We go to Jena, Louisiana, to speak to two mothers of the Jena Six: Caseptla Bailey, mother of Robert Bailey, and Tina Jones, mother of Bryant Purvis. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Jena, Louisiana, where we’re joined by two mothers of the Jena Six. Caseptla Bailey is the mother of Robert Bailey. Tina Jones is the mother of Bryant Purvis. We begin with Caseptla Bailey. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you both with us. Can you talk about your reaction, Caseptla, to this march yesterday? What did it mean to you? Describe what happened through the day.
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Well, it meant a great deal to me. It was very outstanding to see so many number of people out from all over the country to come in in support of our children, as well as in justice of all children in the state of Louisiana. So I found it very remarkable and very interesting that these people would take time out from their day to come to Jena, Louisiana, for something that’s so important in our time right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Tina Jones, what about you? What was your reaction to yesterday’s protest?
TINA JONES: I was overwhelmed by the numerous amount of support that came in for us, and to march to the place where all this unjust stuff took place was remarkable. You know, we walked to the school, and everybody got a look, firsthand, at where the injustice actually first took place with our kids.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe the church that you’re standing in the front of, the Antioch Baptist Church, and how it fits into this story, the meeting place, soon after the nooses were hung, of the black community, deeply concerned about what was happening and how to deal with the racial tension in this community of, what, 85 percent white? Were either of you at that meeting? And whether you were or not, what happened then? Tina?
TINA JONES: When all this took place, we’re standing — yeah, we’re standing in front of the church, where the pastor, Brother Moran, offered this church for us, you know, to have our meetings and stuff, because when we first started this, everybody was kind of reluctant to let us use their church or building, you know, to hold meetings and everything, but Moran, he stood up and allowed us to come here and have meetings. And this is where we’re standing this morning. And to this day, he’s still behind us.
AMY GOODMAN: Tina, your brother is Justin Hatcher?
TINA JONES: Jason.
AMY GOODMAN: Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys, a professional football player. Was he in the march yesterday?
TINA JONES: No, he wasn’t. He had to attend a game that he’s going to be doing this weekend. So he was unable to attend.
AMY GOODMAN: He got a key to the city, was awarded a key to the city of Jena, where you both grew up. Your son is now living with him in Dallas?
TINA JONES: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about your son. Your son is the only one of the Jena Six who has not yet been arraigned, is that right?
TINA JONES: Yes. Currently, he’s still under the murder charges, but he do have a court date November 7. The lawyer filed motions to arraign him, drop the charges or produce evidence. So we’re hopeful that something will come out good in his case on that date.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about your son Bryant Purvis, and tell us what you understand happened, how he has responded to this, and what it means for him to be living in Dallas and not in Jena right now.
TINA JONES: Bryant is currently back in school. He’s in Dallas going to school. But he did come down and attend the rally. He’ll be leaving out later today. And he was overwhelmed by the numerous amount of support that he’s gotten. We don’t try to bother him with all the questions and stuff. We try to let him keep his life as normal as possible. You know, that’s all I can say.
AMY GOODMAN: How old is Bryant?
TINA JONES: Bryant is 18.
AMY GOODMAN: And when this happened?
TINA JONES: Ma’am?
AMY GOODMAN: He was 18 at the time this happened?
TINA JONES: Oh, he was 17 when it happened, but he had a birthday since then.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was your reaction to the Louisiana appeals court throwing out Mychal Bell’s conviction, saying he shouldn’t have been tried as an adult?
TINA JONES: I think that’s a step in the right direction. They put it back in juvenile, where it should have been in the first place. So we’re hopeful that, you know, things are changing. It’s a slow process, but it’s working in our favor.
AMY GOODMAN: Caseptla Bailey, your son Robert Bailey is the young man who, before the fight of December 4th, was beaten up, himself, is that right?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Yes, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Well, at this present time, I’m unable to speak on that matter, due to future court dates.
