The Jena 6 Movement



Hat Tip: by Marisol Bello, USA Today

A grass-roots movement is spreading across black America in support of six black high school students charged with attempted murder for beating a white classmate in the small Louisiana town of Jena.

On black radio, black college campuses and websites from YouTube to Facebook, the young men known as the Jena 6 are being held up as symbols of unequal and unfair treatment of blacks in a case that evokes the Deep South’s Jim Crow era, complete with nooses hanging from a tree.

“People are fed up,” says Esther Iverem, 47, a Washington, D.C., writer who runs a website called, which has featured articles about the Jena 6. “It’s another case of young black men railroaded unjustly. We do not want to see this happen to young boys who got involved in a school fight.”

Tenisha Wilkerson, 20, of Chicago, posted a page on Facebook supporting the Jena 6. It has attracted 35,000 members.

“Why is this kind of thing still going on?” she asks.

Symbolism evokes outrage

The events in Jena have caught the attention of national civil rights activists. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III have marched on Jena in protest.

“The case plays to the fears of many blacks,” Sharpton says. “You hear the stories from your parents and grandparents, but you never thought it would happen in 2007. I think what resonates in the black community is that this is so mindful of pre-1960 America.”

For a year, Jena (pronounced JEEN-uh), a poor mining community of 3,000 people, has been embroiled in racial tensions pitting the black community against white school officials and a white prosecutor. It began last August when a black student asked at an assembly if black students could sit under a tree where white students usually sat. The next day, two nooses hung from the tree.

Black parents were outraged by the symbolism, recalling the mob lynchings of black men. They complained to school officials. District superintendent Roy Breithaupt and the school board gave three-day suspensions to the white students who hung the nooses, overruling the recommendation of then-principal Scott Windham that the students be expelled.

Breithaupt and current principal Glen Joiner did not return calls for comment.

In November, an unknown arsonist burned down part of the high school.

Over the next three days, fights erupted between black and white students on and off school grounds. Police arrested a white man for punching a black teen. He pleaded guilty to simple battery.

The skirmishes culminated with a fight in which the six black teens, star players on Jena’s champion football team, were charged as adults with attempted murder. The white student they’re accused of beating, Justin Barker, 17, was knocked unconscious and suffered cuts and bruises. He was treated at an emergency room but not hospitalized.

Mychal Bell, 17, was convicted in May of a reduced charge, aggravated second-degree battery, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Since then, charges against two youths have been reduced.

Reed Walters, the LaSalle Parish prosecutor who brought the charges, did not return calls for comment.

The anger fueled by the case shows no sign of letting up. More than 1,500 people, including California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, rallied at Howard University in Washington on Wednesday. Rallies are planned in Chicago and Boston.

Civil rights groups, including the NAACP and Friends of Justice, plan to rally at the Jena courthouse on Sept. 20, the scheduled date of Bell’s sentencing. Their websites anticipate busloads of marchers from across the country.

The black students’ supporters say the white teens in Jena were not punished as severely as the blacks.

“The question here has always been about fairness and equal justice,” says Tony Brown, a Louisiana radio host. “The bottom line is that there is a two-tiered judicial system. If you’re black, they want to lock you up and throw away the keys. If you’re white, you get a slap on the wrist and get to go home with your parents.”

He points to a case in nearby Bunkie, La., in which three white teens were charged this spring with the minor crime of battery for beating a white teen, who spent three days in the hospital for brain swelling and bleeding.

The case of the Jena 6 has launched “a modern-day civil rights movement,” Brown says.

Tired of the attention

Blacks are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. A 2007 study by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency found that blacks are 17% of the nation’s juvenile population, but 28% of juveniles arrested are black.

“I don’t think you grow up black and think this kind of thing doesn’t happen,” says Maliza Kalenza, 19, a Howard University sophomore from Minneapolis.

Donald Washington, the U.S. attorney for Louisiana’s Western District, says his office investigated the events in Jena but did not find evidence to support a criminal case in the noose hangings. He says black students had sat under the tree where the nooses were hung, too, and he found no evidence that the noose incident led to the fights three months later.

The tree was cut down this summer.

Washington’s office is reviewing the history of Jena school district punishments of black and white students but so far has found nothing inappropriate.

Some people in Jena don’t appreciate the attention.

