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What is Jena 6?

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The "Jena 6" are six African-American students at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana who are being held in connection with an assault on a white student at the school. That would be the end of the story, except the fight stemmed from on-going racial tension over a request by black students to enjoy the shade of a tree traditionally used as a gathering place for white students.

After being told by a vice principal at the school that the students could sit wherever they pleased, they did. The next day, three nooses were found hanging from said tree. Although the school's principal recommended that the white students responsible for hanging the nooses be expelled, the school superintendent and board overruled that recommendation and portrayed the nooses as a "silly prank." That led to several weeks of unrest that included one black student being assaulted by a group of whites at a party attended by whites, and black students being threatened by a former Jena student "pumping" a shot-gun.

The incident leading to the arrest of the "Jena 6" occurred on December 4, 2006, when a fight between a white student and a black student allegedly escalated into a beat-down of the white student by six black students. Charged were Robert Bailey, 17, Theo Shaw, 17, Carwin Jones, 18, Bryant Purvis, 17, Mychal Bell, 16 and a juvenile. Their bonds ranged from $70,000 to $138,000. They were charged with attempted second degree murder and conspiracy to commit second degree murder, and face decades in jail.

Mychal Bell has already been tried by an all-white jury and convicted of second degree aggravated battery and conspiracy (the prosecutors reduced the charges on the first day of trial). Bell is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 4 and faces up to 22 years in prison.

Those of you who don't understand why this case puts a spotlight on the crisis in America's justice system, please note that the white victim allegedly taunted the black student who had been beaten by a white group of teens a few days earlier. Only one person was charged in that incident and that person was arrested on a misdemeanor.

Also, the white victim was badly bruised and suffered a black eye, but was treated at the hospital and released, and apparently was in good enough shape to attend a social event that evening.

This case is just beginning to get national exposure, but has been circulating on various blogs for months.


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42 Comments

Mary, thank you so much for writing about this issue. In the interest of accuracy though, you should know that Billie Holliday did not write Strange Fruit, as you state in your column. Lewis Allen wrote those powerful, haunting lyrics that Lady Day gave voice to. Just thought you would want to know.

Keep up the great work.

Interesting article/blogpost. However, citing Billie Holiday as the author of "Strange Fruit" is a huge error considering it's one of the most famous and powerful American songs ever written. Abel Meeropole, a Jewish man from the Bronx, wrote the poem which then became a song. The song was eventually passed down to Billie.

Thank you and may God bless you for keeping up with this situation and writing today's article about it in the Sun-Times. It has sickened me that so many still do not know about this situation and that the national media has been largely silent. Thanks for speaking up and making it news.

For years, the United States has been in an argument with itself about whether racism still exists or not. This situation in Jena, LA is proof that it does. It is not right that teenagers should have to pay their entire middle adulthood for a school fight. Especially when that fight was fueled by racial tensions that the adults in this situation should have worked to dispell instead of aggravate. However, we don't have to despair about this; in fact, we who believe in freedom can take it as marching orders. We can continue to speak out as you have, and not wait to move. The NAACP has a petition we can sign; YouTube has great video we can pass along. We have senators and leaders we can write to. Even Mychal Bell's address is public so we can write to him in detention. And next time we can try to hear our youth when they are crying out in peaceful protest before they move to retaliatory violence.

It is unfortunate that the NAACP publically buries a word (as if such a symbolic act is relevent) and then supports Mike Vick's return to the NFL (before he even serves a day), yet was relatively silent on this.

The N word that should have been buried was NAACP. We need relevent leadership to face todays problems.

Guilty by an all white jury? meaning what? If they had a jury of 12 Mary Mitchells and Jesse Jacksons that the black kids who did the beating would be compensated as actually being the victim and the white could would go to jail?
You justify a 6 on one beating because of a tasteless joke? You may know about lynchings in the past, but none of those teens have had to live through it. You excuse violent behavior, once again, perpetrated by thugs and give them ready made excuses.
If, by your logic, all crimes committed in history can be used to justify violent behavior, then we all better be wary when American Indians take revenge on everyone on this continent, including the blacks who have also enjoyed the spoils of broken treaties.

Mary Mitchell you are wrong about Billy Holliday and "Stange Fruit". She did not compose the song she merely sang it and made it an instant hit.

