Jul 2, 2007
Six young black men are on trial in the small town of Jena, Louisiana. The District Attorney is charging them with attempted murder, promising very long prison terms. Their crime is apparently being black in an 85% white Southern town.
Last August, at the Jena high school where blacks are a small minority, some black students asked the principal if it would be okay during a class break for them to sit under a tree where white students “traditionally” sat. They were told they could sit wherever they liked. But the next day, three nooses were strung in the tree, a clear threat, calling to mind the long-standing Southern “tradition” of lynching black people.
Black students and their parents protested when no serious action was taken against the white students who put up the nooses. When the school board refused to back down, tensions began to rise and fights began to break out repeatedly between white and black students both in school and out. Finally over the first weekend in December, a black student was beaten by a group of white students and a white graduate of the school threatened several black students with a shotgun. The following Monday, after white students taunted the black student who had been beaten up, several black students beat up one of the white students.
Six black students were then arrested and charged with “conspiracy to commit second degree murder” and “attempted second degree murder” for beating up the white student. They face up to 100 years in prison without parole.
Whatever happens with the trial of these young men, which began May 21, racist violence directed against black people continues throughout this country up to this day. In 2003 in Linden, Texas, about a four hour drive from Jena, a black man was beaten senseless by a group of white youths, who received minimal sentences from an all-white jury. The man will spend the rest of his life in care because of his injuries. In 1998, in an act of violence that received international notice, a racist youth in Jasper, Texas, about 3 hours from Jena, dragged a black man to death behind his vehicle.
The only time the situation changed was when black people organized to fight back – as in the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. Black people in rural areas like this faced danger, even death, especially in the South. A group of black veterans called Deacons for Defense was started in 1964 in a town just north of Jena and began organizing in many small Southern towns. Another vet who helped organize a successful self defense by black people in a Southern town was Robert Williams, although Williams had to flee the country to escape the so-called justice system.
The rights people once gained through their organized struggles have to be fought for all over again today.