Background: Jena 6

Document Date: September 20, 2007

In the fall of 2006 in Jena, Louisiana, a small town that is 85% white, a series of events unfolded that have had critical consequences for those involved and which indicate an explosive racial justice situation in Louisiana. At Jena High School, students of different races rarely sat together, with black students typically sitting on bleachers and white students sitting under a large shade tree – referred to as the “white tree.” The day after a black student asked the principal for permission to sit under the so-called “white tree,” nooses were hung from the tree.

When the principal discovered that three white students were responsible, he recommended their expulsion. But the Board of Education and Superintendent overruled his recommendation and reduced the punishment to a three-day suspension. The Superintendent justified this by dismissing the noose hanging as simply an adolescent prank. Tension flared between black and white students and ultimately, six black high school students were charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder for their role in the altercations. Although some of the charges were later reduced to aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, one student still faces an attempted murder charge and up to 50 years in prison without suspension, probation or parole.

On Friday, September 14, 2007, a state appeals court in Lake Charles, Louisiana threw out the aggravated battery conviction of Mychal Bell, stating that he should not have been tried and convicted as an adult. Bell, the only member of the Jena Six to be tried so far, was facing a 15 year prison sentence.

At a September 17 event on New York’s City Hall, Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “The racism and injustice endured by the Jena 6 has all the hallmarks of the Jim Crow era: school officials complicit in racism; prosecutors treading lightly when it comes to whites while throwing the book at black youth; and an all white jury convicting a black teen now facing decades in jail.”

Today, thousands are demonstrating in Jena to demand justice and a thorough and unflinching inquiry into this and other race-based problems and misconduct in Louisiana’s justice system.

> Fact Sheet: Jena Six Cases
> Demand Justice for the Jena Six
> Treatment of Jena Six Raises Questions of Racial Injustice 9/14/2007
> School-to-Prison Pipeline
> Racial Justice: Education
> Stand Up! for Youth Rights

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