View from the Bench–Jim Crow alive and well

For the past then years, Victor Lander has served as Presiding Judge of City of Dallas Municipal Court Number 7. Judge Lander is also a prominent member of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, TX, where he is part of their recently formed Coalition for Justice. Dr. Frederick Haynes III (Freddie to his friends) the pastor of this 9,000 member congregation, preached a spellbinding sermon at the Sojourners/Call to Renewal conference in early June.

I told Dr. Haynes, Judge Lander and other members of the Coalition for Justice about the Jena 6 story on an extraordinarily rainy night while I was en route to Jena. It is ironic that the Jena story was featured in the Dallas Morning News the very day the Judge Lander asks his readers why Dallas residents haven’t heard about Jena.

Alan Bean


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View from The Bench – Jim Crow is Alive and Well

By C. Victor Lander


“None of us are free until all of us are free.” That was one of the major concepts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and of the civil rights movement. With that admonition in mind, the following is a story that most of you have never heard, but one that all of us must never forget. It is the story of a town just on the other side of the border (no, not that one, the Louisiana border), a little township called Jena, Louisiana, just 100 miles southeast of Shreveport and 30 miles northeast of Alexandria. In this little township, there is a group of young black men who have found themselves with the unfortunate moniker of being now known as the “Jena 6”. Now you know as well as I do that whenever you are known by a number and the name of a city, there is a problem (remember the “Chicago 7”?) So who are these young men, and why are they the Jena 6 (and more important, why haven’t you heard about them before today?)


Back in September, 2006, a group of black students attending Jena High School decided that they wanted to be considered equal (what a concept!) and they asked to be allowed to sit under a tree in the schoolyard that was previously considered to be “whites only”. The administrator said that they were free to sit anywhere they wanted, so they did, and the next day three nooses were hanging from the tree – two in the school’s colors. The principal of the school wanted the students who put up the nooses to be expelled, but the school board decided that they should only receive a few days of in-school suspension (what we used to call “detention”, or more accurately “study hall”). Soon after, a black student who walked into a white dance hall was attacked by a mob of white students, and later still a white Jena High School graduate with a pump shotgun pulled it out and threatened a group of black students at a local convenience store. The reaction of the town’s law enforcement – one man in the mob beating was charged with simple assault. Then on December 4, 2006, a group of black students got into a fight with a white student. The white student was knocked down, kicked and stomped. The reaction of the local District Attorney – the six black students (including the victims of the dance hall beating) where charged with attempted second degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, which could get them each up to 80 years in prison.


One student, Mychal Bell, who was 16 at the time he was charged, decided to go to trial, and two weeks ago he was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. The District Attorney argued to the all white jury that young Mr. Bell’s tennis shoes were a weapon. Mr. Bell will be sentenced on July 31. The remaining students, an 18 year old, three 17 year olds, and an unidentified minor, have yet to be tried. This story has been in the Chicago Defender, in the San Antonio Express-News, and even on CNN, but WE IN DALLAS KNOW NOTHING ABOUT IT.


Jim Crow is alive and well, and living next door. If you’re white you can pull a shotgun on someone and walk free. If you’re black and in a school fight you face 80 years in prison. Something is wrong in Jena. If you want to help, the Jena 6 Defense Committee is at P. O. Box 2798, Jena, LA 71342, and the Friends of Justice is at 507 N. Donley Avenue, Tulia, TX 79088. Oh, and next week, look for the story of Brian Steen, a very similar case from right here in Dallas, Texas. “None of us are free …”


C. Victor Lander Judge Lander can be reached at