We speak with the parents of three of the 'Jena Six'–the black high school students charged with attempted murder for a school fight in which a white student was beaten up. We are joined by Caseptla Bailey, the mother of Robert Bailey and Tina Jones, the mother of Bryant Purvis–both of their sons are awaiting trial on charges of attempted second degree murder and conspiracy. We also speak with Marcus Jones, his son, Mychal Bell, was the first of the Jena Six to go on trial. He was convicted just over a week ago of aggravated battery and conspiracy. He faces up to 22 years in prison when he is sentenced on July 31st. [includes rush transcript]
We are also joined from Baton Rouge by Catrina Wallace, the secretary of the LaSalle Parish chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She is also Robert Baily’s stepsister. As well as Jordan Flaherty, a journalist and community organizer in New Orleans who broke the story about the Jena Six. He is an editor of Left Turn magazine.
- Marcus Jones, father of Mychal Bell. His son was recently convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. He faces up to 22 years in prison.
- Caseptla Bailey, mother of Robert Bailey Jr., one of the Jena 6. Her son is facing charges of attempted second degree murder and conspiracy.
- Tina Jones, mother of Bryant Purvis, one of the Jena 6. Her son is facing charges of attempted second degree murder and conspiracy.
- Catrina Wallace, Robert Bailey’s stepsister and the secretary of the LaSalle Parish chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
- Jordan Flaherty, journalist and community organizer in New Orleans who broke the story about Jena. He is an editor of Left Turn magazine.
Jena 6 Defense Committee
PO BOX 2798
Jena, LA 71342
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the parents of three of the Jena 6 joining us from Louisiana. Caseptla Bailey is the mother of Robert Bailey. Tina Jones is the mother of Bryant Purvis. Both of their sons are awaiting trial on charges of attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy. They join us from Louisiana Public Broadcasting in Baton Rouge. Joining us on the telephone from Jena is Marcus Jones. His son Mychal Bell was the first of the Jena 6 to go on trial. He was convicted just over a week ago of aggravated battery and conspiracy. He faces up to twenty-two years in prison when he’s sentenced July 31st.
We’ll begin with Mychal Bell, because I know that you need to go back to work, talking to us from work. Marcus Jones, thank you very much for being with us.
MARCUS JONES: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us your reaction to the conviction of your son and the time he faces in jail.
MARCUS JONES: I was furious and real mad about the conviction, 'cause I know that it was wrong. I know my son is innocent of the charges that the DA put on him, and it's just wrong. You know, this is just a 2007 modern-day court lynching here.
AMY GOODMAN: In your own words, tell us what you understand took place.
MARCUS JONES: Well, what I understand that took place is wrongdoing. The judge let the DA just really just choose an all-white jury. There was an all-white jury. Relatives of some of the jurors was some of the witnesses, too. One of the boys that testified for Barker was one of the boys that hung up the nooses at the high school.
AMY GOODMAN: Was that brought out in the trial?
MARCUS JONES: No, no, that wasn’t brought out in the trial. See, we had a complication with my son’s court-appointed lawyer, and come to find out that he was working with the DA for to get my son convicted.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the lead-up to the fight and then how you understand the fight taking place, Marcus Jones.
MARCUS JONES: Well, my understanding of how the fight took place is Barker was telling some of the boys earlier that morning, calling them nigger and telling them about the fight that happened the previous weekend now. So the majority of the creation of the fight was due to Justin Barker’s racial remarks. But, see, we’ve got to go back now to understand, see, the DA created this whole racial atmosphere, where he didn’t do nothing to the boys that hung up the nooses, so that gave the message to all the black kids, well, the white kids will do what they want to do and get away with it. And that ain’t right. I don’t care what town or city you live in, that is not right.
AMY GOODMAN: The court-appointed lawyer, when the jury pool was all white, did he challenge it at all?
MARCUS JONES: No. He did not challenge it. Now, see, remember, before the jury was even selected, the judge had called all the witnesses up front. So he put me and my son’s mother on the witness list, not informing us that he was going to do that. Now, what made him do that? I don’t know. But right then and there, we smelled a rat. So the judge had put a gag order on all the witnesses, where they couldn’t be present in the courtroom, couldn’t talk to the press, couldn’t talk to nobody outside court room about the case. So right then and there, we — I mean, you know, we smelled a rat then.
AMY GOODMAN: And were you called up to testify?
MARCUS JONES: No, no, no, no.