AMY GOODMAN: How has this, yesterday’s protest, affected Robert? Was he a part of the marches yesterday?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Well, it has affected Robert tremendously. He was very proud that so many people have come out in support of those young athletes here in Jena. And Robert was not in attendance at the rally, you know, due to the numerous amount of persons there in the rally. But he is very thankful and very grateful to each and every one who have come out in support of him, as well as his friends in this matter.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Caseptla, what do you say to those who say this is a bunch of outsiders coming in, everything was fine in Jena before they started marching on our town?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Well, I’d like to say that everything wasn’t fine in Jena. That’s why the outsiders are here, and that’s why everything has gone so tremendously within the last few months. So I’d like to applaud those people that have come here from the outside, to come in and to support us and to help us and assist us in this matter. So I’d like to say hats off to those persons.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you organize? I mean, from December 4th, from the time when the fight took place, the kids were jailed, how did you get word out? It’s now almost 10 months later.
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Well, the word got out that I received a phone call from Mr. Jason Williamson with the Juvenile Justice Project out of New Orleans, who contacted Dr. Alan Bean from Tulia, Texas, who came — who was invited in by family members to come in and do a formal investigation. He is not a detective, he is not a lawyer, but is he an outstanding young man who have come in and assisted us. And from that point on, things have just gone straight up through the roof with the BBC coming in, doing a documentary on racism in the South, particularly in Jena, Louisiana. So that’s, you know, a lot of those avenues, which have brought us forth to this point in time right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Caseptla Bailey and Tina Jones, I’d like to ask you to stay with us. We’re going to go to break, and then we’re going to play some of the voices of the protest yesterday, one of the largest rallies in the South in decades.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to some of the sounds and voices of Thursday’s protest in Jena, Louisiana, as well as the vigil that was held in town Wednesday night.
ACTIVIST: And we in the black community are all the same people, and we fight against injustices for our people. We did it in the civil rights era, and we made a difference. We’re doing it in this era, and we’re going to make a difference. And we’ve got generations coming under us that’s going to see this, and that will give them more inspiration to continue to fight.
ACTIVIST: Now, it’s not just about race. They don’t care. If you’re not in that percentage of people that are in the haves, you’re one of the have-nots. And so, we have got to form a strong coalition. And I’m part of a group that is forming a strong coalition, called Stomp in Chicago, nationwide to fight all the gentrification, displacement.
Racism is racism everywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s because they’re trying to lock our young — our black fine young men up, like these six boys who don’t have records, who are excellent athletes, who are also excellent students. It doesn’t matter if it’s around housing. It’s all for the same reason: low-income, they discriminate against you because of your color. It’s everywhere. And so, Jena Six is us, and we are them.
LEONARD McCALL: My name is Leonard McCall. I’m here from North Carolina, representing North Carolina Central School of Law. Of course, we had to come down. We totally stand for social justice, equality and change. Well, it’s not even just about North Carolina. It’s what does Jena have to do with America, in general. You know, the things that we’re seeing here, even before even considering it being a race issue, I think it’s just a justice issue, equality issue, period. You know, you can put any race there, whether it’s the majority or the minority. What you see that happened here is just not justice. You know, it’s an injustice, and I think it would be a total detriment to society for everyone to sit back and watch something like this happen. You know, and there’s no way I’m going to let something like this happen.
ACTIVIST: Definitely, this is something that could happen all across the United States. It’s something that happens every day And so, this is a great opportunity as a launching point for us to address national issues in regards to racism in our criminal justice system.
ACTIVIST: And, you know, the speaker, just a few minutes ago, was talking about the problem they have of the population of black men in prison, and it’s that way across the country. It’s a problem across the country.
ACTIVIST: It’s a problem in West Michigan. We hear the same stories that you hear in Illinois, that you hear in Jena, Louisiana, that you hear in New York City. They’re the same stories. We’re just not listening.
AMY GOODMAN: Some of the sounds and voices of the protest and vigils held in Jena this week. As we turn now back to the beginning, to a piece we have run earlier. But to recap and to bring us back to the core of the story, we go to Jacquie Soohen and the original Jena Six story.
JESSE BEARD: Black girls over there, black boys right here. Some black people standing right — a couple. All the band geeks right there. White folks under the tree. And then you might — it’s like…
JACQUIE SOOHEN: Jesse Beard, a freshman in high school and one of Jena Six, took us to where the nooses were hung.
