I am writing this update from the House of Java in Alexandria, LA. Yesterday I spoke at the rally covered below. The sympathetic tone of this article says a lot. While in Jena I picked up many indications that several members of Jena’s white establishment are on the verge of jumping ship. The overreach by District Attorney Reed Walters is simply too bizarre to sustain strong support. There are also strong signs that public trials would open the door to a roomful of embarrassing revelations. My prayer is that DA Walters (not “Walter Reed” as the article below has it) will simply drop all charges and wipe this slate clean.
At yesterday’s rally King Downing of the national ACLU announced that he has sent an open letter to the DA asking for a mountain of information concerning the kind of treatment white and black students have received from the disciplinary system within the schools and the criminal justice system. Message: our concern with LaSalle Parish justice doesn’t end with Jena 6. When the megaphone was handed to me I recalled my reaction to seeing old postcards produced to commemorate public lynchings in the postbellum South. Preachers would be pictured in their Sunday finest, eating potato salad and fried chicken while singing Amazing Grace and other gospel standards. Inevitably, off to one side of the picture, you would see the lifeless corpse of a young black man hanging from a tree. Clergy support for acts of state sponsored terrorism has grown more subtle over the years, I said, but the clergy continue to serve as enthusiastic cheerleaders for the status quo, no matter how biased and bizarre it might be. Then I traced God’s protective love of the poor and the oppressed through the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The fate of the Jena 6, I said, has created a crisis of conscience for the religious community–both white and black. Not the sort of thing that ever gets quoted in the newspaper, of course.
Stay tuned folks–this story will soon be receiving that national coverage it richly deserves. An important hearing is scheduled for May 8th and three defendants are headed for trial on May 21st unless DA thinks the better of his bizarre decision to transform a school fight into a capital crime. If you would like to know more about this story, contact me at 806-729-7889 (cell) or at firstname.lastname@example.org. I should have more to report next week.
See the full report of Friends of Justice here: Jena 6 summary
Friends of Justice
Reporting from Alexandria, LA
‘Free the Jena Six’
Groups to rally until charges dropped or reduced
|JENA — Theodore McCoy stood with the group in front of the courthouse steps, one arm raised in the air, the other holding a large sign.”Free the Jena Six,” he shouted over and over again with the gathered crowd at LaSalle Parish’s courthouse Wednesday afternoon.|
That phrase isn’t just a rally cry for McCoy though; those words have become his mission in life for the last six months since his son’s imprisonment, for what he says are bogus charges. McCoy’s son, Theodore Shaw, is one of the six Jena High School students — who have become known as the Jena Six — facing charges of attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder after a Dec. 4 fight at the school.Shaw and all-star athlete Mychal Bell each are being held in lieu of $90,000 bond. Shaw, Bell and Robert Bailey Jr. are scheduled for a jury trial on May 21. Trial dates haven’t been set for Carwin Jones and Bryant Purvis. If found guilty, the boys could face 25 to 100 years in prison.
The sixth boy’s case is being handled by juvenile court and records weren’t available.
“The last couple visits he hasn’t been doing too good,” McCoy said of his son. “I’m just hoping that this rally helps. The charges need to be dropped or at least reduced to simple battery. There were no broken bones, that boy didn’t stay in the hospital, this was no attempted murder.”
McCoy wasn’t alone in his cry of injustice. He was joined by about 50 others from the area with state and national civil rights groups pledging to not let the issue die.
“No justice, no peace,” the crowd shouted.
King Downing, national coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign Against Racial Profiling, came from New York to speak at the rally. He said this is one of many visits he’s already made to Jena and it won’t be his last.
“This is a long, long battle,” the attorney said. “It didn’t start with the Jena Six, and it won’t end with the Jena Six … And after there is justice for the Jena Six, it still won’t be over.”
Downing said the ACLU is here to do something about what they are calling an unjust situation.
The Rev. Raymond Brown, New Orleans Chapter Chairman of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, said his group would continue to persevere until the charges by LaSalle Parish District Attorney Walter Reed are either dropped from the felonies or downgraded to misdemeanors.
Reed was not available for comment Wednesday.
“We will continue to fight until we win this battle,” Brown said during the rally. “Unless we see equality as a measurement, there will be no peace or justice. We are going to march in mass protest in Jena …”
Purvis, the only member of the Jena Six at the rally, was joined by his mother, Tina Jones. Purvis stood away from those in the rallying crowd as his mother proudly sang along to “We Shall Overcome.”
Purvis has been attending Excelsior Christian School in Monroe since his expulsion from Jena High School. He described his three days and two nights in jail as “rough,” especially since he did nothing, he said. He wasn’t even there, Purvis asserted.
“I want to see all of our records cleared,” Purvis said. “I know it’s hurting (Bell and Shaw) being in there. They had a big future ahead of them that could be messed up. I don’t really know why all this happened. Maybe they were just trying to make an example out of us.”
Jones said the reason the fight has been turned over to the court system instead of being handled in the school is because the boys arrested were black and the boy beaten white.
“It’s a black-white thing,” she said. “Everybody is outraged about this. We can’t understand how a school fight turned into this — attempted murder, these boys are not murderers.”
Bell’s father, Marcus Jones, said this whole experience has been overwhelming.
“I’ve been a real nervous wreck,” he said. “It is just so upsetting, my son being incarcerated at such a young age. And his opportunities, we just hope this doesn’t mess up his chances with (college sports) recruiters.”
The community, Marcus Jones said, was full of racial tension well before the fight. But recent events at the school leading up to that day, especially the hanging of nooses on a tree in the school’s yard, contributed to the fight, he said. The three boys responsible for hanging the nooses earlier in the school year were suspended from school for three days and no criminal charges were pressed, he said.
“A federal crime, a hate crime was overlooked,” Jones said, incredulously. “And my boy is charged with attempted murder after a school fight. It is racism. There is no other explanation. We have evidence to show that school fights in the past have been handled by the school, not the DAs office.”
John Jenkins and Caseptla Bailey, parents of two other members of the Jena Six, said they offer their prayers to the family of the victim in the fight. But both stressed that their sons — Carwin Jones and Robert Bailey Jr., both 17 –have also become victims.
Jenkins talked to the victim’s mom and he said they both apologized to one another for the situation they each are in.
“This whole thing is going to take a lot of prayer,” he said. “We as a community are going to have to work very hard to get over this and through this. But I know there is a way out.”
After the nearly two-hour rally, Bailey said she thought the event was successful.
“We as parents, we love our children and will stand up for them to support them until the end of this battle,” she said. “But there are others here with us. And we will stay strong, motivated and always keep things in a positive direction.”
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