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Update on Jena 6

Reading through the comments and questions on our site, I thought I should post a quick update. The usual suspects in the civil rights establishment have been contacted and there is considerable interest in this case. I am not at liberty to name names because the legal fight is complex and the central players prefer to remain anonymous for the time being. But please rest assured that some very influential and talented people are working on the legal strategy. All of the defendants now have qualified legal counsel and we are hoping to provide some top flight legal backup. Also, the national media (with CBS News taking the lead) has discovered the Jena story and you should see some major coverage by the end of July if not sooner. Media attention is crucial to the strategy Friends of Justice adopted in the wake of the infamous Tulia drug sting (see our homepage for more). The criminal justice system is thoroughly transformed when the world is paying attention. Finally, plans are in the works for a major event in support of the Jena 6. We will let you know more as the details solidify. Thank you all for your interest and support.

Alan Bean

Democracy Now covers Jena

Great show on Democracy Now on Jena!

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Many of you have read my reflection on the Mychal Bell trial, which I posted on the blog. Several people told me that the Jessica Hooter who testified during the trial was the daughter of the Ms. Hooter who was on the jury. A journalist following up on my report has discovered that this is probably not the case. Since I wasn’t in Jena for jury selection, and don’t know any of the Hooters personally, I should have phrased this information more cautiously, as in, “it is reported that . . .” I am still not sure the information I passed along is wrong, but I suspect it is and want to issue a retraction as quickly as possible. My apologies to the Hooter family and to anyone who read my report. This is yet another indication of how easily unsubstantiated rumors develop in the midst of controversy. It’s part of my job to distinguish fact from fiction and certainty from conjecture, and it appears that, in this case at least, I dropped the ball.

Alan Bean

BlackAmerica Web covers Jena


This story represents a major step forward. BlackAmericaWeb gets a million hits a day, so this gives our cause terrific exposure. Moreover, a number of critical issues emerge in this article that have not received adequate attention in the mainstream media. The media has the attention span of a two year-old, so we need to keep reaching out to bloggers, independent journalists and conventional print and television people. Keeping a story alive is a lot like stoking an old-time steam locomotive–you can never stop shovelling coal.

My comments were made via cellphone between Jena and Shreveport, and I had no idea I would be quoted directly. So, while my remarks are a bit rambling and imprecise, they are also spontaneous. I touch on some rather sensitive issues that I might have avoided had I realized that my words would end up in print–but that’s probably just as well. The advocacy community is simply not organized to respond effectively to cases like this and that needs to change–immediately!

Alan Bean
Friends of Justice

3415 Ainsworth Court Arlington, TX 76016
mobile: 806-729-7889 
office: 817-457-0025


Supporters of Teens Convicted, Accused of Beating White Student Seeking Outside Assistance
Date: Monday, July 02, 2007
By: Sherrel Wheeler Stewart,

Family members and supporters of Mychal Bell, the first of the six black teenagers accused and convicted of beating a white student last December, are calling for outside help with legal representation.

“His court-appointed defense lawyer didn’t present a defense. He rested the case without challenging the prosecution’s story,” Alan Bean of the Texas-based Friends of Justice told “He never said the young man was innocent. He only told the jury, ‘You should find him not guilty.’”

“It’s as if the lawyer who was appointed was appointed so he could just roll over. He is a black lawyer, but in this case, it didn’t make a difference,” Bean said. “We’ve contacted the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP, but unfortunately those organizations will not get involved until after a conviction.”

Bell and five other black teens are accused of beating Justin Barker, a white student, on Dec. 4, 2006. All students attended Jena High School in a Louisiana town of about 2,900, where only 15 percent of the residents are black.

They accused teens have been dubbed the Jena Six.
For months leading to up to the fight, there was a series of incidences in and around the Jena High School, including the hanging of three nooses in a tree after blacks asserted their rights to sit under it, an area which had been a gathering place for white students.

The students who hung the nooses were suspended from school for a few days, according to published reports.
“When white kids do something, they get a few days out of school. When our kids do something, it’s attempted murder,” said John Jenkins, whose son Carwin Jones, is one of the six accused.

