What Happened in Jena, Louisiana?

Jena, Louisiana, a small town of approximately 3,000 residents, heavily saturated in racial tension has recently become the center of national controversy regarding six young black youth accused of attempted second degree murder.

Last year, black students at Jena High School asked their principal if it would be alright to sit under a big shady tree where white students congregated on a regular basis. The principal ok’d the request – though it’s unfortunate these students felt the need to ask to sit anywhere they were fully within their right to. On September 1, 2006, upon a return trip to the big oak tree, the students discovered three hangman’s nooses neatly arranged as a sick reminder that the black students better think twice about where they sit.

The school administration thought that expelling the perpetrators of this heinous hate crime would be a fitting punishment. The La Salle Parish School Board thought differently. Those three white students we given in-school suspensions.

In late November 2006, an arson fire destroyed the main academic building at Jena High School. This prompted increased tension between the white and black student population – on an off campus.

Tensions climaxed and six black students beat up one of the offending white students.

Second degree murder charges were dropped against one of the defendants – Mychal Bell – and second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery were brought forth. Found guilty by jury (not of his peers, the jury was all white), Mychal could face over 20 years of jail. Mychal was denied bail due to several prior convictions and parole violations.

The question here is multi-faceted. One, does the punishment fit the crime? Are these charges appropriate given the offense? Secondly, why didn’t the white, noose-hanging students get tried for a hate crime? Why didn’t they get expelled? Three, why was Mychal Bell tried by an all white jury? Doesn’t the law stipulate that one is to be tried by a jury of their peers?

This is just one example of how multiple injustices can spiral out of control – enrage and engage so many people of many nationalities.

This controvesay is no doubt just scratching the surface of the volumous amounts of prejudices that exist today.

I do not condone the actions of the Jena 6. In the same respect, I do not condone the actions of the white students who hung the nooses. It seems like racial tension is a vicious cycle that is doomed to repeat itself time and time again – impervious to any amount of judicial influence, time and and education.

23 Comments so far

  1. larry (unregistered) on September 20th, 2007 @ 4:17 pm

    I grew up in that kind of environment in 1960-65. It seems amazing that the three hangmen weren’t tried under some city, state or federal charges. They should have at least been expelled from the school, and given some serious public service duties in the black community.
    Thanks for the clear news. a white teacher from california

  2. jen (unregistered) on September 20th, 2007 @ 4:59 pm

    in a perfect world anyone could be anyone’s peers and color wouldn’t matter – which is probably how the law is structured allowing the all white jury. just a guess. did the white students die? i’m confused about the murder charge.

  3. Charles (unregistered) on September 20th, 2007 @ 5:22 pm

    How is hanging rope from a tree a crime?

    The hanging of the rope suggests racism. Racism is bad. Attempted murder is very bad. I don’t see the injustice here.

    Those who commit crimes should be brought to justice. If anyone thinks the 6 black students that beat the white student are getting screwed then I invite those of that mindset to get beat unconscious and re-evaluate their thought on the matter.

    The blog does not specify who may have burned the academic building. The blog does specify that at least one of the 6 black students has a rap sheet of prior convictions and parole violations. Apparently that particular individual lacks the will to abide by the law and the “racial victumization of black people” is a conveinent vehicle to manifest their own discourse and plunders. Remember it was the white student who got beat up here.

  4. Appaled (unregistered) on September 20th, 2007 @ 6:16 pm

    This is in reply to “charles”

    You keep talking of justice and aobviiuly have little or no perception of it. Is charging a person with attempted murder when no-one actually died your idea of “justice”? Hopefully theres a God and you dont work in law enforcement or any kind of legal field because attitudes like yours are exactly whats wrong with this country… though judging from your response youre not likely to have passed law school, no pun intended.
    Do you even know the whole story? Nobody is condoning the behaviour of those kids, nobody said they should go free without punishment… but the punishment should fit the crime. What is wrong with hanging a rope on a tree? Why dont you hang one on tree outside your home, if you have one and im sure you’ll quicky learn the answer to that question. By the way before you accuse me of anything… i am not african american.

    Amazing… just amazing.

  5. lewis (unregistered) on September 20th, 2007 @ 7:04 pm


  6. blah (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 1:05 am

    Second degree murder charges were dropped against one of the defendants – Mychal Bell – and second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery were brought forth. Found guilty by jury (not of his peers, the jury was all white), Mychal could face over 20 years of jail. Mychal was denied bail due to several prior convictions and parole violations.
    Are you kidding me????? Not tried by a jury of his peers? Are you telling me that if a White man were tried by an all black jury, or even a jury with black people on it, it would not be a jury of his peers? Who sponsors this rascist crap you are spewing? Tell me so I can stop patronizing them. Wow the people on here are stupid man. I love the post that asks how it is attempted murder if noone died?
    Only in Philly, were at least one black guy kills another black guy every day. Welcome to the city of Brotha’s Wit Guns not Brotherly Love.

