Thin Black Duke of Slant Truth has created a Facebook group and cause for the Jena Six.  Much obliged, man; much obliged.  There are a couple of other groups dedicated to the Jena Six too, if you’re interested in joining them.  The most important thing is to spread the word.

THE PETITION IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR SIGNING HERE.

The way we deal with problems on a smaller level often affects the problematic situations we have on a larger level. It becomes difficult to view isolated incidences of racial inequality — isolated because it affects one person, a small group of persons, or a small area — without considering the larger framework we as individuals, groups, and communities operate within on a daily basis.

Shawn Williams has directed my attention to a recent article by Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune about Jena, Louisiana. In this story, we see the refusal to grapple with the severity of racial animus, symbolic representations of that animus, and the legacy of mutual mistrust and hatred left today from failing to grapple with the unreleased tension. Entangled in these sentiments is miscarriage of justice, patterns of retaliatory violence and intimidation, and a pervasive sense of futility that amidst so much action and emotion, nothing substantial was felt or expressed except the stinging pain of old and gangrenous wounds.

Here is Shawn retelling of Witt’s rundown of the events:

In his May 18, 2007 story, Mr. Witt tells of an incident that happened at the local high school in Jena where black students decided they wanted to sit under a tree whose shade had been reserved for white students only for years. When campus officials gave their blessing to the students request to sit under the tree, a series of events began that have apparently launched the town into a downward spiral.

According to Mr. Witt’s article the following events have occurred since the initial action by the black students last September:

* The next day three nooses were hanging from the tree

* Once three white students were identified as having hung the nooses on the tree, the school superintendent suspended them for only three days. (The principal had suggested expulsion). The superintendent felt the nooses represented a “youthful stunt.”

* Fights broke out at the high school between black and white students.

* Unknown arsonists set fire to the central wing of the school (November)

* A white youth beat up a black student who showed up at an all-white party

* another young white man pulled a shotgun on three black students at a convenience store

* A group of black students at the high school allegedly jumped a white student on his way out of the gym, knocked him unconscious and kicked him after he hit the floor (December)

* LaSalle Parish district attorney, Reed Walters, opted to charge six black students with attempted second-degree murder and other offenses (for their involvement in the above incident)

NOTE: The white youth who beat the black student at the party was charged only with simple battery, while the white man who pulled the shotgun at the convenience store wasn’t charged with any crime at all.

In the midst of these incidences, Witt reports that the mayor offered this opinion of Jena’s order and direction:

“Jena is a place that’s moving in the right direction,” said Mayor Murphy McMillan. “Race is not a major local issue. It’s not a factor in the local people’s lives.”

I single out this quote because many people invoke it in areas where racial tensions aren’t constructed as high and for less severe reasons. Jordan Flaherty writes more about the demonstrations and reactions from the Jena community spawned from the events listed:

Many parents questioned why the noose and other threatening actions were not taken seriously by the school administration. “What’s the difference,” asks Marcus Jones, the father of Mychal Bell, one of the students, about the disparity in the charges. “There’s a color difference. There was white kids that hung up a noose, but it was black kids in the fight.” Sentencing disparity is a big issue in many of these small towns, where many see it as the modern continuation of the ugly southern heritage of lynching.

Jones explains a litany of reasons why the children should not be charged with attempted murder. “The kid did not have life threatening injuries, he was not cut, he was not stabbed, he was not shot, nothing was broken. There is no evidence of conspiracy to commit attempted murder. You talk about conspiracy to attempt second-degree murder, you think about the mafia, you think somebody paid a sniper or something. We’re talking about a high school fistfight. The DA is showing his racist upbringing, his racist acts and his racist nature, and bringing it into the law.”

I can’t help but think Flaherty’s right when the District Attorney releases statements to this effect:

I will not tolerate this type of behaviour. To those who act in this manner I tell you that you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and with the harshest crimes that the facts justify. When you are convicted I will seek the maximum penalty allowed by law. I will see to it that you never again menace the students at any school in this parish.

I highly recommend checking out this detailed rundown at Listen To Me For A Minute to get your bearings about what’s taken place, and I also encourage you to stop yourself before distancing away from Jena and painting it as a special place with special problems. Our actions affect others’ realities. It is highly likely that if the school officials took decisive action after the nooses were placed on the tree, the resulting incidences would not have occurred. Perhaps I should say: we need to pay attention to those small matters and discuss them seriously before they escalate.

