I've been meaning to write about the Jena 6 since I first heard the shocking details of what sounds like a story from the Jim Crow-era South. But the lives of six black high school students--accused of beating up a white classmate after a series of racial incidents at a high school in the small Louisiana town--are being ruined today in Jena, Louisiana in a case that simply boggles the mind.
The trouble started when one black student, after requesting and receiving permission from the school administration, decided to sit under a shade tree traditionally used by white students. In response, white students hung three nooses from the tree. That act -- a throwback to the days when blacks were lynched for exercising their civil rights -- was portrayed by school officials as a "silly prank," and the white students got off with a slap on the wrist.
But, while the misconduct by white students was handled as a joke, a related incident in which a former student brandished a shotgun at three black students went unpunished and a subsequent attack against a black student at a private party resulted in one of the attackers being charged with only a misdemeanor, school officials and the LaSalle Parish District Attorney have brought out a hammer against the black students charging them with felonious assault and second degree attempted murder which could result in decades of imprisonment.
After watching the report, click here to sign a national petition asking the Louisiana governor to intervene in the case and consider sending a donation to the students' legal defense fund by mailing checks to the Jena 6 Defense Fund, PO Box 2798, Jena, La. 71342 or by giving online.
Fortunately, this petition is just one part of a growing campaign on behalf of the six black teenagers charged with attacking a white student in the small town of Jena. The NAACP has made the case a top priority and is organizing a September 20 march on Jena, civil rights leaders are planning to attend protests next week and lawyers nationwide are taking an interest in the situation.
"The case has captured the imagination of a lot of people," Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is helping to coordinate legal representation for the six boys and is paying for some of their legal fees, told ABC News today. "It's taken on symbolic importance as a microcosm for so many other things that are wrong with the criminal justice system."
Peter Rothberg writes the ActNow column for the The Nation. ActNow aims to put readers in touch with creative ways to register informed dissent. Whether it's a grassroots political campaign, a progressive film festival, an antiwar candidate, a street march, a Congressional bill needing popular support or a global petition, ActNow will highlight the outpouring of cultural, political and anti-corporate activism sweeping the planet. Watch this space for more examples in the coming days.
© 2007 The Nation