JESSE BEARD: One day, I just wanted to — maybe the first, second day, we started riding the bus, me and Robert. And we came through, and I seen something hanging there. I told Robert. He looked at it. He’s like, “Them nooses right there.” He was getting mad. Everybody was getting — I started getting mad. By the time everybody came, they was trying to cut them down.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: Robert Bailey, 17 years old and a safety receiver for the school football team, is another of the Jena Six facing life behind bars. He described his reaction to the nooses.
ROBERT BAILEY: It was in the early morning. I seen them hanging. I’m thinking the KKK, you know, were hanging nooses. They want to hang somebody. Real nooses, the ones you see on TV are the kind of nooses they were, the ones they play in the movies and they were hanging all the people, you know, and the thing dropped, those were the kind of nooses they were. I know it was somebody white that hung the nooses in the tree. You know, I don’t know another way to put it, but, you know, I was disappointed, because, you know, we do little pranks — you know, toilet paper, that’s a prank, you know what I’m saying? Paper all over the square, all the pranks they used to do, that’s pranks. Nooses hanging there — nooses ain’t no prank.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: The school’s superintendent dismissed the nooses as a prank, and after three days’ suspension, the three white students who hung the nooses were allowed back to school. Caseptla Bailey, Robert’s mother, said the school did not inform the parents of the incident.
CASEPTLA BAILEY: The school didn’t tell me. I didn’t know that it happened, so therefore I didn’t call to find out what happened on that particular day.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: To Caseptla Bailey, the meaning of the nooses was clear.
CASEPTLA BAILEY: It meant hatred, to the other race. It meant that “We’re going to kill you, you’re going to die.” You know, it sent a message: “This is not the place for you to sit. This is not your damn tree. Do not sit here. You know, you ought to remain in your place, know your place and stay in your place. You’re out of your boundaries.” And the first thing now that the sheriff department or that the chief of police want to say that — as well as the superintendent — one had nothing to do with the other. Now, come on now!
JACQUIE SOOHEN: Most people we spoke to in Jena’s white community, however, see no connection between the students’ charges and race. Barbara Murphy, the town librarian, claims there isn’t a race problem in Jena.
BARBARA MURPHY: We don’t have a race problem. It’s not black against white. It’s crime. The nooses? I don’t even know why they were there, what they were supposed to mean. There’s pranks all the time, of one type or another, going on. And it just didn’t seem to be racist to me.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: A few days after the nooses were hung, the entire black student body staged an impromptu demonstration, crowding underneath the tree during lunch hour. Justin Purvis, the student who first asked to sit underneath the tree, described how the protest came about.
JUSTIN PURVIS: It was like, the first beginning, in the courtyard, they said, “Y’all want to go stand under the tree?” We said, “Yeah.” They said, “If you go, I’ll go. If you go, I’ll go.” One person went, the next person went, everybody else just went.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: The school responded to the protest by calling police and the district attorney. At an assembly the same day, the District Attorney Reed Walters, accompanied by armed policeman, addressed the students. Substitute teacher Michelle Rogers, one of the few black teachers at the school, was there. She recalls the DA’s words to the assembled high schoolers.
MICHELLE ROGERS: The kids didn’t say anything. They were listening. The kids were quiet. And so, District Attorney Reed Walters, you know, proceeded to tell those kids that “I could end your lives with the stroke of a pen.” And the kids were just — it was like in awe that the district — you know, Reed Walters would tell these kids that. He held a pen in his hand and told those kids that, “See this pen in my hand? I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen.”
JACQUIE SOOHEN: A series of incidents followed throughout the fall. In October, a black student was beaten for entering a private all-white party. Later that month, a white student pulled a gun on a group of black students at a gas station, claiming self-defense. The black students wrestled the gun away and reported the incident to police. They were charged with assault and robbery of the gun. No charges were ever filed against the white students in either incident. Then, in late November, someone tried to burn down the high school, creating even more tension.
Four days later, a white student was allegedly attacked in a school fight. The victim was taken to hospital and released shortly with a concussion. He attended a school function that evening. Six black students were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, on charges that leave them facing between 20 and 100 years in jail. The defendants, ranging in age from 15 to 17, had their bonds set at between $70,000 and $138,000. The attack was written up in the local paper as fact, and DA Reed Walters published a statement in which he said, “When you are convicted, I will seek the maximum penalty allowed by law.”