More general news articles, commentary and coverage:

BBC coverage
The Guardian (UK)
The Baltimore Sun
New Zealand Herald
KATC 3 snippet
Author’s Den article from Eddie Thompson
The News Star article about victim of crime facing expulsion for bringing a firearm to school; initial article about being caught with the firearm
A post from African-American Political Pundit
A post from Professor Zero
Two posts from Vox ex Machina: one and two
A post from Rolling Back the Tide of Extremism, One Post at a Time
A post from Dvorak Uncensored
A post from CenLamar (hat-tip to Dr. Elle, Sistorian Extraordinaire)
A post from Friends of Justice which appears to be run by Alan Bean! (He’s one of many people I tried to find contacts for so people can ask how to support the situation; stream of consciousness, sry) Here’s a few posts from the Friends of Justice blog. (And he’s right in the latter entry; that Flaherty article is popping up everywhere.)
Article from the Louisiana Public Defender’s Association (Thanks, Elle!)
Kim Pearson’s post at Blogher
Ilyka’s post at Pandagon
Second article from Rev. Eddie Thompson in response to the Tribune article and the reaction (thank you, Nordette and Kim at Blogher)
Vox offers another update with links to a commentary by Mother Jones and an article in BBC News (thanks, Vox)
A post at Trying to Follow (the blogger has also set up a Facebook group you can join relating to supporting the Jena Six)
A post at it’s all ashes in the end…
A piece from The INDsider, an independent weekly based in Lafayette, Louisiana
An interesting forum post from “J-Town Lady” at Snopes.com

The Town Talk appears to have local daily updates; it covers the Alexandria-Pineville area. I found an article with an update of the trial which is going behind the cut. Dr. Elle also found the weekly local newspaper for the area, The Jena Times.

For helping specifically with this matter, I think it’s important to contact someone close to the action first to figure out what people on the netroots and private citizens can do to help ensure justice will be served adequately.

Joe Cook, Executive Director
ACLU – Louisiana
P.O. Box 56157
New Orleans, LA 70156
(504) 522-0617
(866) 522-0617
admin[at]laaclu[dot]org
Here is the general donation page to the ACLU in Louisiana.

UPDATE: I found the National Action Network contact information for Reverend Raymond Brown, who was present at the rally mentioned in the Flaherty article:

Reverend Raymond Brown
737 Cohen Avenue
Marrero, Louisiana 70072
revraymondbrown[at]yahoo[dot]com
(504) 710-3649 NAN Office
(504) 710-3744

Through the Friends of Justice blog, I found some contact information for Alan Bean (updated with a mailing address and another contact number; thanks, Ilyka):
Alan Bean
Friends of Justice
507 N. Donley Ave.
Tulia TX 79088
(806) 996-3353
(806) 729-7889 (This is a cell phone number, so don’t go blowing it up all crazy.)
bean_alan[at]yahoo[dot]com
You can send donations to this organization here.

Ilyka also found information for the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Southern Juvenile Defender Center:

Karpad, thanks for reminding me about the SPLC. There’s a form people can use to contact them here, or use their phone and/or address:

(334) 956-8200

400 Washington Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36104

But the Southern Juvenile Defender Center administered by the SPLC might be the better approach for this; I’m not certain. They can be reached at the same telephone number above, or by mail to

PO Box 2087
Montgomery, AL 36104

I need help with this aspect, so if anyone knows contacts for grassroots organizations in Jena, please let me know and spread the word. Shawn also mentioned developing some way to contact the Department of Justice (for the net, perhaps a petition and letter writing campaign?) and letting them know that we need a stringent and definitive action taken on cases based on inequitable treatment among races in the criminal justice system, using this case and others as examples.

Lastly, we should figure out ways online to raise money for the legal defense of these three young men, and we should write letters to our hometown papers and media about the situation so that we can keep these discussions in the forefront of people’s minds. We can’t table them until the Next Big Case; our dedication and our awareness must remain ongoing.

(I’m not in the greatest mood, so I hope this post doesn’t seem lackluster. I appreciate any and everything people can contribute.)
First Town Talk article I found:

‘Jena Six’ Trial Continued to Next Month
By Abbey Brown
abrown@thetowntalk.com
(318) 487-6387

JENA — Tears streamed down Melissa Bell’s face Monday as the judge ruled in favor of LaSalle Parish District Attorney J. Reed Walters’ motion to continue her son’s trial more than a month.

Across the courtroom, wearing a black-and-white striped jumpsuit and handcuffed, Mychal Bell’s head fell backward in frustration when he heard the ruling.