Mary, I learned about this case by listening to the Michael Bastian's show last week in
Chicago and was outraged. We as adults should be ashamed of ourselves for letting this continue to happen to our children. It is amazing that this case has not gotten any exposure with the National Media but I am not surprised. We were being over exposed to Michael Vick and heard nothing about our children being wrongfully accused of murder. I couldn’t believe that this young man’s gym shoe was considered a deadly weapon. This has been happening in the Black community for years. Our young men are being taken away from us on trumped up charges and no one does anything about it. Women wonder where all the good men are and the sad thing is most of them are in jail. And we as women are being left to raise men. Did you know that in the Mychel Bell case, the Black defense attorney did nothing for this young man? He is supposed to be a role model for this young man but instead he didn't call one single witness, did not want to go to trial and pressured this young man to take a plea. Who are our kids suppose to turn too if they come to us and we do nothing? Our Black Men need to step up and show these young men that they are important and that they can have a better life. When will this stop?

Today I was driving to work and heard about this story on a local radio station here in New York City. As we all know racism still exists here in NY, But this is something on another level. I was appalled and disgusted at what I heard. I guess the real question is why is this still happening? This school superintendent needs to be fired! And the American Justice system really needs to take a hard look at what is going on. This is why riots start. Where are all our civil Right leaders? We need them to be down there in Jena, Louisiana Helping these children!!!

Mary - the sentence should probably read ". . . puts a spot light on the crisis in America's UN-just(ice) system." That's a sad sad situation that in 2006/2007, we as African Americans still can't receive fair and equal treatment under the law. All I can do is shake my head and pray.

As Ben Samuel probably already knows, there's been a great deal of confusion over the authorship of "Strange Fruit." According to most researchers, the song was written in the mid-1930s by a New York City School teacher, Abel Meeropol. The legendary singer, Billie Holliday, recorded the most famous version of the song about lynching, and some historians have actually listed her as a co-author of "Strange Fruit."

Thank you, Mr. Samuel for pointing out the error. But the first person to call me up about Meeropol was 84-year-old John Arrington, an avid jazz collector from the South Side of Chicago. Arrington told me Holiday had a tough time trying to record "Strange Fruit," because they were afraid people would be outraged.

"Most people think she wrote it, but she didn't," Harrington said.

This type story is old, but guess what is NOT NEW? Our old & newfound dignity to view others sitting
under a tree, and realize "Oh, they are NOT in the LIBRARY, we shall sit there and pick out a book to read!"

Do not fight SOMEONE over a DAMN SHADE TREE! If whites think they own it, let them think that! We have better things to do!

what's really troubling is the kid in Chicago that was beaten and had feces smeared on him by black kids...where is the outrage....5 whites slaughtered by 2 blacks in Wichata...where is the outrage??? a white couple raped, killed and dismembered by blacks in Knoxville....where is the outrage??? a father and daughter brutally attacked by Sox park by a black...where is the outrage??? when the "black reverends" protest something by whites, it is covered by the media. when there is comments about black on white crime, mary mitchell categorizes it as from white supremecists. really fair reporting, eh?

Just so you know: Lewis Allen is Abe Meeropol's pen name and the name under which he was known for songwriting. The name that people know for writing "Strange Fruit" is Lewis Allen (sometimes credited as Allan) and not Abe Meeropol.

Yes, we fully understand in todays world that blackl people are completely blameless and us White folk should get down on ouor knee's and beg for forgiveness for things that happened not in our lifetime.
The White kid who stood against 6 assailants should have bowed his head and took the beating like the sacrificial lamb he should be for even thinking to stand up against black people.

Say, I wonder what this reporter has to say about about those two White kids who were actually murdered in Knowville, did race have anything to do with that? Of course not even if one of the murderers stated they were looking for a White victim. Everyone knows only White people from the 17th century on are racist.

Black people used to fly and built the pyramids.

Whatever.

