It's taken more than two years, but the "Jena 6" can now put this saga behind them. The five young men whose trials had been on hold pleaded "no contest" to simple battery—a misdemeanor for which they received no jail time. It's the kind of charge that should have been made all along.
Just after the trial, criminal defense attorney Jim Boren—the attorney representing Robert Bailey and a coordinator for legal strategy across the cases—called ColorOfChange executive director James Rucker. His words speak for themselves. You can listen to the core of his voicemail message here:
The Jena Six: Resolution
"None of this would have happened without you"
While this is a great moment, it’s important to remember that if it were not for the extreme nature of this case, most of us wouldn’t have known about it or gotten involved. The reality is that there are countless Jena 6’s: young people–often Black and male–who are overcharged or unduly criminalized, and whose plight is unknown to most of the outside world.
Even in the case of the Jena 6, we need to take stock of what did not happen. While Judge JP Mauffray was taken off the case due to the appearance of bias (a pivotal moment for the cases), District Attorney Reed Walters–the person largely responsible for the problems in the first place–still has his job.
It’s the reason our work cannot just be about identifying and fighting for individuals railroaded by the system, but about creating systemic change in criminal justice in America. We are truly grateful to have the chance to do this work with you, and we’re hoping for your continued engagement and support.
Thanks and Peace,
– James, Gabriel, William, Dani and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
June 28, 2009
Excerpts from Eddie G. Griffin (BASG) files: Jena 6 Campaign
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2007
One by one, they are picking our children off, out of our hands, out of our control, out of our schools, and sending them straight into prison… the African-American community was so outraged at the Jena 6 case that they sent 30,000 people to Louisiana to protest the injustice…
After a nationwide fight to get young 17-year old Mychal Bell out of jail, and posting a $45,000 bail, we as a people had hardly licked our wound before they sent him back to jail- this time with an 18-month prison sentence, under the technical auspices of probation violation.
So, why did they let Bell out of jail on a $45,000 bail? They took his money one day and put him back in jail the next day, but only because they were ordered by the higher court to give the child a bail hearing. After nine months of incarceration, minus bail money provided by thousands of well-wishers, he was back where he started-in jail- worse, in prison doing 18-months.
Maliciously delicious to the Devil’s appetite because, by law, no one can save the little black boy- don’t call him Mychal, call him Sambo for breakfast.
There is something fishy here. Are the others of the Jena 6 going to be devoured before our eyes also?
Monday, September 17, 2007 11:05 AM
Reed Walters initially charged Bell and five other black teens, who have come to be called the "Jena 6," with attempted murder after the white student was beaten and knocked unconscious at Jena High School last December. The white student suffered cuts and bruises but was treated and released from a local hospital.
Walters later reduced the charges to aggravated second-degree battery, contending at Bell's trial-the first case to go to court-that the tennis shoes Bell was wearing constituted a dangerous weapon.
Louisiana's Third Circuit Court of Appeals, acting on an emergency defense appeal, reversed the aggravated second-degree battery conviction of Mychal Bell, 17, ruling that the youth had been tried improperly as an adult in a case that has raised allegations of unequal justice in the small, mostly white town.
Walters said in a statement Friday that he intended to appeal the reversal of Bell's conviction to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
National civil rights leaders, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, had been planning to join African-American celebrities and thousands of Internet bloggers in a demonstration in Jena next Thursday, the day Bell had been scheduled to be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison on the battery conviction.
Nearly 200,000 people have signed petitions criticizing the prosecution of the black students and calling on Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to intervene in the case. Bus caravans headed toward Jena have been organized at scores of churches across the country and organizers had predicted more than 20,000 protesters might show up in the town of 3,000
So long as these kids were in the dark without representation, they were all going up the river. When the lights came on and the public pressure flooded in, it began to change everything."
Alan Bean, director of Friends of Justice, a Texas-based civil rights group that was the first to notice the Jena case, said he expected the reversal of Bell's convictions will turn next Thursday's protest into a "celebration" of the power of public opinion to influence the Jena 6 case.
The NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Congressional Black Caucus have all denounced what they view as the harsh prosecutions of the Jena 6.
On Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama added his criticism of what he termed the "excessive charges" in the case.
"When nooses are being hung in high schools in the 21st century, it's a tragedy," Obama said in a statement. "It shows that we still have a lot of work to do as a nation to heal our racial tensions. This isn't just Jena's problem; it's America's problem."