AMY GOODMAN: So you couldn’t speak about the case, and you were kept out of the trial?
MARCUS JONES: Yes, the whole while. We was allowed — only time we was allowed back in the courtroom, when the verdict came back.
AMY GOODMAN: Did your son’s court-appointed attorney call up any witnesses?
MARCUS JONES: No. He did not put up no kind of defense at all. He did not call one witness. There was a coach that had wrote a statement out saying that he didn’t —- that Mychal wasn’t the one was involved in the fight, that didn’t hit Barker -—
AMY GOODMAN: Justin Barker.
MARCUS JONES: — so he didn’t even subpoena him. Now, remember, in the school system, a teacher or a coach, any administration word or statement is more credible than any student. So he didn’t, I mean, didn’t even call, I mean, had the coach subpoenaed for to come testify for Mychal. And he was Mychal’s key witness.
AMY GOODMAN: What are your plans now? Are you keeping this attorney? This attorney wanted Mychal to plea bargain?
MARCUS JONES: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did Mychal choose not to plea bargain?
MARCUS JONES: 'Cause he wanted Mychal to take a plea. Well, see, you've got to remember, any time a plea bargain be thrown on the table for any man here in LaSalle Parish, that person is innocent. Here in LaSalle Parish, whenever a black man is offered a plea bargain, he is innocent. That’s a dead giveaway here in the South. So he was putting pressure on Mychal, threatening him, you know, about the time he gonna get and, oh, he ain’t going to be able to play no football no more, and his life is over with, you know, just that old Jim Crow intimidation method that he was using for to try to get my son to take a plea bargain. So he lowered the charges down on my son from a lesser charge, but it was still — all of it was still felonies. But he wanted Mychal to give away information for the plea bargain, give away information about who all else was involved in there. Well, why you gonna try to trick him and lie to him for to do something that he’s innocent of? If you have all this hardcore information about who was involved in it, you shouldn’t even be trying to manipulate no young man’s mind like that. And, I mean, the court-appointed lawyer, I mean, he was just playing right along, right along with the DA.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you able to get another lawyer?
MARCUS JONES: No, not at this moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Marcus Jones, father of Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena 6 to be convicted. His son on July 31st faces up to twenty-two years at his sentencing.
Joining us, again, at Louisiana Public Broadcasting is Caseptla Bailey and Tina Jones. They’re mothers of two of the other young men who have been charged, who face trial. Caseptla’s son is Robert Bailey. Tina Jones’s son is Bryant Purvis.
Caseptla, talk about the upcoming trial of Robert. When do you expect that he will be tried?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: We’re expecting that he will be tried during the September-October timeframe, according to his lawyer, Mr. Samuel Thomas.
AMY GOODMAN: And does your son have a different attorney than Mychal Bell?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Yes, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: The charges exactly that your son faces?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: The charges that Robert L. Bailey, Jr. faces are attempted second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit second-degree murder, theft over $500, aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Caseptla, can you talk about the fall, how it all took place? We saw part of it in the piece that we played at the beginning of the broadcast, but what you understood was happening from the time that the teenagers challenged the so-called white tree and went to sit under it?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: From my understanding, a student asked if it would be OK for them to sit under the tree, and the principal responded and said, "Sure, you could sit anywhere. This is your campus, as well." And after the student went and sat under the tree — as a matter of fact, I think he you wanted to be cool. It was so hot that day. So him and a couple of his friends went and sat under the tree. And the following day, there were three nooses under the tree.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, can you talk about the tensions rising in town?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Well, the tensions were very high in town. As a matter of fact, on the day of the incident, I hadn’t heard anything about it. I heard it the following Tuesday, which it happened on a Thursday. And the following Tuesday, that’s when the community, African American community, decided to get together and have a meeting at L&A Baptist Church, so we can call in professional leaders and lawyers and leaders of the community to come together and try to solve this issue and find out what is the problem, what is the purpose. And really everybody was really highly upset that this type of thing would happen in the millennium.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happened after that meeting?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Well, after that meeting, we had spoken with a few lawyers out of Alexandria, Louisiana, and from that meeting they were supposed to meet with the NAACP state president, Mr. Ernest Johnson. And from there, they went on, did several television news stories about the incident. But all of a sudden, it just faded out.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the fight before the final fight, the fight where a young black man was beaten at a party?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: That young black man was my son Robert Bailey. Him and some friends had gone to a party at the Jena Fair Barn. And to my understanding, it wasn’t an all-white party there. It was a few blacks that was already there in the party, and he asked to enter the party, if would it be OK for them to come in. And he said the lady responded as, "Sure, you know, as long as there be no fighting."
