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?