It's negro apologists like mary mitchell that perpetuate the racism myth. the fact is blaks commit 90% of violent interacial crime, that blaks kill more whites in one year than the KKK has killed blaks over their entire history. blak violent crime is so pervasive that the media has resorted to covering it up to prevent racial tensions. What happened in Jena has become all to predictible, 6 blaks stomp on a white and jesse and al and mary rush to spin the facts to make the poor innocent blak "boys" the victims, but the fact is blaks are sociopaths and you can find attacks like this committed by blaks every day in america, and it does not take ropes hanging from a tree to provoke blaks to attack, just read about the halloween attack in Long beach , ca where a mob of blaks viciously stomped on 3 white girls, crushing their faces, and the blak attackers were sentanced to parent-supervised curfews! where were you mary when this happend? where was your outrage? whites in america better wake up the the truth, blaks are not victims, they are violent sociopaths who use the myth of racism to get away with murder

sad situation

Hey, if a 'noose was in the tree' shame on the punk who put it there.....At the same time, how do you justify "Six young men ganging up on one young man"? And why has this governor been so half-hearted in her taking charge of the matter? Why have the Jackson's, NAACP's, etc. been so half-hearted (if that) about protesting the situation? Where are they? ......is there something about this case they know that has them backing-off?

anonymous, you didn't mention the worst one of all. The white man whose car broke down on Lincoln Hwy. in Ford Heights, Il. And a gang of blacks came over, threw gasoline all over him, put him on fire, and he burned to death. Oh yeah, some Ford Heights Police (later indicted) stood by. WHERE WAS THE OUTRAGE? The Mary Mitchell's never wrote about this, did they? It was about page 10 or so in the paper for two days, then ignored. In the meantime, the Democratic Party used that black man who was dragged to death as part of their campaign. These two hate crimes happened at about the same time. Oh yeah, and Ford Heights is in Jesse Jackson's son's congressional district. So did they condemn it? NO !

anonymous, PS: Something else. A few years back, the Englewood High School School Board gave an award to the Black Ganstra street-gang for being such pillars of the community. This same street-gang whose members would a year ago MURDER two innocent children in at-random drive-by shootings...anonymous, did these journalists who are ranting and raving now about what they perceive to be at total fault in Jena, LA say even one word about the actions of the Englewood school board?

anonymous, Friday night, my friends and I went to the local high school football game in Calumet City, IL (Thornton Fractional North HS). Listen to this one (I saw it): At half-time, the school had a dance team put on a show. The students on the field danced to a rap-song over the intercom in which the N-word was used over FIFTY TIMES in this disgusting song. This is what our wonderful schools are sponsoring now a days I guess. So did you hear any controversy over it? And you won't. Afterall, the principal is not white. Therefore, the standards are different. You won't hear even one finger-pointing journalist say anything.

Ms. Moderator, you really need to do a better job of covering up your racism and hatred of white people. In your comments up above when you mention the acts of aggression that whites "supposedly" perpetrated on blacks you never mention the word "allegedly", but when you talk about the 6 blacks beating up 1 white in the lunchroom, you say it "allegedly" escalated into a beatdown. Just some advice from a very intelligent and responsible white man like myself, if you want to con guilty white liberals into backing up your war on white society, you might want to mask your own racism a little bit better.

Oh Ms. Moderator, you have to realize that in the information age we live in people can check up on your biased, misleading statements. You say up above that the white victim(his name is Justin Barker, but I love how you don't list his name as if he is not human) was badly bruised but was not hurt that badly. Well, I just checked out CNN.com, hardly a white people friendly news network, and their story says Justin Barker was beaten unconscious and was stomped and kicked while he lay on the ground unconscious. It also says his right eye has blood clots in it and a picture shows his right eye swollen shut. Also, lets talk about one of the perpetrators who has already been convicted. His name is Mychal Bell and he is being held on $90,000.00 bond until he is sentenced later this month. The judge refuses to lower the bond because Bell already has four juvenile offenses in his past, including two simple battery charges. So even though Bell is only 16, he has already compiled quite an impressive rap sheet and is obviously a danger to society. So you see people, when you read columns by certain columnists who have an agenda, you must take what they write with a huge grain of salt. BTW, doesn't this act of kicking and stomping someone in the head while they lay unconscious sound familiar? Can you say three blacks attacking a white kid, Ryan Rusch, in Beverly Park on the southside last year? Maybe this is becoming a trend?

thank you SO much for writing about this! i know i sent you an email some weeks ago about writing about this. either way, it need's as much exposure as it can get, and as well as your column said, they need money as well to pay the lawyers, thanks alot!

This is so sad and in some strange way unbelievable. How does a school system allow such behavior from any students in a racial manner for so long. Someone had to see this coming and just completely ignored it. I had no idea this had happened please continue to keep the rest of America in the know.