So once he did enter the building, a gentleman asked him what was his name. He told him, "Robert Bailey" — no, asked him, "Is your name Robert Bailey?" And my son said yes, and Justin Sloan hit him, as well as his sister Jessie Sloan. And from there, he was attacked by several white men in the Fair Barn. After the incident happened, his other friends came in to assist him. And once the police got there, the police told the black kids that they need to get back to their side of town. So that’s where a lot of racial tension is also coming from: our town cops in Jena, Louisiana.
AMY GOODMAN: And the incident where your son tried to get a gun from a man at a convenience store?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Well, that incident happened on Saturday, December 2nd, the following day, where Robert and two of his friends, Theo Shaw and Ryan Simmons, were going to Gotta-Go Grocery. And once they got there, they say Matt Windham, who is a man, not a student at Jena High School, and Matt Windham — I guess they had come upon each other, because Matt Windham was involved the previous night with the white gentlemen that beat my son the previous night at the Fair Barn, where — rather attacked my son at the Fair Barn. So once they came upon each other, I guess it was on.
You know, Matt ran to his truck, from my understanding, pulled a shotgun, a sawed-off shotgun with a pistol grip, and my son wrestled with him to get the gun from him. And the other two gentlemen proceeded then to fight, and they took the gun from him and left the scene running. You know, I’m sure they were — I know they were in fear of their lives. They were afraid that this man was going to shoot them, you know, especially in the back, running away from the scene. So they were scared. I’m sure Matt Windham was scared. You know, but he chose to run to the truck and pull the shotgun, not our children.
AMY GOODMAN: Were any authorities intervening at this point? And in the case of your son being attacked, did anyone get charged?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: In the beginning, no one was charged for the first three to four days. And then, thereafter, for the first — probably the first couple of weeks after that. I don’t know when Justin Sloan was charged, but he was charged with just simple battery. But the other gentleman, as well as his sister, was not charged with any crime. I mean, you know, they talk about conspiracy and they talk about attack of a white student at Jena High School. What about my son, who was attacked at a function within the town city limits?
AMY GOODMAN: In addition to Caseptla Bailey, we’re joined by Tina Jones. She’s mother of Bryant Purvis, another of the Jena 6, the six young men who are now charged — who were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder for a fight in the schoolyard. Talk about Bryant Purvis. How old is Bryant, Tina?
TINA JONES: Bryant is eighteen. He turned eighteen when he was in jail.
AMY GOODMAN: When did he go to jail?
TINA JONES: December 5th.
AMY GOODMAN: The day after the fight.
TINA JONES: Yeah, he went the day after the fight. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And how long has he remained in jail?
TINA JONES: He was in jail two days — two nights and three days.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you were able to bail him out?
TINA JONES: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what he was saying in the lead-up to the fight, and then your understanding of the December 4th fight.
TINA JONES: Most of the information that I gathered was from just being at work and other parents and kids. Bryant is not the type of kid to just, you know, just come home and tell what’s going on, because when they hung the nooses and everything, I heard about it at work. And when I come home, I asked him about it. He said he didn’t actually see the nooses hung, but he did see the ropes, because by the time that he had come out to the yard, you know, they had cut the noose part of it off. But he was affected by and upset by all of it himself, but he didn’t actually see the noose part hanging on the rope.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the gatherings that you had to try — in the community to try to deal with this before the final fight?
TINA JONES: I didn’t attend but one of them, and it seemed to be very productive, but after the meeting it didn’t really go anywhere. But, you know, that night, everybody was on fire and was going to do so much, but in the end nothing really come of it.
AMY GOODMAN: What date do you expect your son to be tried, Tina?
TINA JONES: My son hasn’t even been arraigned, so we don’t have an arraignment date or a court date, so I’m just — I mean, I don’t know. I just wake up every morning wondering, myself.
AMY GOODMAN: Caseptla, can you tell us a little about your son Robert? How old is he?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: My son Robert is seventeen years old. He was a junior at Jena High School, football, basketball player. And he’s a musician at several of the churches here in Jena, Louisiana. He’s as well a bootleg barber. You know, that’s a barber that’s in the neighborhood that’s not really licensed to cut hair, but he’s a very good barber within the neighborhood.
