Democracy Now covers Jena

Great show on Democracy Now on Jena!

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Racial Terror 101: Do y’all remember what nooses are FOR?

I am baffled by all the comments that say things like, “race has nothing to do with this situation, it’s black kids beating on a white kid and they deserve to be punished, just like if white kids attacked a black kid.” As if Mychal Bell had gotten himself into just another schoolyard fight, and we were arguing about whether his punishment was right or not. Let me go on the record: fighting is bad. Don’t fight, children. But people are conveniently forgetting about the whole “hanging nooses” thing. Do y’all remember what nooses are FOR?

When you hang a noose, you say: “we white people are going to torture you black people to death if you don’t stay in your place.” This was a fight provoked by a hate crime. After the school refused to punish this hate crime and take a stand for racial equality, the grownups left the white and black kids to fight it on their own. Then only the black kids were punished for the fight that took place as a result, while the white kids were coddled as innocent victims.

So I’m worried that a lot of (white) people in this country are conveniently forgetting what nooses are FOR. Do y’all remember about what nooses are for? Refresher course: back in the bad old days in the United States, white people used to hang black people in trees and torture them to death. (And this happened all over America, not just in the South, just in case my Northern friends want to act like this history lesson doesn’t apply to them.) So when these white boys hung nooses in a tree at the high school, they were calling down a whole scary history of racial terrorism in America.

That’s why, when a student hangs a noose in your public school, you gotta draw a line in the stand. Because when you allow white students to tell your black students, “N*%%er, we are going to torture you to death unless you submit to us!”, you’re going to invite a whole lot of trouble into your school.

Sheesh. This is like some racist skinhead group wearing Nazi symbols to school, and then drawing a gas chamber on some Jewish kid’s locker, and then the school system acting like that’s no big deal. Would people write in to say “We think those Jewish kids deserve to be punished for fighting those skinheads! We demand justice for those poor skinheads, and the way they’re victimized by those Jewish bullies!” (I’m being sarcastic, but this is not so far from reality: I’ve heard that many older Germans still complained after the Holocaust that THEY were the true victims. Which proves that the human capacity for bad faith is amazing.) Wow, I can just imagine the complaints I’d get on our blog: “It’s just a gas chamber…sheesh! And if you do the crime, you do the time!” Let’s all keep a proper sense of horror about what racial hatred can do. Because when we forget what nooses are FOR, I have to moderate a bunch of silly comments that miss the point.

-Lydia Bean.

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Pre-empting high school violence: punish hate crimes


This story was cobbled together from stories written by Mary Foster of the Associated Press. It is a kind of “town divided” story, similar in many ways to the kind of cautious coverage the Tulia story received early on.

The most significant comment comes from the father of Justin Barker’s girlfriend. He notes (correctly, I assume) that there haven’t been any school fights at Jena High School since the Jena 6 were arrested. I have heard this argument from the editors of the Jena Times as well. I suspect the entire string of violence leading up to the assault at the high school could have been avoided if local authorities had simply lynched one of the young black men who initially protested the hanging of the nooses. That would have nipped things in the bud.

Alternatively, the district attorney and the school superintendent could have avoided this mess by responding to the “noose incident” like the hate crime it was. If the white students who hung the nooses (and their numerous supporters) had been informed that overt acts of racial terror were not acceptable at Jena High or anywhere else in LaSalle Parish, a new day of racial harmony might have ensued.

Unfortanately, the DA and the Superintendent weren’t at liberty to take that kind of stand because it would have put them at odds with too many prominent white residents. So Reed Walters was brought in to wave his pen at the student protesters and issue his now infamous threat: “With a stroke of my pen I can make your lives disappear.”

These public servants could have provided some principled leadership; instead they chose to respond with craven cowardice and backwoods bigotry. In the process, Reed Walters surrended the moral authority to prosecute the Jena 6.

Alan Bean

Friends of Justice


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Questions of racism arise in Louisiana

Black teens’ trials in beating of white classmate have small town on edge

07:29 AM CDT on Sunday, July 8, 2007

From Wire Reports Mary Foster, The Associated Press

JENA, La. – It’s not yet 8 a.m. but there’s a line of men waiting for a $10 haircut at Doughty’s Westside Barber Shop.

BILL HABER/The Associated Press


BILL HABER/The Associated Press

Marcus Jenkins (left) and Melissa Bell (right) discuss the trial of their son, Mychal Bell, with Felicia Howard. Mychal is one of six black teens accused of beating a white classmate.

The conversation usually runs to hunting and fishing.

Not lately.

At the end of June, the first trial took place for one of six black teenagers accused of attempted murder, aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy after a white classmate was attacked.

“I don’t think we’re racist here,” barber shop owner Billy Doughty, 70, said. “People work together, go to school together. We never talk about race.”

But Mr. Doughty does not cut black men’s hair.