By Anonymous:

"what's really troubling is the kid in Chicago that was beaten and had feces smeared on him by black kids...where is the outrage....5 whites slaughtered by 2 blacks in Wichata...where is the outrage??? a white couple raped, killed and dismembered by blacks in Knoxville....where is the outrage??? a father and daughter brutally attacked by Sox park by a black...where is the outrage??? when the "black reverends" protest something by whites, it is covered by the media. when there is comments about black on white crime, mary mitchell categorizes it as from white supremecists. really fair reporting, eh?"

Where's the outrage when a white man shoots his own wife and children and then tries to claim that his wife was the one who pulled the trigger?

Where's the outrage when a white man kidnaps a white woman in a parking lot in broad daylight, rapes and kills her, and then dumps her body in an alley?

Where's the outrage when white Pentagon officials repeatedly claim that the increase in (mostly white) soldiers commiting suicide has nothing to do with the war in Iraq when empirical evidence has provent he exact oppsite?

Where's the outrage when a white senator is forced to leave his career by other white senators because he plead guilty to a crime that had nothing to do with his job?

"the fight stemmed from on-going racial tension over a request by black students to enjoy the shade of a tree traditionally used as a gathering place for white students."

The victims in this case include ALL the students both black and white. Truly, the responsible persons are the thoughtless and weak members of that school system. This situation should have been addressed when it first surfaced. Instead, that school system failed all of its' students and allowed that vile circumstance to continue to exist. What kind of insensative, ignorant and down right worthless administrator would respond to such a request for shade knowing the possible ramifications? And if he or she couldn't comprehend the posibilities, someone else more concerned should have that job.

Mary, Instead of pointing a racial finger at the problems with the judicial system, consider taking up your fight with the real cause of the Jena 6; that broke ass school system in Lousianna. How about being a little more procative in your column and quite a bit less reactive? Now if your column went after the school system the same way you find fault with the juducial system, I might be more supportive. All of this could have been avoided and then you could consider attacking the judicial system proactively without the needless suffering ALL of those children are currently experiencing.

i wasnt aware of all the details of this storie, and i appreciate this article that made it all clear for me. thanks from charlotte, nc

You would kind of hope that mess like this was a thing of the past. Some of us here in VA will be rallying for these young men today Sept. 20, 2007. The US needs to know that this sort of thing can't go on and we as Black people will not accept such ridicule junk. If the shoe was on the other foot would these white boys be handled in such a serious manner. I think not. We need to show that any type of racism should not and will not be accepted under any circumstances. It makes me really upset to know that our so called Justice (just us) system is still for just them. Its usually its just us that gets the worst of it all. Guys keep your heads up. God will see you through just TRUST and BELIEVE. I believe in you all. I have to close now because I am getting really angry

why werent the blacks students just charged with a misdeamnor? why attempted murder.............

This is racist and jacked up

Where was Jessie and Al with the white couple who was raped, killed and dismembered by the African Americans in Knoxville......It was not news worthy for them......Only when there is a white on black issue where there is an injustice.

Keep 'em in jail and throw away the key. Thug bastards.

On page 6, of the Sept 20 Late Sports Final edition of the Sun-Times a blurb called "Jena Six Facts" is displayed. Unfortunately it did not contain all the pertinent facts such as the fact that the "beating" involving the white student occured after an incident where black students where jumped on and then harassed with a shot gun pointed into the face of one black student. This same omission of facts occured on the Today show and other major networks.

The black students are depicted as beating up the white student soley because they were angry about the nooses hung from the tree. In actuality, the black students were angry about the constant harassement they received (which included a threat with a shot gun) all because the white student's were suspended and the "white" tree was cut down.

These were school yard brawls. The white student depicted in the paper went to a party the same night of the fight. People who have received "life threatening" beatings don't go to parties on the same night of the "beating"

In response to the comments by "russ" and "Anonymous #2" above -- russ, I think the obvious problems in this case are the absurdly severe charges brought against these students for beating up another student. That is an example of systemic racism -- these students were given charges which are unarguably abnormal for the crime. Even discounting the legacy of slavery, the threat of lynching, and an unbalanced jury selection, the bottom line is that in this case, American citizens were charged with crimes they did not commit. It is in everyone's interest to have a fair justice system.

Anonymous #2 -- I think you are also missing the point here. Yes, black people commit crimes against white people and vice versa. This is a case of a group of black students being accused of attempted murder for what appears to have been a light beating. The problem is with the failures of criminal justice in this town. Hopefully the people who committed the crimes you mentioned will be dealt with appropriately under the law.