AMY GOODMAN: After the fight, how long was he in jail — Robert?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Robert was in jail approximately about four months, from December 4th, the day of the fight, until April 3rd, 2007.
AMY GOODMAN: How were you able to get him out?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: At the time of his arrest, we weren’t able to get him out, due to the high bail, which was $138,000, without having a previous criminal record or anything. And we had to come together as a family and come up with three different pieces of property in order to get Robert out. Once the bond had been reduced to $84,000, so that’s how we were able to get Robert released from jail on April 3rd.
AMY GOODMAN: How divided has this made Jena, in terms of white and black? The community, 85% white. Do you have any white support?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: The town has been divided pretty much for a long length of time, and it really has been divided even farther apart now since this incident has happened. A lot of people don’t want to take their heads out of the sand and say, you know, we have a problem. They want to walk around with blinders on. They’re afraid of, you know, making a white man mad. They’re upset, because some of the things that we are doing, as the NAACP unit that’s been formed since all these type of things, racial injustice, has happened in Jena — so there is a divide. Now, we do have white support, but they will not come out to the public. You know, they will do it behind closed doors, but a lot of the whites will not come before the camera and say, "Hey, I don’t support what is happening to your children."
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we’re going to continue this discussion. We’re joined at Louisiana Public Broadcasting in Baton Rouge by Caseptla Bailey, mother of Robert Bailey. Tina Jones, thank you for joining us, mother of Bryant Purvis. Marcus Jones was speaking to us on the phone. His son was just tried and convicted. Mychal Bell faces twenty-two years in jail. When we come back, we’ll be joined by the local head, the secretary of the LaSalle Parish NAACP, as well as the journalist who broke the story nationally, Jordan Flaherty. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: As we look at the town of Jena, we’re joined from Baton Rouge, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, by Jordan Flaherty. He’s a journalist and community organizer from New Orleans. He broke the story about the Jena 6, an editor of Left Turn magazine. Also joining us is Catrina Wallace, the secretary of the LaSalle Parish chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She happens also to be Robert Bailey’s stepsister.
Jordan, talk about how you came to break this story, what you learned, when you learned it.
JORDAN FLAHERTY: Well, you know, first I really want to give all credit to the families that have really been organizing in Jena. I want to say, in the Civil Rights Movement the rural South was so important as the frontlines of the movement, and people were organizing in the grassroots to do that, and they had institutional infrastructure support from organizations like SNCC and Congress of Racial Equality. And right now a lot of those organizations don’t exist as much, and the folks from Jena had to really be organizing on their own. I’m so inspired by Caseptla and Catrina and the folks from Jena — Marcus, all those folks, Lisa — who are organizing to make this happen. And they really did it really without institutional support.
Some folks came, like this person Alan Bean from Friends of Justice based out of Tulia, who’s been organizing around these kind of cases of disparate sentencing in Texas and Louisiana and going out and supporting families. And he was one of the folks that really put together the facts, the information, and helped spread the word. I also heard about it from the ACLU chapter of Louisiana, who had also been going out and giving some support and spreading the word. But I really want to give all the credit to the families who have really been fighting this on the grassroots level, organizing and getting the word out on this really horrendous, heartbreaking series of events.
AMY GOODMAN: Paint a picture of Jena for us.
JORDAN FLAHERTY: Well, I’m sure Ms. Caseptla and Catrina could do it better than me, but I can say, you know, it’s a small town, rural Louisiana, Central, kind of northern Central Louisiana. I want to say, during the Civil Rights Movement, the Deacons for Defense, which was an armed self-defense organization during the Civil Rights Movement, was based not so far from there in Monroe, Louisiana, about a half-hour north. It’s an area that — I guess the parish is about 85% white. I think it’s about 2,500 in the town of Jena, about 350 black folks, is that about right?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Yeah.
JORDAN FLAHERTY: And so, it’s fairly divided, right? Where you’ve got more a black section of town, a white section of town?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Yes.
JORDAN FLAHERTY: You have an elementary school that’s mostly white and then an elementary school that’s more mixed. And then the high school is more mixed, black and white.
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Yes.
JORDAN FLAHERTY: So you have, you know, a still very Jim Crow system set up in the town in many ways. The high school, as I think folks have already talked about, was very divided between the black and the white part of the high school. And what this is really about, though, is the two systems of justice, a system of justice for black folks and white folks. And this goes back decades, you know, in this town, of course, and in the South and in this country overall. And that’s what we’re seeing here. There’s the system of justice for white folks in Jena and for black folks in Jena, just as there is a system for folks like Scooter Libby, who gets his sentence commuted by the Bush administration, and then there’s the sentence for everybody else that doesn’t have the personal favors, that doesn’t have the white system of justice and the power structure behind them.