Efforts to reach the LaSalle Parish District Attorney and the school superintendent were unsuccessful.
The 17-year-old Bell is now awaiting a July 31 sentencing on a conviction for aggravated second-degree battery and a conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery. The conviction could carries a sentence of up to 20 years for Bell, who was a standout halfback on the high school’s football team and, as a junior in high school, had already captured the attention of college recruiters.

Bell was convicted by an all-white jury, and no black witnesses were called to testify, Bean said. One of the students, Theo Shaw, has remained in jail since December while his family tries to raise money for bond. The other students — Robert Bailey, Carwin Jones, Bryant Ray Purvis and another student who is unnamed because he still is a minor — await their fate.

Family, friends and supporters say the events leading to Bell’s arrest and conviction began unfolding last August.
On Aug. 31, some black students asked the vice principal at Jena High School if they could sit under a tree on the traditional white side of the square. The vice principal said they could sit wherever they chose, and they did.

The next day, three nooses — including two in the school’s colors one black, one gold — were found hanging from the tree.

On Sept. 6, black students staged a protest under the tree. The next day, police officers patrolled the halls at the school, and on Sept. 8, the school was placed on lockdown.

The school principal recommended expulsion of the three white youths who hung the nooses, but a school committee decided it was a silly prank and gave the boys a few days suspension.

Black parents went to the school board to complain, but the school board said the issue had been resolved.
On Nov. 30, the school’s main academic wing was destroyed by fire, and authorities suspect it was deliberately set.
In the days to follow, a black student was beaten by a white adult and white students when he attended a party with mostly whites, according to accounts. Also around that time, a white graduate of Jena High School pulled a pump-action shotgun on three black high school students as they left a local convenience store.

Several black students reported being taunted at school after those incidents.
On Dec. 4 after lunch, a white student and a black student got into a fight, and the white student, Justin Barker, was reportedly beaten by several black students as he lay on the floor.

There were just too many things that were not handled correctly with the trial, Bean said.
One of the white teens who testified against Bell was one of the youths suspended for hanging the noose, and a girl who testified was the daughter of one of the jurors, Bean said. There was a coach who had a statement that wasn’t introduced as evidence maintaining that Bell did not throw the first punch. And there were others, Bean said, who could have testified to the taunting.

“These are not thugs looking to hurt people,” he told “We have got to get some help. You know what happens once these kids get into the system.”

National attention on the case grew over the weekend as word of Bell’s conviction spread.
In a news story aired Sunday on CNN, Bell’s parents and relatives of the other accused teens talked of racial tensions that have long divided their town. The parents of Justin Barker, the boy who was beaten, said they considered the beating of their son attempted murder. They said Justin’s medical bills were about $12,000.

However, in an interiew with, one of the parents questioned the seriousness of the injuries.
“We had been told he was in a coma, but about 6 p.m. that night, he was there at the ring ceremony where juniors get their class ring. When they called his name, he walked across the stage,” Jenkins said.

“This was a school yard fight. He was released from the hospital the same day,” he said.
Jenkins said his son received his high school diploma this spring, but was not allowed to march with his class. He’s working now on an oil rig while he awaits trial.

Jones said a private attorney will defend his son in court.

“We’re not going let a public defender do this,” he said.
Last week, Jenkins made several visits to the courtroom. “During these times, we have to try to support each other,” he said.

But Mychal Bell’s parents were not allowed in the court room during the trial.
“At the beginning of the trial, they placed a gag order on all the witnesses. We couldn’t be in the courtroom while the trial was going on, and we couldn’t talk to the press,” Mychal Bell’s father, Marcus Jones, told

“His mother and I were never called as witnesses. The white kids parents were in there. We tried to tell them we needed to be in there to support our our son. We could only go in there between breaks,” Jones said.

Jones also took issue with the representation his son received in the trial. “Right now, we are just trying to raise some money so we can pay for a lawyer so we can appeal before he gets sentenced on July 31.”

