you who have gotten involved with this story. There's been a lot of great comments, discussion and background info provided. fabooj has a great link to a banner for anyone who wants to link to the Color of Change petition from their blog. link
Update II:Thanks to everyone who has alerted and helped me fix the bad links. For some reason, I can't get the FOJ paypal link to work, so I'm just going to the homepage. It's just one click away from paypal. Sorry.
Final Update:I can't tell you how overwhelmed with the responses to this diary! Just two more quick updates to the diary. Cedwyn had a great suggestion to promote the upcoming Color of Change has two protests coming up in Jena, September 12 and 20th. Email email@example.com for more info. Also, per C Dub ois's comment, there is a Jena 6 scholarship fund, another great way of supporting the Jena 6.