AMY GOODMAN: Aggravated battery, what Mychal Bell was charged with, has to have a dangerous weapon in Louisiana under Louisiana law. Explain the weapon, Jordan.
JORDAN FLAHERTY: Tennis shoes. They were using his sneakers. And, you know, remember, this was originally attempted murder, and then they lowered it to aggravated battery. And it is such a miscarriage of justice. I don’t think there is anyone around that would doubt that if this had been a fight between black students or a fight of white students beating up a black student, you would never be seeing this. And it’s completely about race. It’s completely about two systems of justice. And it’s heartbreaking to me.
And I just want to encourage folks really to support these families. I think, you know, they need legal support. They need all the support that they can get in this struggle, which I think people all around the country are facing this. This issue of sentencing disparity is something people are facing everywhere, but Jena is such a clear example and such a heartbreaking example. And I think it’s really important, you know, that we draw the line here and that we stand up and say that this is not acceptable.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Justin Barker, the young white man who was beat up on December 4th, was he hospitalized overnight? How seriously was he beaten?
JORDAN FLAHERTY: I’m sure it was a serious fight, and I’m sure it deserved real discipline within the school system, but he was out later that day at a ring ceremony. He was smiling. He was with friends. So he was not hospitalized overnight. It was certainly a serious school fight, but it was not aggravated battery. It was not a serious criminal charge. It was a serious school disciplinary problem. And it was also a serious school problem that came on the heels of a long series of other events, including, as we’ve already talked about, the black student being beaten up by white students, including black students being threatened with a shotgun, all of this series of events, nooses being hung outside the school, very serious series of events that were not taken seriously when white students were perpetrating them on black students. But as soon as black students were involved, then that’s when the hammer came down. And as it’s been discussed, Reed Walters, the — is it district attorney of the town?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: District attorney.
JORDAN FLAHERTY: — district attorney of the town, came out and, you know, he said, "I can make your lives disappear with the stroke of a pen." And what he was responding to was black students standing up against racism. It was when black students went and went under that tree and said, "We’re not going to put up with these nooses under the tree." That’s what made Reed Walters concerned with black students standing up. And then he came back again when black students got in a fight with white students. That is what they wanted to shut down.
AMY GOODMAN: Jordan, explain how it worked that the jury pool, not just the jurors in this jury were all white, but the jury pool who showed up to the courtroom were all white.
JORDAN FLAHERTY: Well, you know, you have a town that’s already 85% white. So that’s going to cut people out already. And then you have the districting, where most of the black folks from the town are cut out from the town through the districting, so they’re cut out from it. And — do you folks want to say — that’s the main thing, the various ways in which people are cut out of the jury pool, and then, of course, the challenging.
AMY GOODMAN: In the various articles written about it, the discussion of some of these jurors being friends with the DA, with the district attorney.
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Caseptla, would you like to elaborate on that?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Yeah. As a matter of fact, one of the — as Marcus Jones stated, one of the young men that testified was a friend of Justin Barker, as well as the student identified as the student that put the noose in the tree. And also one of the witnesses’ mother is a close friend, as well as coworker, works for Justin Barker’s mother, Kelly Barker, as a manager over at Wal-Mart in Jena. So there are some close ties. And there was also the only male that was on the jury was a classmate of Justin Barker’s dad, who is David Barker. So there are a lot of family ties. There are a lot of friends. There are a lot of things that connect together, you know, as the DA pooled these jurors to be on this, witness against Mychal.
And the thing that is very, very disturbing is the fact that Mychal’s attorney accepted this all-white jury. From my understanding — I’m not a lawyer — from my understanding, he could have objected to these jurors. And I know that Marcus Jones tried to attempt to pass him something, a note, to let him know about those that were on the jury that day. And he refused.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Robert’s stepsister and secretary of the LaSalle Parish chapter of the NAACP, the NAACP in Jena, into the conversation. Catrina Wallace, what is the NAACP doing about this situation right now?
CATRINA WALLACE: Well, right now, the thing we’re understanding about the NAACP, when we joined, we had to organize for ourselves. So now that we’re organized, we have to do it on our own, and whatever they can do to help us they can do, but as a group in Jena, as an organization in Jena, we’re just fighting the injustice system there. You know, we’re not giving up on these kids, because what they’re doing to these kids is unjust. For a simple school fight, you get a hundred years in prison.