Bell’s convictions comes after months of racial tension, observers say.
“The tension has been between the ‘redneck faction’ and the black male athletes,” said Bean, a white Baptist preacher who is devoting his ministry to helping poor people who are underepresented in legal issues.

“In Louisiana,” he said, “if you’re poor and black in a small town and screwed by the system, you are out of luck.”

Deadly tennis shoes and legal fatalism


I am writing from the LaSalle Parish library, across the street from the courthouse in Jena, Louisiana. I have fifteen minutes to describe the trial of Mykal Bell, so I will have to give you a quick snapshot. My apologies in advance for typos and general inelegance. Sixteen witnesses were called, most of them white school students. A few testified that they had seen Mykal Bell punch Justin Barker in the face. Others attributed the malicious act to an unidentified guy in a green jacket and hooded sweatshirt who definitely was not Mykal Bell. According to the “green jacket” witnesses, Justin Barker’s wasn’t punched at all–his head was smashed into a concrete barrier after which he fell lifeless to the ground. Many witnesses testified that they heard somebody hit Justin Barker, but they didn’t see the deed. Virtually all these witnesses testified that they did not see Mykal Bell kick or stomp the victim–in fact, most didn’t remember seeing the defendant at the scene at all. Two high school teachers also testified–neither saw Mykal punch, stomp or kick the victim.

On the basis of this tangled mess you would easily assume that an acquittal is all but certain. You would be wrong. In fact, District Attorney, Reed Walters, seems determined to press ahead with the charge of “assault with a dangerous weapon” even though not a single witness testified that Mykal possessed a weapon and a bare fist doesn’t fit the legal description. Walter’s theory appears to be that Mr. Bell’s tennis shoes constitute a dangerous weapon. Incredibly, in the state of Louisiana, he has legal precedent on his side. Unfortunately for Walters, only one witnesses testified that Mykal kicked the victim at all. The consensus was that Mykal wasn’t one of the kickers or the stompers.

Now, to a legal layperson like myself, the suggestion that ordinary tennis shoes constitute a dangerous weapon sounds like something out of a Monty Python sketch. You might even think I’m making all of this up. I assure you, I am not.

In fact, Mykal’s court appointed defense attorney appears convinced that nothing he can say or do can save his client from a conviction–at least on the “lesser included” charge of simple battery. Asked if he was ready to begin his defense (after the prosecution had rested), Blaine Williams told the judge that he wouldn’t be mounting a defense. This is madness. All white juries always convict black defendants (in my limited experience) unless the state’s case is meticulously demolished in every detail. You don’t win on points if you are a defense attorney and your client is as poor as Mykal Bell. The mere fact that the state failed utterly to prove a single element of its case will not save Mr. Bell.

Court appointed attorneys easily convince themselves that, because juries are inclined to convict defendants no matter how sketchy the evidence, the best course of action is always to negotiate a quick plea bargain. If the client forces them to trial (as in the case at hand) fatalistic defense attorneys like Blaine Williams simply go through the motions and pray for a light sentence. I know beyond a doubt that I could get up tomorrow and destroy the state’s case in its entirety–in fact, several lay people in the court room this afternoon could win an acquittal for Mykal Bell. But if the defendant is acquitted by the jury tomorrow it will be one of those anomalous cases in which juries depart from their usual pattern–Mr. Williams will certainly have nothing to do with it.

Mykal told several of us during a break in the action that his attorney didn’t consult him before he decided to take a dive in this case. Don’t get me wrong; there are thousands of selfless defense attorneys out there who will go to the wall for their clients even if it means losing money on a case. But there are far too many defense attorneys representing indigent defendants who justify their ineffectual behavior on the theory that nothing they could possibly do could benefit a poor, black client. Today I encountered the worst case of legal fatalism I have ever witnessed . . . and believe me, that’s saying something!

And Jena is only the beginning. We need to organize across Texas and Louisiana to shine a light on our system–consider making a donation to Friends of Justice today and help us fight the good fight!