School board member Billy Fowler says the year’s events have been blown out of proportion. On the other hand, he says, in the unlikely event that another student hung a noose, the incident would be taken more seriously. He also notes that some of the original charges against the six teens, which he says were excessive, were reduced.

“I feel like my town has been raked over unmercifully,” Fowler says. “I’m tired of hearing how racist my town is and it’s just not so. … And the outsiders are not helping any with this.”

23 thoughts on “The Jena 6 Movement

  1. It’s the whole ‘ Noose and tree’ thing.

    You know, Black folk get that REAL quick.

    Star Jones did a good piece on this on her show this week.

    ” Outside agitators”.

    Now, SB…where have we heard THAT one before?

    Yeah, you know where.


  2. CJ Boyd

    Why is it when a group of black children gather together its a “gang” thing.
    I don’t understand why blacks can notbe recognized for unity for a cause. White children a never considered to be tie to a gang if they dress alike, have body piercing, and weird tattooes. When Is It Going To STOP!!!!!

  3. Sheila McRae-Lightner

    I will see you on Thursday September 20,2007.
    As A Zeta Phi Beta Sorrority incorparated Sister. I am representing all the Bue and White family.(ZETA & SIGMA) I am a Proud African American with two male children and two females who will also be in attendance. We have to protect and take care of our own.
    Much Love and Peace,
    Sisterly Love,

  4. To my brothers and sisters,

    The reason why these things KEEP ON happening to so-called african-americans in this country and the other 3 corners of planet earth is because WE are the descendents of the true hebrews that were prophecied to suffer the curses of YHWH, because we sinned against the most high. I know folks don’t want to hear this, BUT it must be told. We have always been the true hebrews. If you don’t believe me, then read the Holy Bible. It says even in the last days we would suffer until the “TIMES OF THE GENTILES” be fulfilled. We as black people born in the slave masters house with their english names forced upon us, we need to repent to YAHOSHUA. Change is gonna come….SHALOM…

  5. Cynthia Seay

    My heart, prayers, and spirit goes out to all the young men wrongfully held without cause. I will be wearing BLACK in unity of all that this great day represents. I still can not believe in this day and time in this United States of America we are still fighting this hard for equality. I stand up for Blackness first and formost, but I also stand up for anyone who is wronged. Whites keep trying to hold us back by any means necessary and we have to stand up as a people and not just say but show we are not having it anymore. I’m sorry I can’t be there in flesh but I will be there in spirit. Power to the people.

  6. Ok, I will be wearing black to show my support, but we need to put the blame on ourselves. We are not teaching our children that quiet racism is not quiet anymore. Our kids are not cognizant of how they should take care of themselves when dealing with whites. We have been remiss in not teaching them, and keeping before them, for appreciation’s sake, the struggle that has been won for their priveldges now. I find our children so assimulated that they don’t even know who they are any more. Mixed. I don’t care how dark or how light you are as an African-American, we are ALL mixed. Just because one of us may be lighter than another of us doesn’t make them anymore mixed than the other. All our women were raped in the fields and the massa’s house at his whim. We have lost our solidarity because we’re trying to be something we’re not. We are African-American, and we don’t stand down to anybody. We are a proud people. We are movers and shakers in our society, past and present. Together we are strong and a force with which to be reckoned. In spirit, I will be at the march. I will wear black. We are Black, and we are back, so look for us to reclaim that which has been stolen from us. This is the biggest humiliation to those young men. What do these allegations do to their careers? This act of prosecuting these young men for attempted murder, for a simple school fight is rediculous. These boys, along with the whites who fought back, should ALL be suspended for 3 days, return to school and be done with it. this problem is the problem of some perjudiced family who is mad because he got bested by a balck kid. Tough! Get a life, open up your heart to others, so that that life is worth living. Stand tall Jena 6; be proud of who you are and your heritage

  7. heyhey

    People wake up! Please! We are trying to stop racism not segregate ourselves more. What happened is 6 african americans beat the crap out of a white guy. That is not right. One on one would have been right. You can not say that waht they did is right. It was gang on one not one on one. I agree their punishment was too strong but you can not sit there and justify what these young men did. Stop the hate. For gods sake stop trying to make it worse.