And to go back to that, this type of thing has always happened in Jena, you know, fights at school, more than one person jumping on one single person. I mean, when a black man got beat up by a group of white men — I mean, this goes back to when the schools were integrated. So, I mean, I don’t understand how they took all this out of context and to say, "Hey, Justin Barker got jumped on. We’re going to charge these kids with murder." It’s not right.
So as an organization, you know, we protest. We’re protesting, we’re calling out to people. We need help. I mean, we need to get these kids lawyers. So we set up a Jena 6 Defense Fund. So if anybody out there, if y’all can help us, the address is PO Box 2798, Jena, Louisiana 71342. We need all the help, lawyers. If you can come help us protest, we need that also.
AMY GOODMAN: I do want to say we also tried to get the DA on the broadcast, and we weren’t able to do that. But we will put a link to — we will put that address on our website, as well, Catrina.
CATRINA WALLACE: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: And I also wanted to ask Jordan about the prison, the detention facility in Jena, that you’ve written about extensively. It has undergone many changes, the notorious Jena Juvenile Facility was closed because of, well, how bad the abuses were inside. And then what happened after Katrina?
JORDAN FLAHERTY: Well, after the storm, folks from Louisiana were in Orleans Parish prison, which was the prison, the city jail in New Orleans. It’s the eighth largest city jail in the country. And they were left behind in the storm, and then several days afterwards were evacuated, first up to Hunts prison in upstate Louisiana, and then moved to various prisons, including the Jena facility, was specially opened up for the folks from New Orleans. And there was major reports of abuses there. You know, that is another aspect of Jena. It’s, like many towns, sort of a company town for the prison, where a lot of folks from Jena have worked in the prison, and that’s a major job for folks, including many of the family members involved in this case and many people in the town overall. And I think that that has an effect on any community, I think, when that’s the main employment in the town is this prison.
My understanding is a company — I think it’s GEO — has bought up the prison to open it up again, I think not as a juvenile but as an adult facility. And, in general, we’re seeing that all over the country, more and more prisons being built, and once you have a prison, you have to fill it with people. You know, it’s a cycle that just keeps perpetuating itself. And Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of any state in the US. If Louisiana were a country, it would have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. We’re just locking up more and more people. It’s a state where vast disparities exist in sentencing, where overwhelmingly it’s black folks that are sent in these prisons. You have places like Angola prison, which was a former slave plantation, where people still do there a lot of the work that folks did during the times of slavery. It was named for Angola, because a lot of the folks originally in there as a slave plantation had come from Angola, and 90% of the people in that prison will die in that prison. And that’s, you know, what we’re seeing in prisons all around Louisiana. It’s not about reform. It’s not about rehabilitation. It’s about people being sent there to die.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a press release from Human Rights Watch, and it’s about the prisoners who were taken to the Jena Correctional Facility after the evacuation, after Hurricane Katrina, and Human Rights Watch urging the secretary of the Louisiana Corrections Department to end the abuse of prisoners and start an investigation, the prisoners saying at Jena that correctional officers had beaten and kicked and hit them while they were shackled. In addition, they claim that officers forced inmates to stay kneeling for several hours at a stretch, then hit them if they fell. They also say officers sprayed the walls with chemical spray that prisoners believe was mace and forced inmates to hold their faces against the sprayed walls. The prisoners became ill and vomited. Officers wiped their faces and hair in the vomit, they said. Now, that was the facility that’s been closed. Now GEO reopening — that’s GEO, which is now the new name for Wackenhut, that ran the previous facilities. That’s just a picture of another part of Jena.
But I’m going to end with you, Caseptla Bailey, mother of Robert Bailey. We just have about thirty seconds left, but what would you like to leave with people around the country and around the world who are watching to and listening to this broadcast?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: I would like to leave this message to the people of the United States, that we are asking for a plea to the governor of Louisiana, Governor Kathleen Blanco, to come in and assist, investigate, and do as she needs to do on this case with Mychal Bell, as well as the other Jena 6.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us. And, finally, Catrina, one more time, that address that you gave out. Catrina Wallace, secretary of the LaSalle Parish NAACP.
CATRINA WALLACE: Yes, it’s the Jena 6 Defense Committee, PO Box 2798, Jena, LA 71342.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us, Catrina Wallace, Caseptla Bailey and Jordan Flaherty.