Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Racism Does Exist!

I want to tell you a story that may remind you of what happened way back in the 1950’s but it is actually happening right now. It seems that there is a high school down in Jena, Louisiana that has a nice big shade tree. Now even though Americans fought a long hard battle to rid ourselves of the Jim Crow laws (the laws that said blacks could not sit in the front of the bus, drink from the same water fountains as whites, use the same bathrooms as whites or eat in “white only” restaurants) it seems that Jena High School had a “whites only” shade tree.

In the courtyard of the high school in the center of the yard stands a very large shade tree. The only other shade in the yard is near one of the walls of the school. The white students claimed the tree for themselves. One day last year a black student, Robert Bailey decided to go stand under it. The next day when the black students went to school they found three nooses hanging from the tree. The white students who had hung the nooses were not disciplined and were allowed to continue to go to school.

A few days later the entire black student population decided at the spur of the moment during lunch hour to go stand under the tree. The police were called. The school had an assembly and the District Attorney, Reed Walters; flanked by armed police, addressed the students. A black substitute teacher, Michelle Rogers, one of the few black teachers at the school described what happened. Reed Walters looked at the black students and held up a pen and said, “I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen.”

Later, in October, a black student was beaten for entering an all white party. Then later that month a white student pulled a gun on a group of black students at a gas station. The black students wrestled the gun away from him and called the police. They were charged with assault and robbery of the gun. No charges were filed against any of the white students in either of these incidents. In November the school was set on fire. A few days later a white student was attacked in a school fight. He was treated at a hospital for a concussion and bruises and released. He attended a school function later that evening.

Six black students were then charged with Attempted Second Degree Murder and Conspiracy to Commit Murder. Their bonds were set at $75,000 to $100,000. The six range in age from 15 to 17 years of age. They are facing sentences from 20 to 100 years without the chance for parole.

The six are:

Theodore Shaw

Carwin Jones

Mychal Bell

Ryan Bailey

Bryant Purvis

Jesse Beard

The local paper wrote the incident up as fact and Reed Walters stated, “When you are convicted I will seek the maximum sentence allowed by law."

Mychal Bell has already been convicted by an all white jury and is facing a sentence of up to 22 years. He will be sentenced July 31st.

The Sheriff’s department, the Chief of Police and the school superintendent all claim that the nooses had nothing to do with Robert Bailey standing under the tree.

Barbara Murphy, the town librarian says, “We don’t have a race problem in Jena, its all about 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 …um…it just didn’t seem to be racist to me.”

The student’s parents have rallied to their defense and the NAACP has become involved.

Marcus Jones, father of Mychal Bell. His son was recently convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. He faces up to 22 years in prison.

Caseptla Bailey, mother of Robert Bailey Jr., one of the Jena 6. Her son is facing charges of attempted second degree murder and conspiracy.

Tina Jones, mother of Bryant Purvis, one of the Jena 6. Her son is facing charges of attempted second degree murder and conspiracy.

Catrina Wallace, Robert Bailey's stepsister and the secretary of the LaSalle Parish chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Jena 6 Defense Committee
PO BOX 2798
Jena, LA 71342
Jena High School
243 E High School Dr
Jena, LA
(318) 992-5195

La Salle District Attorney

1050 Courthouse Sq,

Jena, LA
(318) 992-8282

The Press is ignoring this story.

Scooter Libby will be drinking Martinis tonight.

You can watch this story on Democracy Now!

Also a piece on NPR on July 5.