SDSU Protests Injustice in Jena 6 Cases
September 17, 2007
Today, hundreds of students, staff and faculty members rallied at San Diego State University to protest the racially-motivated unequal treatment that is occurring in the cases of the “Jena Six,” a group of six African-American teenagers who were charged with attempted second-degree murder after a brawl in which a white teenager was injured in Jena, Louisiana last year.
ACLU Executive Director Kevin Keenan spoke at the rally, sponsored by the Student African American Sisterhood of SDSU, Young Adults Youth Group of Abundant Living Family Church, and the Black Student Union of the University of California at Irvine, saying “enough is enough.”
“It’s startling that this type of injustice can still occur today, but unfortunately, we at the ACLU encounter these types of abuses and racism regularly,” Keenan said. “When tragedies such as these present themselves so starkly, so dramatically, as in Jena, it is essential that every American—no matter your race or ethnicity—stands up and says, ‘This will not be tolerated. Not in our America.” Rally organizers urged supporters to sign a petition calling on the Justice Department to begin an investigation of the events surrounding the prosecution of the six black African American defendants. The ACLU strongly supports the call for justice in the Jena Six cases.
The Jena Six cases refer to legal proceedings against six African American high school students who were charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder for fighting with a white student last year in Jena, Louisiana.
The case grew out of an ugly incident in September 2006. After a black student asked the principal at an assembly if he could sit under the shade of “the white tree,” a traditional hang-out for white students only at Jena High School, students, teachers and staff were appalled to find three nooses hanging from its branches the next morning. Tensions exploded over the next few months, resulting in a brawl between black and white students. The District Attorney charged the black students with attempted murder. No white students were charged following the fight. The three white students who were found to be responsible for hanging the nooses were suspended for school for three days. The six black students each face more than twenty years in prison.
The first African-American student to face trial, Mychal Bell, 17, was convicted by an all-white jury in July 2007 on the reduced charges of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. On Friday, September 14, 2007, a Louisiana appeals court overturned the conviction on aggravated battery charges; another judge had overturned his conviction on conspiracy charges a week earlier. Facing increasing pressure from national civil rights groups and others, prosecutors in recent weeks have reduced the charges against some of the other remaining defendants, who have not yet stood for trial.
The ACLU has been on the ground working closely with the families of the Jena Six since March 2007, before their story was reported nationally. As a lead advocacy organization on the issue, the ACLU has helped the families of the six young men charged in the Jena Six cases to form a defense committee and to develop and administer a legal defense fund to ensure qualified criminal defense representation. In addition, the ACLU has thoroughly monitored the cases to protect the civil rights of the Jena Six and their families.
Recently, the ACLU of Louisiana filed an “open records request” in Louisiana seeking all arrest and incident reports, broken down by race, for LaSalle Parish, which includes the town of Jena. The request also seeks records pertaining to Jena High School specifically, including documents listing the frequency of law enforcement visits to the school and charges issued to its students. Instead of following the standard procedure of turning over the appropriate materials, District Attorney Walters took the extraordinary step of suing the ACLU of Louisiana in state court so he would not have to comply with the order. The ACLU of Louisiana filed a motion to move the issue to federal court, where it is currently pending.
Coinciding with Mychal Bell’s September 20 sentencing date, the ACLU is working in coordination with the Jena Six family members to organize a demonstration from the courthouse to a baseball field in Jena. The event is expected to draw up to 5,000 people from across the country in support of the Jena Six and to bring attention to their tragic experience.
Link here to learn more about the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project and its work to combat the “school-to-prison pipeline.”