Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I don’t know if you remember the case of the Jena Six. I first heard about them around December of last year. I remembered once I read abou them again, but it struck me how I had forgotten about it for so long. Here‘s a summation of the situation taken from the transcripts of a Report on the Jena Six by Jacquie Soohen, from an upcoming feature documentary by Big Noise Films.:

In September, a black student asked to sit under a tree where the white students sat; the next day three nooses were found hanging from the tree. In October, a black student was beaten for entering a private all-white party. Later that month, a white student pulled a gun on a group of black students at a gas station, claiming self-defense. The black students wrestled the gun away and reported the incident to police. They were charged with assault and robbery of the gun. No charges were ever filed against the white students in either incident. Then, in late November, someone tried to burn down the high school, creating even more tension.

Four days later, a white student was allegedly attacked in a school fight. The victim was taken to hospital and released shortly with a concussion. He attended a school function that evening. Six black students were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, on charges that leave them facing between twenty and one hundred years in jail. The defendants, ranging in age from fifteen to seventeen, had their bonds set at between $70,000 and $138,000. The attack was written up in the local paper as fact, and DA Reed Walters published a statement in which he said, "When you are convicted, I will seek the maximum penalty allowed by law."

The first of the Jena Six has been found guilty of aggravated battery and conspiracy. He is set to be sentenced July 31st and is facing 22yrs.

My favorite part of the Soohen transcript, which you can read fully here, was a comment by Barbary Murphy, the town librarian. “We don’t have a race problem. It’s not black against white. It’s crime. The nooses? I don’t even know why they were there, what they were supposed to mean. There’s pranks all the time, of one type or another, going on. And it just didn’t seem to be racist to me.” Maybe it is just me, but nooses are never just a prank. Nooses in this scenario certainly aren’t a prank, they are a threat. For the town librarian to be that ignorant of history is just a bit disturbing.

The black students attempted to stage a non-violent protest a few days after the nooses were hung. The school responded by calling the police and the DA. District Attorney Reed Walters told the students, “I could end your lives with the stroke of a pen.” He made good on his word.

I’m not saying the students shouldn’t be punished. In my experience suspension and expulsion are typically the result of in-school fights. Occasionally charges are brought but I haven’t ever seen anything this severe. Although the charges were reduced for the young man who has been convicted, other students still face attempted murder charges. In reading the transcript of an interview with the parents of the Jena Six I learned that the aggravated battery charge (which involves a weapon) was based on the use of a tennis shoe as a weapon. Some of the students are still in jail because their families can’t afford the incredibly high bail that was set. It also appears that some incredibly shady courtroom dealings (like the court appointed lawyer working with the DA) were going on in the first trial and the family plans to appeal but can’t afford another lawyer.

It seems that crazy cases are popping up left and right, Genarlow Wilson, Shaquanda Cotton, and now the Jena Six. Who knows what else crazy is going on that we just haven’t heard about yet?


Monica said...

dammit dude, now i'm pissed. and i was so CHIPPER!

Eva said...

Oh my God. That is so screwed up.

Now I'm pissed too!

Yobachi said...

This is a travesty and clear show of the continued vestige of racism in this country.

This is why I know that the fight is not nearly over.

Mom said...

Oh my God. I had not heard of any of this. I will have to check all the links you posted and read up on it. Where's the Southern Poverty Law Center? If they aren't involved in these cases, they certainly ought to be!

I have been hearing from friends that more and more, the police are being called to arrest kids at school when fights or other misbehavior occurs and that this appears to be primarily (at least) targeted at African American students and/or other students of color. That a whole generation is being criminalized. In school. It is truly horrifying.

CS said...

Nooses are never a joke, that's true, but I flat don't believe there is anyone today who doesn't also understand that they are a symbol of racist threat. "The nooses? I don’t even know why they were there, what they were supposed to mean." "Doesn't seem racist"??? Give me a friggin break.

With Love, Fat Girl said...

I didn't even know about the Jena Six until I read your post; suffice it to say that it intrigued me enough to read more about it.

On a related note, I can't believe there are still whites and coloreds signs in the south.

Travis said...

Where is the ACLU??? This is their gig!!!