While we can't demand that all people be civil towards each other in an open society, we can certainly expect the judiciary to treat all people with an even hand.

Your article doesn't say anything about the criminal past of the accused, the history/pattern of violent behavior. Menace to society is a menace to society regardless of the color of their skin. Assault is assault regardless of whether it's done with a baseball bat or a tennis shoe. When people learn how to deal with injustice without resorting to terroristic threatening or violence, we'll all be better off. The degree of punishment is what you need to be looking at...should the punishment for beating someone w/a baseball bat be the same as beating someone with a tennis shoe? If the person is well enough to get up and walk away does that count as intent to murder? Those are the questions we need to be asking of our legal system - not whether they are taking into account the color of ones skin. Does the guy in prison for carrying enough pot for him and his buddies to smoke deserve to serve as much time as the priest who raped a small child? Does the guy who murdered and raped a young women deserve to be let out on parole while the guy who solicited an underage girl (undercover cop) online gets life w/out parole? Where is the standardization in the legal system? Wouldn't that solve alot of our problems?

I'm gonna take the bait. You have to be an idiotic liberal or a jackass to side with Mary Mitchell and Al Sharpton on these "racial issues".

I'm a victim , Carl Segvich

you know what i think is crap...the article you put on the internet. you made it a point to focus on all of the VICTIMS that were black and how their assailants were WHITE. however when you mention the case of the beautiful white couple who were assulted, tortured, raped, and sodomized by BLACK men...you failed to mention they were black.

see what i mean...

Williams is the mother of Megan Williams, the black West Virginia woman who was tortured, stabbed, sexually assaulted and treated like an animal by six white offenders during a weeklong captivity.

You never get used to the lurid details of a man's inhumanity.

Just as it was hard to bear the horrible things that were done to Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, the white Knoxville, Tenn., couple brutally killed in January, I'm sickened by the cruelty Megan Williams suffered.(why dont u mention chris and channons attackers were BLACK men) (who probably attacked them because of the jealuosy a black man gets when he sees a pretty white girl that doesnt want his nasty BLACK ass.)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm also struck by the similarity between how Carmen Williams chose to handle her daughter's ordeal at the hands of whites and how Mamie Till-Mobley handled the brutal murder of her son, Emmett Till, in 1955. (AT HE HAND OF WHITES...mentioned that didnt you)

i do not agree with what was done as a prank in there minds,it really is sad that that behavior still exists in our time,yes it was wrong an i believe that the law an the grownups who should have been there should have delt with that type of behavior in the right way,it would have saved these 6 this trouble,but they also broke the law,an that should be looked at not that they were all black but that they broke the law an took the law into there own hands,ignorance has no color, its in eveyone who still feels that the color of someone elses skin is a free ticket to show there hate,everyone in this situation should be punished by the law,both sides were wrong,an start to educate these young people that there way is not the answer...

The true facts of the Jena6 can be found here; that is if you care. Reminiscent of the Duke Lacrosse case maybe??
http://www.csmonitor.com

I think that every thing that is going on is terrible those young boys have their whole lifes ahead of them and this is just a minor set back. The way that they were treated wasn't provoked some people just have alot of hate in their hearts. So, you mean to tell me that if my child goes to school and after being picked on decides to defend herself that she can be looking at the max amount of years in prison, I mean come on kids have fights everyday and the most that happens is a suspension. Of these are the consequensis that they have to face then the white kids who beat the black boy up the previous day should be looking at the some time.

First of all i would like to say that we must provide the necessary information to our children so when they are able to understand situatuion that are taking place in this dangerous world they will be albe to side-step the non-sense.I work for the board of education in Chicago Illinois and my position varies everyday and our children get into physical altercation that don't result into an arrest, but because we allow our children to defend words this is the verdict we will continue to receive.

I just have to laugh when someone thinks that this was a "light beating" or that the suspects should have been charged with a misdemeanor. Take a look at this video and tell me if this was simply just a little squabble:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0idSpwjJPOo

And this kid was able to walk away from it in the end. What would the Jena 6 savages had to have done to knock Justin barker unconcious?

this was all bull shit turns out it was racist negroes that caused all the trouble.may be next time you can get your facts straight?

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Mary Mitchell published on August 29, 2007 8:44 PM.

Are Barack and Michelle Obama black enough?” was the previous entry in this blog.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's statement re Jena 6 is the next entry in this blog.

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