MINISTER: We have come today to stand against what we consider to be a great evil.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: Since their arrest, the defendants’ families have been speaking out and fighting for the release of their sons. Two of the six, including Mychal Bell, who was recently convicted, were unable to make bond and have spent close to seven months in jail to date.
CASEPTLA BAILEY: No justice!
PROTESTERS: No peace!
CASEPTLA BAILEY: No justice!
PROTESTERS: No peace!
CASEPTLA BAILEY: No justice!
PROTESTERS: No peace!
JACQUIE SOOHEN: Caseptla Bailey began writing letters to state and national agencies, including the Department of Justice, immediately after the charges were filed.
CASEPTLA BAILEY: The first thing was devastation. You know, I was down when it first happened. You know, I was very devastated. I was hurt, upset, angry, mad, frustrated. You know, I had so many emotions, crying a lot of nights, you know, trying to figure out where can I go from here. You know, a lot of times when you’re backed into a corner or you’re backed into a wall, naturally you’re going to come out fighting. You know, you’re not going to — you’re either going to fall and die, or you’re going to come out fighting.
You know, I’m just sending out these letters to anyone that would have a listening ear and to anyone that, you know, I thought that might help the situation. That’s how I fight back, you know, by putting the pen to the paper.
They want to take these kids — my son, as well as all these other children — lock them up, throw away the key. You know, that’s a tradition for black males. So they want to keep that tradition going, because they want to keep institutionalized slavery alive and well.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: At a friendly pickup game of football, Caseptla’s son Robert shows off the skills that made him a star player of the high school football team. Robert was in jail for over two months before his mother was able to raise the money for her son’s bond using three pieces of property from different family members. Seventeen-year-old Robert Bailey has no criminal record.
ROBERT BAILEY: I ain’t got no criminal record, nothing. I ain’t got no probation, community service or nothing, nothing like that. The DA, he ain’t after finding the truth. That’s what a DA’s for, to after find the truth, you know, of the case. He’s just, you know, trying to put me up in a jail cell, for life. Fifty years, 25 to a hundred years, you can just say “forever.” Twenty years is forever, to me.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: Robert wasn’t the only one with a promising future. All of the Jena Six were athletes, and five of the six were on the high school football team. Marcus Jones, the father of 17-year-old Mychal Bell, has a stack of scholarship offers for his son.
MARCUS JONES: LSU, Southern Miss, Ole Miss, University of New York…
JACQUIE SOOHEN: Mychal is a star running back and a strong student who is being actively scouted by a number of colleges.
MARCUS JONES: We’re not blaming the victim for the charges or none of that. The DA is a racist DA. You know, I’m not calling him out for being a racist. I’m calling him out as being a racist due to his track record. The reason we is taking a stand for our kids for what he’s not doing is right, 'cause, you know, we're tired of it, you know, 'cause if we, you know, we sat down and lay back and let him railroad our kids, too, he's going to continue to do that to black people in this town. You know, so we have to take a stand now. Somebody has to take a stand now. If not, he’s going to continue to fill the prisons up with black people more and more.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: Mr. Bell believes that his son is learning a valuable lesson from this experience.
MARCUS JONES: One of the best lessons that my son could learn that’s one of the best lessons: to know what it is to be black now. You know, if this don’t teach him what it is to be black now, I don’t know what will. But he’s 17 now. You know, he’s got a lot of life left ahead of him. And the day he set foot out of jail, I’m going to tell him, I’m going to tell him again, “You know what it is to be black now. Here it is.”
JACQUIE SOOHEN: For Democracy Now!, this is Jacquie Soohen, reporting from Jena, Louisiana.
AMY GOODMAN: That report from Jena, as we end in Jena with Caseptla Bailey and Tina Jones. What happens next, Caseptla?
CASEPTLA BAILEY: Well, what happens next is to continue to fight, to continue to support one another and to continue to make noise. No justice, no peace, from this point on.
AMY GOODMAN: And Tina Jones?
TINA JONES: I’ll be attending, along with Al Sharpton, in Washington to speak with Congress, so we want all y’all to pray and hope things turn out for the best in that situation with meeting them and continue to fight with us.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Tina Jones and Caseptla Bailey in Jena, Louisiana.