“That’s the thing about working for yourself,” he said. “I don’t do shaves. I don’t do shampoos. I don’t cut black hair. I don’t think it’s racist. I just don’t do it.”

And that, many black people say, is the key to race relations here – you’ll get along as long as you don’t want much.

“This is a good town to live in for things like no crime, it being peaceful,” said Caseptla Bailey, whose son is facing attempted murder charges. “But it’s very racist, and they don’t even try to hide it. ”

Last fall, racial tension built at Jena High School.

Tempers rose after a black student sat under a tree on campus where white students traditionally met. The next morning, three nooses – symbols of lynching in the old South – were hung in the tree.

“That was just a prank,” Mr. Doughty said. “They had those nooses from a football rally. They had used them to hang the mascot from the other team. There wasn’t anything racist in that.”

School officials suspended for three days the students who hung the nooses.

Black residents saw the incident differently.

“When a black person sees a noose, he doesn’t laugh,” Ms. Bailey said. “They don’t stand for anything funny for us.”

The outcry

On Dec. 4, six black students allegedly jumped Justin Barker, 18, who is white, beating and kicking him.

A motive for the attack was never established, but two witnesses during Mychal Bell’s trial said they heard one of the attackers shout that Mr. Barker had been “running his mouth.”

Mr. Barker was treated at a hospital emergency room, and pictures shown during Mr. Bell’s trial showed him with cuts on a swollen face. He was released after three hours, he said, and that same evening went to a school function. But he said he took pain medicine for about a week and a half.

Mr. Bell, a star athlete, was tried on reduced charges of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. He was found guilty and could face as much as 22 years in prison. Sentencing is set for July 31.

Trials for Robert Bailey Jr., Bryant Purvis, Carwin Jones and Theodore Shaw, all 18, who still face attempted murder and conspiracy charges, and an unidentified juvenile have not been set.

There was immediate outcry by black residents when the attempted murder charges were filed. The group was charged for what was essentially another school fight in which the victim was not even hospitalized, Ms. Bailey and others said.

“I’ll tell you one thing, when the DA filed attempted murder charges against them, the fights at school stopped,” said Tommy Randall, whose daughter, Kari, is Mr. Barker’s girlfriend.

Such charges are a “vast overreach,” said David Utter, director of the Juvenile Justice Program of Louisiana. He felt the bond set for the youths – $138,000 for Mr. Bailey, later reduced, and $90,000 for the other defendants, was likewise out of line.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been in town since March monitoring the case. The group is also trying to obtain records from District Attorney Reed Walters to see if black and white suspects are charged differently in similar cases.

“We want to see what charges have been filed so we can look and see if there is a pattern of charging blacks differently from whites,” said Tory Pegram with ACLU of Louisiana.

The ACLU has also helped residents form an NAACP chapter.

Life in Jena

Jena has about 3,000 residents, and only about 350 are black. Many residents know each other by name, and outside the courthouse, black and white citizens exchanged friendly greetings, hugged each other and chatted.

It’s a great place to live in many ways, said John Jenkins, father of Carwin Jones.

“I work with white people, play baseball with them, coach their kids,” Mr. Jenkins said. “Before this happened, I can’t say I really had a problem. Not that we really hang out together. Whites and blacks don’t really socialize.”

Cleveland Riser, 74, a former assistant superintendent of schools, believes an underlying tension pervades Jena High School.

Of more than 100 teachers in the parish schools, only five are black, Mr. Riser said. That, and what he calls a sense that the school belongs to white residents, has left black students feeling alienated.

“People have not bought into their having to educate their kids at home, at school and in the community to respect each other,” he said. “White people here feel the way things have always been is the way they’ll always be.”

Mary Foster, The Associated Press

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

Three ‘Beans’ for the Stew


Leon Wynter is a journalist, writer and occasional NPR commentator. Friends of Justice ran into him at the recent Sojourners conference in Washington DC. You will probably want to click the link on this one because the “player” he refers to doesn’t transfer with the old cut-and-paste technique. Thanks so much, Leon, for the thumbs up.
Alan Bean
Friends of Justice
(806) 729-7889
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Three ‘Beans’ For The Stew
Perhaps the only lasting contribution from Rev. Al Sharpton’s largely
symbolic 2004 presidential run is this quip (my paraphrase):
It’s not about the Christian Right, it’s about lifting up right Christians.
With that injunction in mind, please meet The Beans, and their most vital mission and ministry, Friends of Justice
<> . It’s a little outfit that ought to restore pride to the term ‘Mom & Pop’ operation.
This seemingly unlikely trio-dad Alan, mom Nancy and daughter Lydia-has made it their business to get in the way of the most blatantly racist part of the criminal injustice system: cops and county courthouses in the small-town South. They tend to get involved and have an impact on the ground way before national media or recognized civil rights groups.