  7. Meghan (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 6:16 am

    Blah, thank you for sharing your “fresh” perspective and insight.

  8. Mark (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 9:13 am

    I’m a little confused, where any of the black kids ever beat up by a white kid. I understand it as the whit kid who got beat up, was beat up because he made fun of a black kid being beaten up by some unknown white dude. That may be confusing, but I ask it because if this is true I’d like to know what happened to the guy who beat up the black kid.

    As far as injustice in the charges, well they’ve been reduced to battery which I believe we can all agree these kids committed if what the state says is true.

    Further, I also grew up in South Carolina where there are lynching laws, and it doesn’t matter what color you are, if a group of three or more (don’t quote me on that I think that’s the number but I could be wrong) attack another individual that’s not battery, that’s lynching which is a far graver offense.

    In terms of hanging a noose from a tree, well what law does that break? I don’t mean that as saying its okay to do, obviously it isn’t, but I’m asking in terms of what punishment should these kids have received, I honestly don’t know what law that breaks I am after all not a lawyer.

  9. Dennis (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 10:29 am

    I followed the story and it seems like the truth is not being told wholy. I am black myself and I must say having black people rally behind these six students who obviously caused bodily harm to a white kid is absurd.
    Can you imagine if those were six white kids, beating a black kid? It seems like either way, the race card will always be played. Now, I ask my fellow black folk, should the black kids face the same charge for beating senseless a white kid as the three white kids who hang the nooses?
    I saw on TV some white people in the match in Jena, these were simply human beings like us who are concerned about racism, whether against white people or black people. Lets be balanced in the way we look at things.

  10. Tru007Sunshyne (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 11:23 am

    It seems like both parties involved have serious issues with racism; its sad that in this day and age we have to still have such blatent disrespect of each others cultures. If you read this article you should try Wilkipedia; it states that the black student who asked to sit under the “white” tree asked the principle in a jocular manner-not serious at all about it. When I went to school each group sat with each other and no others were invited…it seems the same. The 6 shouldnt be tried in this parish–second degree murder is too harsh a conviction but the student has 5 other assault charges agianst him and does deserve punishment for beating someone up—also in response to Meghan the kid who got beat up was beat up because he was making fun of one of the black guys getting beating up—the white guy who beat up the black guy was convicted of battery charges and the white kid who was beaten up was well enough to attend a light pole function that same evening….though he says he was in pain (which is why it shouldn’t be a 2nd degree murder charge) if they tried to kill him he would have been in a coma or hospitalized but he was treated and released. I grew up in a racist area and it is still very much alive…I personally have love for everyone but my stepfather was racist(who I wont talk to anymore-his hatred runs deep and it wont ever change) the people I went to school with used to hit me with locks, purposely drop their books on me when I was getting my stuff from out of my locker that was under and I was called a racist for not “hooking” up with the black boys who wanted me when I was 14 years old(And I wasnt sexually active AT ALL)…I was beaten up…and then I seen my stepfathers side of racism when he wouldnt even accept anybody of any other race in his house, or would be degradatory towards others because they werent like him….it’s hatred and its on BOTH sides not one….things need to change….but everyone has to stand up and realize its a vicious circle that isnt going to end unless someone stops that circle.

  11. Meghan (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 11:32 am

    Tru007Sunshyne, you bring up a lot of really good points. I did search wikipedia, thank you for bringing to light a few items that I had not. This is such a complex and overwhelming topic. I really enjoy reading the diverse feedback that has been generated by this post!

  12. melinda (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

    I do believe the Jena 6 deserve some punishment for the fight. We all need to learn to take responsibility and history has taught us that fighting does no fix racial tension. However, 22 years in prison is too much. The do not deserve to be treated this way. Those white students should get repranded too. To me the hanging of three nooses and the fight bare the same weight. Both were racial, violent, inapporpriate, immature and sent a strong messae as to how people view others.

  13. melinda (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

    Also, I believe in fairness. some form ofPunishment is deserved because if this was six white guys who beat up a black guy. The we (the black community) would agree to 20 years in prison. We would be trying to give the whites the maximum punishment. It would be okay then. So both sides black and white need to take responsibiliyt

  14. Cadree (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 4:04 pm

    I Think That They Do Deserve punishment for there wrong but the amount of years they are faced is unnessary.Those whites kids need 2 be charge wit hate crime as well. Really The Jena 6 need 2 be freed and given probation

  15. oldlady (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

    Those in Jena ought to think twice about who they elect for office. They must follow the laws of the state. It will all work out according to laws. I grew up in the 50’s, I’ve seen it all. We need to work harder to better ourselves and our education and stop looking for someone to blame. Blame ourselves and live in the day.

  16. Chris (unregistered) on September 23rd, 2007 @ 10:06 am

    To Melinda:
    “Those white students should get repranded too.”

