Here's a good summary of the Jena 6 case by Newsweek:
A Town In Turmoil
As the new school year approaches, Jena, La., is struggling to move beyond the racial strife that ripped it apart and left the futures of six students in disarray.
By Gretel C. Kovach and Arian Campo-Flores
Aug. 20-27, 2007 issue - It began with a seemingly innocuous question. At an assembly during the first week of classes last fall at Jena High School in rural Louisiana, Kenneth Purvis, a junior, asked the vice principal if he could sit under the shady boughs of an oak tree in the campus courtyard. "You can sit anywhere you like," the vice principal replied. Soon thereafter, Purvis and several black friends ventured over to the tree to hang out with some white classmates. According to the school's unspoken racial codes, however, that area was reserved for white kids; Purvis is black. Some white students didn't look kindly on the encroachment: the next day, three nooses hung from the oak's branches.
That provocation, which conjured up the ugly history of lynch mobs and the Jim Crow South, unleashed a cycle of interracial strife that has roiled the tiny town of Jena. In the ensuing months, black and white students clashed violently, the school's academic wing was destroyed by arson and six black kids were charged with attempted murder for beating a white peer. (The "deadly weapon": tennis shoes they supposedly used to kick the white student knocked unconscious by the first punch.) One of those black students—Mychal Bell, the only one of the "Jena Six" to stand trial so far—was convicted by an all-white jury in June on lesser felony charges of aggravated second-degree battery and is awaiting sentencing. He could face 22 years in prison. In the wake of that judgment, a host of national figures—from the Rev. Al Sharpton to the Nation of Islam to the American Civil Liberties Union—have descended on the town to inveigh against racial injustice. Billy Fowler, a white school-board member, has pledged that when the new school year starts, "we're not going to see black and white anymore. It's going to be right or wrong." But, says the Rev. Raymond Brown of Christians United, which has been working with parents of the Jena Six, "Jena does not want to come up to the 21st century. They are living deep in the past."
Decades of suppressed racial hostility spilled forth at the appearance of those swaying nooses. Word spread quickly that day; before long, scores of black students congregated under the tree. "As black students, we didn't call it a protest," says Robert Bailey Jr., one of the Jena Six. "We just called it standing up for ourselves." School officials convened an assembly in early September, where local District Attorney Reed Walters appeared, flanked by police officers. "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy," he told students, warning them to settle down. "With a stroke of my pen, I can make your lives disappear." A visit to the school, along with the fact that the three white boys who admitted to hanging the nooses were only dealt a few days' suspension, further inflamed the African-American community. "It felt like they were saying, 'We can do what we want to those n-----s'," says Marcus Jones, Bell's father.
Things reached a boil later in the semester. During the Thanksgiving holiday, someone set fire to the school, reducing the main academic wing to rubble (no one has been arrested, and though a link between what was ruled an arson and the racial discord hasn't been proved, many suspect there is one). The following day, Bailey was punched and beaten with beer bottles when he tried to enter a mostly white party in town. The white kid who threw the first punch was later charged with simple battery and given probation. The next day, Bailey ran into a young white man who was at the party. Bailey and parents of the Jena Six say that when the man pulled a gun on him, he tangled with him and stripped it away. He was later charged with theft of a firearm.
08-25-2009 at 07:45 PM