Bell is one of the six Jena High School students who have become known as the “Jena Six.” He and Theodore Shaw were scheduled for jury trial Monday on charges of attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder in connection with a Dec. 4 fight at the school that sent fellow student Justin Barker to LaSalle General Hospital.
Bell and Shaw are the only two students charged in the fight who remain in jail, each in lieu of $90,000 bond.

“(Walters) said they needed more time to get the witnesses together,” Melissa Bell said outside the LaSalle Parish courtroom. “If you ain’t found the witnesses yet or got together what you need, what’s another month going to do. What will they do next month if he still doesn’t have everything — continue it again?”

She said her biggest frustration is that her son has been sitting in jail “day in and day out” ready to go to trial while the state has continued to postpone things.

Walters told 28th Judicial District Court Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. that many of his witnesses had made plans months ago to be out of state this week and that several other witnesses were Jena High teachers or students with finals this week.

Walters also said in court that Dr. Gbolanan Sokoya, one of Barker’s emergency room physicians, can’t be located.

Both Bell and Shaw’s attorneys objected to the continuance.

“We are ready for trial,” Bell’s attorney, Blane Williams, said in court.

He said they would be willing to work around the school’s finals schedule and suggested having the trial in the evening hours to avoid a conflict.

Mauffray said that suggestion and Williams’ flexibility were “admirable” but said that if “the shoe were on the other foot, you’d be jumping up and down” requesting a continuance to have time to present material witnesses.

The trial was continued until June 25, with the caveat that Walters be able to produce all of his witnesses by that date, Mauffray said.

According to court documents, Walters has subpoenaed at least 34 witnesses for the trial, including Barker, a number of other students, Jena High teachers and staff and medical personnel from LaSalle General.

Robert Bailey Jr. also was scheduled for jury trial Monday, but a continuance requested last week by his attorney had been granted by the judge.

Trial dates haven’t been set for Carwin Jones and Bryant Purvis. If found guilty on all charges, all of the boys could face 25 to 100 years in prison. The sixth boy’s case is being handled by juvenile court, and records weren’t available.

The Jena Six have garnered national attention by both media and civil rights groups.

An article in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune with the headline “Racial demons rear heads” documented issues the school and city have been facing since September — including the hanging of nooses on school grounds that some parents of the “Jena Six” said started the whole ordeal.

During a “peace rally” earlier this month, Marcus Jones, Bell’s father, said “it’s all about those nooses” and said the charges are racially motivated.

The three boys accused of hanging the nooses — all white — were given a three-day suspension and faced no criminal charges, Jones said. Fights leading up to the December fight at the school weren’t handled in this manner — with attempted murder charges, he said.

“But this fight, with black boys against a white boy, there are attempted murder charges,” Jones said. “There are racial tensions, and it started with those nooses.”

King Downing, national coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign Against Racial Profiling, said the organization is committed to supporting the “Jena Six” throughout the trial process.

“We want justice for these young men and their families,” he said. “We want to clear the air and know for certain if these boys were overcharged and see if there are any disparities in justice in LaSalle Parish.”

Downing said he has been encouraging the families to stay positive and strong.

“There is a smell in the air,” he said. “We have not completely identified it, but we are trying to make sure it isn’t the smell of injustice. … I think the world’s attention on Jena is growing. And I hope anything out of order gets in order quickly.”

After the continuance was granted, Theodore McCoy, Shaw’s father, said he was disappointed.

“We were hoping to get this under way,” he said. “I know (Theodore) is more frustrated than me. I can’t imagine what he’s going through. The charges are outrageous. We are just ready to put this behind us.”

Initial article about the trial being postponed:

Trials for three members of Jena Six postponed
Town Talk staff

JENA — The trial of two former Jena High Schools students charged with attempted second-degree murder in a December fight at the school was continued today until June 25.

Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr., with the 28th Judicial District Court in Jena, made the ruling today, citing the unavailability of critical witnesses such as students and teachers, who through this week are still in school.

Students Theodore Shaw and Mychal Bell were scheduled to go on trial today on the attempted second-degree murder charges as well as charges of conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. The trial for another student, Robert Bailey Jr., that was scheduled to begin today also was continued.

The three students, along with Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and an unnamed juvenile, are accused of beating another Jena High School student on Dec. 4, 2006.

The victim in that fight, identified by his mother as Justin L. Barker, 17, was charged May 10 with possession of a firearm in a firearm-free zone after police allege he brought a hunting rifle onto the Jena High campus. LaSalle Parish Schools Superintendent Roy Breithaupt has said he is recommending that Barker be expelled.

The five students charged as adults in Barker’s beating each face 25 to 100 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Shaw and Mychal Bell remain in jail in lieu of $90,000 bond.

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