  8. LaDaniel Jauquim Smith-Jones

    What up! For real this shit needs to stop. These White boys hung a noose on a tree. So we put one in the hospital. So what? Don’t put a noose on a tree and we won’t have to bust a crackers ass. If you say something stupid you are going to get smacked in the face. We don’t need courts or lawyers or a legal system – we got our strength. If you clown me I will hit you. If you say stupid shit we will gang up on you 6 on one and beat your ass. Whats the noise about?

  9. Mike Vick

    ATL Represent VA BEACH in the HIZZY. Word out to my homies and peeps. Dis shit is whack. Its jus 1 redneck – its not like deez niggas kilt a dog or sumtin.

    Kickin it in the CB4 cash money homies 4 life.


    Some Poems from MYA Angelou for our imprisoned brothers:

    The calamity of the Insanity
    is blingity blangity
    The incarceration of the ZULU nation
    Is our constipation

    “The Jury”
    Black flower bloom in the dark of noon
    searching for the light
    Seek your fortune in the courtroom
    So longs the jury aint white

    “360 degree Vision”
    In the prisons our people sleep
    herded to cells like black sheep

    made to fear made to cower
    don’t bend over in da shower

  11. Kim Kardashian

    So are any of the Jena 6 Available to like do me? I mean they are black right? If so I am like totally available. I mean Terranc eHoward is an actor and all but he is like sooo white and um I really did black guys. So if you like got their digits or their two way could you give it to my assistant. You know if we like all did a music video and I was to wear like Jimi Choos and a thong and we could like change the world.

  12. Chevonne

    okay bein black i understand this all be bs but for real and yall kno i love my r. kelly and my baby lil wayne but cmon yall this is getting bad they be rappin bout drugs and stealin and bein in the game.. we be listenin to their music n shit cuz we know what its like we be around it but the 5 0 think we be in it so of course they gonna blame stuff on us mann the jena 6 be smart for what they doin marchin standin up fo what they believe but all you niggas out there need to start doin betta in school, quit gettin into trouble, now i’m not sayin to start actin like these mo fu**** crackas thats weak sauce but if u finna do stuff don’t get caught up.. you gots to be slick son

  13. Mike

    First off, if this was the other way around and 6 white kids beat the hell out of a black kid, there would definitely be hell breaking loose in Jena! It would not be the white folks, but the blacks again out in the streets with their signs and marching to try to prosecute the white kids to the fullest extent! If it takes 6 kids to whip 1, then they should be locked up no matter what their color may be! And to the people referring to whites as “crackas”, as funny as you might think the term is, you are only adding fuel to this already out of control fire we call racism. Grow Up Already!! Come to think of it, and correct me if I am wrong, but so far I have not seen or heard the word “hate crime” mentioned. But if a white kid so much as lays a hand on a black kid, “hate crime” is used so freely? Can anyone tell me what the difference is except color?? A black person tried to explain that to me a while back, and somehow, their story went through “poverty” and “slavery” and various other things. This is 2007, not the 1850’s. Get over it! There is nothing we can go back and do about it now. And now days, poverty is pretty much a choice, with all the grants to go to college and the government help for low income people, there should be enough resources for anyone to make anything of themselves. I have covered many topics, but a main point is unfair justice is a common practice in the U.S., no matter what color the accused is.

  14. UnCool Bro

    Of course we should rally around these 6 fine upstanding youg men. Everyone knows that Martin Luther King, Jr. was wrong. If someone makes a racial slur, crack his head. Certainly don’t ignore it. Conspire to gang up on him and beat him until he is unconscious, stomp his head into the pavement, and leave him bleeding on the ground for dead. Just make sure the MF doesn’t die. That is what I teach my childrens. I don’t care if they go to jail, because there are enough of us willing to stand up for their right to be unaccountable, because we don’t know any better. It is not our fault.

  15. Robert

    I don’t believe anyone- white or black- in this case. There is more going on than just 6 young black boys beating up a white boy. If anything, the lesson ought to be that violence doesn’t solve anything. I have not seen much in the news about what happened to the boys who put the nooses in the so-called “white tree”. Is the law in Louisiana fair? Probably not, but then I wouldn’t want to be caught beating someone up in ANY state and think I was going to get away with it. Especially if I already had a juvenile record for violence. I think the worst thing is that Jena is now- rightly or wrongly- a media circus. If anyone is wrongfully jailed then so be it. But if all we do in the future is try to sway court hearings by protesting someone’s innocence publicly and we don’t even know them, then we don’t have a legal system.

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