The United People of Color Caucus of the National Lawyers Guild Endorses September 20 Rally in Jena

September 14, 2007
7:14 AM

CONTACT: National Lawyers Guild / The United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC) 
Kerry McLean, 917-334-9331
Marjorie Cohn, NLG President, 858-204-3565

The United People of Color Caucus of the National Lawyers Guild Endorses September 20 Rally in Jena

WASHINGTON - September 14 - The United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC) of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) endorses the planned rally in Jena, Louisiana on September 20 in support of the six black high school students who have come to be known as the “Jena 6.” The rally takes place on the sentencing date of Mychal Bell, one of the Jena 6. “It is still the Jim Crow era in Jena,” said Kerry McLean, TUPOCC member, and member of the NLG national executive board. “The constitutional rights and human rights of these boys have been flagrantly violated. TUPOCC stands in solidarity with the Jena 6, and demands justice.”

Bell, originally charged with attempted murder for allegedly beating up a white student, was later charged with and convicted of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. A judge recently dismissed the conspiracy conviction, saying that juveniles could not be charged with conspiracy in adult court. The battery conviction remains. Bell faces up to 15 years in prison.

The other five teens, Robert Bailey, Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and an unidentified juvenile, face charges ranging from aggravated second-degree battery to attempted second-degree murder. Most of the boys spent months in jail before being able to raise tens of thousands of dollars for bail, and Bell was never able to raise the money to make bail.

The story of the Jena 6 began last September, when three black high school students sought respite from the sun under a leafy tree in the school yard where usually only white students sat. The next day nooses were found hanging from the tree. Though the culprits who hung the noose were discovered and recommended for expulsion by the principal, the school board chose to reduce their expulsions to a three-day, in-school suspension. After the entire black student body protested peacefully by sitting under the tree, Jena District Attorney Reed Walters informed the school in an assembly that he could take away the lives of the black students with a stroke of his pen.

Over the following months several incidents occurred, including threats and acts of violence against black students to which DA Walters did not respond. However, after a white student was beaten up by black students in December, Walters charged six black students with second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The white student was treated at the hospital, released that same day, and was seen at a social function that very night.

“The situation in Jena makes it apparent that racism continues to thrive in the U.S. ‘criminal justice’ system, and that we must raise our collective voice to a deafening pitch in order to oppose the systems of oppression that continue to treat us as second-class citizens,” said Anne Befu, co-chairperson of TUPOCC. TUPOCC calls on all allies in the fight for racial justice to join the rally on September 20 in Jena, Louisiana.

Founded in 1937as an alternative to the American Bar Association which did not admit people of color, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.