    I think that might be what some people here are not seeing, they were reprimanded, maybe not to the extent that people feel is appropriate, I agree with the principal that they should have been expelled, but they were reprimanded.

    “To me the hanging of three nooses and the fight bare the same weight. Both were racial, violent, inapporpriate, immature and sent a strong messae as to how people view others.”

    This is something else I think a lot of the protesters are getting wrong here. How is beating someone unconscious equivalent to hanging a noose?

    “Found guilty by jury (not of his peers, the jury was all white), Mychal could face over 20 years of jail.”

    Meghan, if I am tried by a jury of all black folk (being as I am white) would I not be tried by a jury of my peers? Are you saying that racial segregation is OK when it comes to criminal court proceedings? Your statement walks a very fine line of condoning racism as long as it meets your criteria for justification. I’m pretty sure that’s not what you meant but unfortunately your statement brings to light what is wrong and why racism still exists.

  17. DAVID (unregistered) on September 23rd, 2007 @ 10:57 am

    Why are so many white people in southern American states so racist, bigotted, dumb and poor? Those black students should be freed and the whiite community should APOLOGIZE.

  18. ANYONE EDUCATED? (unregistered) on September 23rd, 2007 @ 7:02 pm

    I think its kind of useless to argue about the race of the jury members- the way that the legal system works- is that both the defense and the prosecution choose the jury members and if they didn’t think that these people were a jury of his ‘peers’ they would not have been selected. Secondly- theres the fact that the town itself is 85 percent white and 12 percent african american (according to wiki), nobody has thought about hard would it be to find a group of unbiased jurors.

  19. Interested reader (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

    This is for Jen:
    I usually agree with the opinions you post on this blog, but this time, I fear, you’ve misspoken. This is not simply about nooses dangling from trees. As with most racial issues, it is far more complex, though some don’t want to admit to the ongoing complexity of these issues in America. Read this article for the full background..The inequitable application of the law cannot be disputed: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-elf2u1mmay20,1,3301167.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

  20. Erica M (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 2:08 pm

    This is not simply about nooses dangling from trees. As with most racial issues, it is far more complex, though some don’t want to admit to the ongoing complexity of these issues in America.

    Yes yes yes. I think white people really do not get the significance of what a noose means to the black community. To respond to that with “what law was broken?” is incredibly ignorant. It’s a provocation and a malicious message that cannot be ignored. There are a whole series of events between the display of the nooses and the beating of the white student. That last one did not occur in a vacuum.

    The inequitable application of the law cannot be disputed

    This is the whole crux of the matter.

  21. 5 (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 8:05 am

    Not only is there almost no coverage by the corporate media of black violent crimes against white people, but in high profile cases they proffer the black criminals as ‘real victims’.

    To illustrate the racial bias of the media, imagine if the facts were reversed – if a gang of six white kids led by someone with four previous convictions for violent-crime had attacked a lone black student, kicking and stomping him into unconsciousness. As far as the corporate media are concerned, they would be interviewing the black victim on every TV talk show across the land, discussing his fear, his pain, his suffering. They would be interviewing his crying relatives and friends. They would not be voicing any fear that the white attackers would be treated too harshly, or even that they would be treated at all.

    No one knows who hung up those noose, onl that ‘white racists’ lost out the most from it.

  22. Laquan (unregistered) on September 27th, 2007 @ 7:40 pm

    WOW…..talk about time…it surely has changed…or has it?….
    What one has to realize is that these events has uprooted the pain and suffering that many of our ancestors endured during the times of slavery and segregation. The time when African Americans were fighting with their lives to prove that they were in fact citizens of the United States of America and should be treated as such.
    I agree that all of this could have possibly been avoided if the issue was addressed as soon as the event of the nooses occurred. But the issue was passed along as a prank and kicked under the rug as if to forget about it. But what they failed to realize was that that sparked fear into those young boys lives and with dealing with their mindset put them in a position to defend themselves at any cost because their lives was at jeopardy.
    Racism still exists and has evolved in so many levels but many people are blind to it and try to act as though it doesn’t exist. It exists in the corporate office where a black man can only attain a certain level on the corporate ladder. It even exists in politics, for if it didn’t there would be no question as to whether or not a “black” man can run this country as President but just whether or not he is adequate enough. That’s just part of my take on it.

  23. Betty (unregistered) on September 28th, 2007 @ 5:43 pm

    Come on. Get probarion for beating someone up. I don’t know how bad it was but the one boy has a rap sheet longer than my arm, has broken probation, and you want to give him another chance. What so he can beat someone to death next time. I believe in equal punishment, but the boys who hung the noose up did not physically hurt anyone. They need to be punished for what they did, but let the punishment fit the crime. The white boys should have been expelled for several days and the black boy should be given a punishment that the court seems fit for beating someone up. But the kid that has broken probation should not be given his (what 6th, 7th, or 8th chance) no way. He needs to be taught that beating on someone is not socially acceptable

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