A movement is growing in support of the Jena Six — the black Louisana high school students charged with attempted murder for a school fight in which a white student was beaten up. The fight broke out after white students hung three nooses from a tree where the black students had sat. School board officials cut down the tree last week. Hundreds of people from all over the country gathered Tuesday for a march through Jena’s streets. Independent reporter Jordan Flaherty reports. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: And in Jena, Louisiana, the movement backing the six African-American high school students known as the Jena Six is growing. For more, we go down to independent reporter Jordan Flaherty. He was in Jena yesterday, joins us on the line. Welcome, Jordan.
JORDAN FLAHERTY: Thank you, Amy. Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain who the Jena Six are and what happened yesterday in Jena?
JORDAN FLAHERTY: Yes. Yesterday nearly 300 people rallied and marched in small town Jena, Louisiana, calling for freedom for the Jena Six.
The Jena Six are six high school students who are facing a lifetime in prison for a schoolyard fight. The case began with nooses hung from a tree at Jena High School nearly a year ago. Racial tension escalated in the town, which is 85 percent white, after the nooses were hung. The black students led a protest after noose incident. Nearly every black student at Jena High School stood under the tree. The town district attorney, Reed Walters, came to the school and told black students, "Stop making trouble. I can make your lives disappear with the stroke of a pen."
One weekend last December, two black students were beaten by a group of white students. Later, a group of black students were threatened with a shotgun by a white former student. Whites were not punished for the noose incident or these other incidents, but the following Monday when a white student was beaten up by black students in a schoolyard fight, six black students, the Jena Six, were arrested and charged with attempted murder.
Protesters yesterday came from as far away as New York, California, Florida and Chicago, with large delegations from Houston, Lake Charles, Monroe, Lafayette and New Orleans. Forty-three thousand signatures on a petition written calling for District Attorney Reed Walters to drop all charges were delivered, and protesters rallied outside the courthouse and marched through downtown Jena.
Jena town officials had no comment, but this week the school board had the notorious tree chopped down.
AMY GOODMAN: Who chopped it down?
JORDAN FLAHERTY: It was chopped down by the school board. They gave a comment saying that we don’t want black students coming to school and seeing that tree and causing more trouble.
AMY GOODMAN: And this all began with one black student asking the school authorities last September if he could sit under the tree like the other white students.
JORDAN FLAHERTY: That’s right. And he was told by a school official he could sit under the tree. And the next day the three nooses were hung from the tree. And in a spontaneous act of daring and brave resistance, nearly every student in the school went and stood under the tree. And it’s been widely said that the folks that organized that protest to sit under the tree are the so-called Jena Six, the six students that are now facing life in prison for a schoolyard fight.
AMY GOODMAN: Five of them facing up to a hundred years in prison. Mychal Bell, the sixth, already tried, found guilty of — what? — aggravated battery, was supposed to be sentenced yesterday. That’s why the date was set for the march. But that’s been put off ’til September?
JORDAN FLAHERTY: That’s right. September 20th is the current date for the hearing for Mychal Bell. He was represented by a public defender who called no witnesses in the case. The case was heard by an all-white jury, white district attorney, white judge. And he had no defense at all and was convicted on all charges very quickly by the all-white jury, now faces 22 years in prison for the aggravated assault charges.
AMY GOODMAN: Different attorneys now and the fact that the NAACP national has gotten so involved? It’s their homepage? Has this made a difference — the level of national support, the petitions that have been signed? You said something like 43,000 names have appeared?
JORDAN FLAHERTY: Forty-three thousand names. The family members have gotten petitions — have gotten contributions from people all around the country, many of whom saw the report first time on Democracy Now!, who really helped to bring this story to a wider audience. The family members have been so touched by the support they’ve received from people all around the country.
If people want to send donations to the family and also sign the petition, there’s links to that at leftturn.org. They can also — I’m sure you all will have the information on your website, as well. The family members have been so touched by the support. There have been people organizing in the grassroots in small towns in Louisiana and Texas that have come out, organizations like Friends of Justice based in Tulia, Texas. The Millions More Movement has been out there. Family and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children brought nearly 50 people from Lake Charles, Louisiana. People from the grassroots have really been upset and have been leading — have been joining the struggle that’s been led by the family members of these youths.
AMY GOODMAN: Jordan Flaherty, I want to thank you for joining us, in Jena yesterday for the march of hundreds in support of the Jena Six, calling for the charges against them to be dropped. And we will link at our website, democracynow.org, to our hour of coverage with the family members of those who have been arrested.