Battling Modern Day Jim Crow:
the "Jena Six"
By James Rucker, Color of Change
You can help six youth in Louisiana who
have been targeted by racial discrimination that could put them
behind bars for decades.
Last Tuesday, more than 300 people from
across the country descended on the small town of Jena, Louisiana
to protest the racially tinged prosecution of the "Jena Six"
-- six black students who are facing attempted murder charges
for their alleged roles in a schoolyard fight. The has already
been convicted and faces up to 22 years in prison.
The marchers rallied at the Jena courthouse
and delivered more than 43,000 signatures collected by ColorOfChange.org
demanding that District Attorney Reed Walters drop the charges
against the six students.
The story of the Jena 6 reads like one
from the Jim Crow era-where powerful whites use brazenly oppressive
and discriminatory action to keep black people "in their
place"-but it's happening today.
The DA and other officials in Jena thought
that their actions would go unchallenged. Indeed, until last week
the story has received only a trickle of mainstream press, and
the most prominent stories have been marred by serious distortions
What town officials didn't count on was
the surge of online activism and reports from online and alternative
media outlets such as Left Turn, truthout, Democracy Now, and
BlackAmericaWeb, and creative pieces like this pilot episode of
Radar (an internet news broadcast from GNN.tv focused on underreported
stories and uncovered angles) that have shined a light on the
injustice taking place in Jena.
Ever since December, families of the Jena
6 have been fighting to overcome the Jim Crow "justice"
being applied to their sons. They have protested, organized, and
asked for outside help to show the town's white power structure
that they will not sit idly by as their loved ones are railroaded
into a life behind bars.
What we saw on Tuesday is that their efforts
are beginning to pay off. Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena 6
to be tried, was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy
to commit aggravated battery. Bell was originally scheduled to
be sentenced on July 31st, the day of the march, but the sentencing
was postponed until September 20th. Local organizers are convinced
that officials got nervous about holding the sentencing on a day
when much so attention would be focused on Jena.
This small victory didn't come because
the Governor or the Justice Department stepped in, and it wasn't
because of a hard-hitting expose by a major news organization
(all of which would be welcome developments). It was because a
relatively small number of concerned citizens- informed by reports
in alternative media and spurred to action by grassroots and online
organizing-stood behind the Jena 6, their families, and dozens
of other Jena residents who are courageously resisting injustice.
The delay in Mychal Bell's sentencing
hearing is a sign that the authorities in Jena are feeling the
pressure. But there's still much to be done. The outrage over
Jena has yet to reach the decibel level necessary to see justice
The lives of six young black men are at
stake and the DA has turned the police and courts into instruments
of intimidation and oppression.
We can help turn things around by making
it a political liability for the authorities of Jena to continue
the racist status quo, and by forcing the Governor of Louisiana
If you want to support the Jena 6, please
sign theColorOfChange.org petition calling on the local DA to
drop all charges and calling on Governor Kathleen Blanco to intervene.
You can also make a donation to support
the legal defense of the Jena 6. The official Jena 6 website,
which will be updated regularly with resources and information
about the case, is at FreetheJena6.org.