US House of Representatives Committee Probes Case with Racial Overtones
MONDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2007
After last month’s mass demonstration in Jena, Louisiana, you would think that the country would wake up to the plight of African-American youth being routed out of the school system into prisons. But no, there seems to be this mad insistence in prosecuting six black boys for a schoolyard fight that was instigated by nooses looped over a tree by fellow white students. And to make matters worse, nooses keep cropping up all over the country to reiterate the point that black people still cannot get any respect.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2007
I was inspired to write the article after receiving several emails calling for the boycott. In an earlier article, “Beyond Jena”, I wrote: “By now, we should be three miles down the road past Jena, with contingency planning as to where do we go from here.” At the time, I believed that the then-upcoming September 20 mass demonstration would not be enough to change the situation in this part of Louisiana. Therefore, I eagerly endorsed subsequent strategic actions…
Secondly, Jena is David Duke territory. This is where he reigned as Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Third, Louisiana, historically, has had the highest number of recorded lynchings, more than any other state in the union. Considering that fact, the Jena nooses represented a real threat to the black students at Jena High.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2007
FREE AT LAST: Genarlow Wilson
Praise the Lord and Hallelujah! Genarlow Wilson is free. And the scoop has not yet been posted on Genarlow’s blogsite…
In September, presidential candidate Barack Obama said: "Going forward, we have to fix our criminal justice system. Whether it’s Jena 6 or Genarlow Wilson, it’s long past time for us to admit that we have more work to do to ensure that our criminal justice system is fair…”
In an article dated June 29 entitled “Can We Save a Black Boy”, Eddie Griffin wrote: The only way to save a black boy is one child at a time. Today, it is Genarlow Wilson, The Jena Six, and Memory of Ron Pettiway.
Lord, help us. See how much time and energy it takes to try and save one black boy at a time. There must be a more expedient way.
JENA 6 Chronology: From September 6, 2006 to April 29, 2009
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2007
The Last Word on Jena 6
We have investigated and flushed out the facts in the Jena 6 case. Together, we have focused international attention upon a case of Unequal Treatment Under the Law. Six black teenagers were being charged with “attempted murder” and “conspiracy to commit murder” in adult court, where they could each receive up to 80 years. This was Jena, Louisiana, but it signified what is happening to thousands of black male youth across America.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2007
Jena 6 defendant cracks, cops plea
After spending nearly a year in jail, Jena 6 defendant Mychal Bell finally cracked and copped a plea to a lesser charge of second-degree battery and an 18-month sentence, with credit for time served.
The case sparked one of the largest civil rights protest in recent memory, bringing national and international attention to the small Louisiana town of 3,000. Originally, the six black youth faced up to 80 years for their involvement in a school fight following months of racial tension that began when white students hanged nooses on a schoolyard tree after black students requested to sit under it.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2007
Paradox of a Guilty Plea
When we advocated school integration, I never expected that we would have to teach our children to accept humiliation and racist threats without fighting back. But obviously that is subtle meaning behind the guilty plea of Jena 6 Mychal Bell. In reaction to the nooses hanging across a schoolyard tree, some people feel that the black Jena High School youth should have gone about their business unperturbed.
It is okay for an old black man like me to turn the other cheek, because I have been around long enough to see why the Lord said, “Vengeance is mine.” He has always avenged me against my enemies.
But I have never taught my children to be docile and accept humiliation, abuse, and violence against them. Never!
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2007
Why We Protest
To the critics who have arisen in light of the recent wave of mass demonstrations, let’s get some things clear as to why we engaged in protest.
First, social protest is a means of raising public awareness about situations that may otherwise go unnoticed. Take for example the small town cases: Shaquanda Cotton, Jena 6, and Genarlow Wilson. Lest people forget how these cases arose from obscurity to national attention, review the plight of these youth.
Shaquanda Cotton was a 14-year old girl sent to prison for up to seven years for pushing a school aide in Paris, Texas- note that the hall monitor was not seriously injured.
Six black high school students faced up to 80 years in prison for jumping a school mate- note that the school mate was also not seriously injured.
A 17-year old boy was sent to prison with a 10-year sentence for having consensual sex with a 15-year old girl.
If there is one thing that these three cases had in common, it would be this: The majority of the American public agreed that the punishment for these juveniles were too harsh.
So, what do we do? Do we allow these things to happen and say nothing? Without public awareness, these children would have been condemned to long periods of incarceration and their lives destroyed without even given a second thought.
These are the basic facts. Whatever came afterwards was a reaction thereto.