Protesters Unite in Louisiana for Teen Student Civil Rights

JENA, La. – Thousands of protesters have swarmed the town of Jena, just 200 miles northwest of New Orleans to rally for the “Jena Six,” the six black Jena high school students charged in the beating of a white classmate. They are disputing criminal charges for the teens, saying they are excessive and unjust, and that the bail charges were inappropriately high.

The parish has declared a state of emergency, and businesses have shut down.

The six black teenagers were originally charged with attempted murder, after reportedly kicking and stomping white classmate Justin Barker – eventually leaving him unconscious – on Dec. 4, 2006.

Barker was hospitalized with cuts, and injuries to his ears and both eyes, according to his mother.

As the rally at the courthouse started, roads were already gridlocked, and only five tour buses were allowed into town every 12 minutes, said one patrol officer.

Al Sharpton, one of the organizers of the march remarked that Jena 6 was the beginning of the 21st century civil rights movement. He said it was a march for justice, not against whites or the town of Jena.

Jena 6 advocates say the cause of the incident can be traced back to events last September, under a tree on campus. White students would assemble there, and at one point during that month, some black students wanted to sit there also. The next day, there were three nooses hanging in the branches. The white students involved were suspended from school, but no further action was taken.

Afterward, tension built, in town as well as at the school. In November, arsonists set the school on fire.

After the Dec. 4 beating, police arrested six black teens, and all were charged with attempted murder. The charge was later reduced to battery for all the teens except one.

Protesters say the students who hung the nooses should have been charged with a hate crime. Although they walked to the high school intending to see the tree where the nooses had hung, they weren’t able to because the trees had been cut down.

A U.S. attorney reviewed investigations into the noose incident and the beating. He believes the events, while probably symptoms of racial tension, were unrelated, pointing out that activities like football continued at the high school without incident in between the noose hanging and the fight.

The bails for the six ranged from $70,000 to $138,000, and all posted bond except Bell. He has been jailed since he was arrested in December. The judge would not lower his bail due to a previous record of four juvenile offenses.

Four of the Jena Six – Bryant Purvis, Carwin Jones, Theo Shaw and Robert Bailey Jr. – have had their charges reduced to conspiracy and aggravated second-degree battery.

Mychal Bell was the only student in the group to be put on trial. He was tried before an all-white jury, which civil rights leaders claim is discrimination. He was convicted of aggravated second-degree battery. However, a state appeals court threw out the conviction last week, stating that Bell should not have been tried as an adult.

Thursday, Bell was supposed to hear his sentencing for his alleged role in the high school beating after his convictions for second-degree aggravated battery and conspiracy to do the same, but both charges are now vacated and will await further action by the district attorney. He is still imprisoned and cannot make bail. Prosecutors are preparing an appeal.

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference promo