Alan Bean

Executive Director, Friends of Justice


3415 Ainsworth Court Arlington, TX 76016
mobile: 806-729-7889 
office: 817-457-0025

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AP story on Jena

This AP story on Jena has been picked up coast to coast, including leading Texas papers like the Houston Chronicle.

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June 26, 2007, 7:01PM
Charges reduced for student in La. fight

Five women and a man are set to hear opening arguments Wednesday in the trial of 17-year-old Mychale Bell in LaSalle Parish, where the black population is only about 12 percent.

“I’m sure I can get a fair trial,” said Blane Williams, Bell’s defense lawyer. “You can’t tell me there aren’t six people in this town who won’t listen fairly and do the right thing. I think people have a tendency to do the right thing.”

Bell and four other black students faced up to 80 years if convicted of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the December beating, which occurred several months after three white students were suspended for hanging nooses from a schoolyard tree.

But the district attorney Monday reduced Bell’s charges to aggravated second-degree battery, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years, and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery, which carries a maximum sentence of 7 1/2 years.

“Well, anything is better than murder and a lifetime in prison,” said John Jenkins, whose son, Carwin Jones, is among the charged. “But it’s still strange. All of a sudden they’re talking about a weapon. What weapon? We never heard anything about a weapon before.”

Aggravated second-degree battery involves use of a dangerous weapon, according to state statutes. Parents of the accused say they had heard no previous mention of a weapon.

But attorneys on both sides, during questioning of jurors, indicated prosecutors will try to say that something not usually thought of as a weapon — such as a ring or an ink pen — could be considered a dangerous weapon during a fight.

There was no word whether the charges would be reduced for the other defendants, who will be tried later. Prosecutors refused to discuss the case.

The five defendants and a juvenile, whose identity and charges were not released because of his age, were dubbed the “Jena Six” by supporters who say the attempted murder charges resulted from racism by authorities and were out of proportion to the seriousness of the alleged crime.

The racial tension began in August in Jena — a town of 2,900 with about 350 black residents — after a black student sat under a tree traditionally used as a gathering spot by white students. The next month, three nooses were hanging in the tree when students arrived on campus.

“You didn’t see the district attorney rush out to school to do anything about those nooses in the tree,” said Caseptla Bailey, whose son, Robert Bailey Jr., also was charged in the beating. “You don’t see white kids who beat up black kids charged with attempted murder.

“There’s nothing fair going on here.”

The school’s principal recommended the students who hung the nooses be expelled, but they served brief suspensions instead.

On Dec. 4, Justin Barker, who is white, was attacked at school by a small group of black students. He was treated at a hospital.

“I saw him that night at school for the ring ceremony,” Jenkins said. “I could tell he had been beat up, his face was bruised, but he was out and about, so he couldn’t have been too bad.”

David Barker, Justin’s father, declined comment Tuesday during a break in the trial. “There are two sides to every story. There are two sides to this one. But I just don’t want to talk about our side now,” he said.

Theodore Shaw also had been scheduled to go to trial this week, but his case was delayed. Trial dates for the others — Bryant Purvis, Bailey, Jones and the unidentified juvenile — have not been set. Shaw and Bell have been held since their arrests, unable to post $90,000 bond.

The Jena 6 story in a nutshell: Report and Recommendations

Media coverage of the Jena story was inspired by a brief narrative compiled by Alan Bean, director of Friends of Justice (see link below).  The information contained in this document was culled from interviews with dozens of black and white Jena residents, newspaper accounts, eye witness statements and court documents.  Dr. Bean’s account shows how official tolerance for racial hatred sparked a steadily escalating string of violent encounters between white and black students.   The accuracy of this information has since been confirmed by other investigators.

Jena 6 Summary


Friends of Justice is currently investigating other cases demonstrating systemic issues within the criminal justice system.  You can be a part of our exciting work by making a donation to Friends of Justice.  You can use the “donate” tab on our home page for PayPal donations.  Checks should be made out to Friends of Justice and should be mailed to:

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