This kind of bullshit needs to be fought. Is there a trust where anyone can donate to the defense fund or the fund for appealing the first conviction?

This just makes me so angry.

thethinker said...

The librarian actually called the nooses a prank? That's horrible.

Phil said...

Thank you for your vigilance.

notfearingchange said...

I don't get it. Not the story, but the inhumanity and lack of dignity and lack of thought and lack of caring that individuals show only because someone is not the same color as them.

Mom said...

Pretending they "don't know" the significance of racist symbols and actions is an old, standard thing that racists do and have done for decades if not longer. It's one more aspect of how horrible this is.

I was glad to see that some of these awful events are getting more national press. More information about these things has to get out there. Racism is alive and well and if we don't stay vigilant and active it will continue to grow more virulent and violent. I sent a "what are you doing about this?" email to the Southern Poverty Law Center and will do the same to the ACLU. Natalie, thanks again for bringing these terrible situations to our attention.

See the famous poem about "First they came for..." We all need to speak up.

Natalie said...

Monica- I remember the beginnings of the case but hadn't heard anything since. Where is the outrage? The level of pissed is unchecked.

Eva- Isn't it a mess? The fact that it is in a small town where they can "reasonably" have an all white jury made up of friends and relatives of witness for the prosecution just adds to injury.

Yobachi- The fight far from over. Sadly, too many people think it is.

Mom- There are many organizations that should be involved in this and I haven't seen their names anywhere. I do understand that there are some situations when schools may need to call the police. I think it was handled quite strangely in this case.

CS- Yeah, the lady had to know. The level of "duh" just made me laugh.

WLFG- I have seen some strange things in the south and I haven't spent much time there AT ALL.

Travis- I haven't done much searching but The Friends of Justice is collecting funds to help their appeals and other fees. You can see their site here

Thinker- Every administrator at the school also looked at them as a prank. They were even in the school colors.

Phil- I try. I read that the NY Times isn't covering this story. Someone has to.

Notfearing- It's a mystery that had better be solved. If it isn't there will be endless cases like this.

Mom- Thanks for doing more research and showing some outrage. That is what needs to happen if these kids are to have any hope.

Villager said...

Natalie --> I discussed the Jena Six on the Electronic Village earlier today. It is truly a travesty. There are too many examples of this nonsense going on. Your commentary is exactly on point.

peace, Villager

Mood Indigo said...

I'm so glad you post these things. I've been incredibly lame about following current events recently - and things like this NEVER get enough press as it is. Thank you for sharing the "stupids" and reminding us how far we have to go as a country and people in the name of equality!!!

Katrina said...

I completely forgot about this story. Ad my thanks for reminding us.

I was wondering the same thing as Travis, thanks for the link. I'll see what I can do.

It's almost like society is regressing. It's just sad.

Mom said...

Following the link Natalie provided, I found a video publicizing the Jena situation on Blip TV at and an online petition at Sharing these widely is one thing we can do. There's also an address for the Jena 6 Defense Committee at the end of the Blip TV video.

Mom said...

I should also mention that the reporter on the video is white. I have nothing against a white person reporting this story. I think everyone -- regardless of their racial or ethnic background -- should report this story. However I do know that there are a lot of white people who won't want to hear about racism unless the words are coming from the mouth of another white person, and that's sad, to say the least.

Anyway, I think it's a good video and worth sharing.

Mrs. Loquacious said...

I wish that the justice system was color-blind and impartial, but unfortunately in some places money and skin color still matter. It's completely unfair, and my only consolation is in knowing that in my world view, I serve a just Maker who will judge fairly and impartially, and those who have acted unjustly will be given their due one day.

Michael K said...

I don't want to go on about this for too long but I think there are 2 major factors that contribute to racism generally but specifically in the US. The first is the tendency of Americans to blame someone else for their problems. We suck when it comes to accountability. Also, there is a "look out for your own" attitude that is also very prevalent. The combination leads to denials like that of the librarian. Logic has been trumped by a feeling that her kind wouldn't do something cruel. How are we going to change the attitudes of people if they won't acknowledge that there is a problem?

Princess Banter said...

I've always found racism to be a stupid thing. I mean, so what if we're all different colors? That story you told us is just so wrong... It has been too long that everyone's endured racism at its worst. When will it end?