Maybe you haven’t heard about the controversy going on in Jena, Louisiana, but now the word is starting to spread across the country. This past week, WVON talk show hosts Roland Martin (also a CNN contributor) and Cliff Kelley, as well as Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson, have talked about the serious racial tensions in Jena, where a hangman’s noose was discovered in a tree on the Jena High School campus back on Sept. 1, 2006. The tree is known down there as the “white tree.”
According to these commentators and a few published reports, the school principal recommended that the white youths who were responsible be expelled. However, the superintendent overruled him and the three students were only suspended for three days.
Following is a chronology of events that have been reported thus far:
Sept. 1, 2006: A hangman’s noose was placed on the “white tree” after black students sat under it.
Nov. 30, 2006: A fire destroyed the main building at Jena High School. It is not known who started the fire although the black youths have allegedly been blamed.
Dec. 1, 2006: Robert Bailey and a friend went to a party at Jena Fair Barn. He was approached by a brother and sister who began hitting him and several patrons joined in beating him before Bailey’s friends came to help him.
Dec. 2, 2006: Robert Bailey and two friends allegedly spotted one of the white males who attacked them the night before while going to a convenience store. An altercation began and the white man got a sawed-off shotgun from his truck. Bailey reportedly wrestled it away. A fight started and everyone finally left running.
Dec. 4, 2006: A fight broke out on the school campus and six African-American students were arrested and charged with attempted second degree murder. The fight allegedly broke out after a week of intimidation and name-calling by white students. There is also an alleged incident of a white male with a gun on school property. Students reportedly wrestled the gun away and held him for police. He was fined and the students were charged.
June, 2007: Mychal Bell, one of the defendants, was found guilty and now faces up to 22 years in prison for aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery. Bell was scheduled to be sentenced on July 31. The other five defendants are to be tried later for attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder charges after the school fight. The five others are Robert Bailey, 17; Theo Shaw, 17; Carwin Jones, 18; Bryant Purvis, 17; and Jesse Beard, 15. (Source: Final Call)
I listened to Roland Martin, Cliff Kelley and the others explain how this incident began. Apparently students at Jena High School always sat separately outside. Whites sat under a shaded tree known as the ‘white tree’ and blacks sat on benches. In September, the black students reortedly asked permission from a school official to sit under the “white tree,” and they were told to sit wherever they wanted to. After sitting under the tree, the next day three hangman’s nooses were reportedly found hanging from the tree.
Although the principal wanted the three white students responsible expelled, the superintendent of LaSalle Parish, Roy Breithaupt, apparently overturned that decision and gave the white students a three-day suspension. Breithaupt told the media: “Adolescents play pranks. I don’t think it was a threat against anybody.”
On Dec. 4, 2006, a white student, Justin Barker, was allegedly beaten by black students because he had been identified as making racist remarks and taunting black students. After officials collected statements, the six black youths were taken from class, arrested and charged. Published reports state the all-white jury that convicted Bell was alleged to also be friends of the District Attorney as well as family members or friends of the victim.
Mychal Bell’s father was unable to raise the bail and feels his son’s case went to trial right away because his black attorney, Blaine Williams, was pressuring Mychal to plead guilty. But Bell refused.
Meanwhile residents of Jena have been organizing, protesting and meeting with the NAACP, Millions More Movement Ministry of Houston and various organizations seeking nationwide support. All six of the African-American young men spent several months in jail because of the high bails. It is reported all are star athletes who had great futures. Some families had to put up their homes to bail out their sons. One young man, Bryant Purvis, was not involved in the fight at all according to his mother.
Jena, La., in LaSalle Parish, has a population of approximately 2,971. It is 85 percent white and 12 percent black.
For more information on this case, you can write to P.O. Box 2798, Jena LA. 71342, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or for Mychal Bell’s case, call 318/316-1486.