Sharpton Defends the 'Jena 6' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Sharpton Defends the 'Jena 6'

Photos by Chelsi West & Maggie Burks

Updated with corrections and an editor's note

In the small, pastoral town of Jena, La., police arrested six black students 15 to 17 years old and charged them with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy after a string of racially charged events climaxed with a school fight on Dec. 4, 2006.

Police have not charged three white students involved in events leading up to the fight, including a young man who pulled a sawed-off shotgun on a group of black students in a convenience store.

On June 28, 2007, a black student involved in the fight, Mychal Bell, was tried as an adult and found guilty of aggravated second-degree assault and conspiracy to commit secondary degree aggravated assault. He faces up to 22 years in prison. The Lasalle District Attorney's office filed charges against Robert Bailey Jr., 17, Theo Shaw, 17, Carwin Jones, 18, Bryant Purvis, 17, and Jesse Beard, 15, who face a combined total of more than 100 years in prison. Hearings are set to begin Sept. 4.

Tensions at Jena High School began to escalate in September 2006 when Justin Purvis asked school administrators if he could sit under a tree that was known as a "whites-only" tree. The following day, three nooses ominously hung from the tree. The school district's superintendent, Roy Breithaupt, did not pursue serious discipline against the students who hung the nooses, calling it a "prank." The students were given in-school suspension, instead.

In early December, a white student from Jena High School pulled a gun on Robert Bailey, Jr. in a convenience store. Bailey and his friends wrestled the gun away from the boy and fled home with it. D.A. Reed Walters later charged the black students with second-degree robbery and confiscated the weapon.

On Dec. 4, 2006, the six black students attacked a white student, Justin Barker, for reportedly taunting them and calling them "n*gger." Barker suffered a concussion and bruises, but later that same night, he went out to a social gathering. Meanwhile, the Jena Six went to jail and are facing the harshest sentences possible for the school fight.

Rev. Al Sharpton traveled to the gallant south last Sunday to raise awareness for what has come to be called the Jena Six case, often compared to the infamous Scottsboro Boys of the 1930s. He arrived in Jena on the helm of a recent surge in media coverage following grassroots activism and protests to draw attention to the case. After entering the pulpit at Trout Creek Missionary Baptist Church to deliver a sermon, Sharpton preempted accusations, saying: "I did not come to Jena to start trouble. I came to join the parents to stop trouble."

"We are not coming to overwhelm Jena; we are coming to appeal for justice in Jena," Sharpton said. "And we would hope that the decent people of Jena would stand with this appeal … This is not just about black and white. This is about right and wrong."

Sharpton delivered a short, captivating sermon from the book of Daniel. After spirited applause from the congregation, Sharpton said it would take relentless pursuit of justice for the Jena Six case to receive fair treatment.

"America needs to know that six young men are being profiled, here in Jena. Because there were many in this dispute, but only six black men have been charged. And they have been overly, aggressively charged in a manner that only speaks of a south that we thought we left in the last century," Sharpton said.

The governor of Louisiana should be ready to be on the scene in Jena, Sharpton said.

"Governor (Kathleen) Blanco ought to be prepared to do whatever is necessary if for some reason … Mychal (Bell) is not released at the Sept. 4 hearing, then the governor could be petitioned for a special prosecutor to take over these five cases … the governor needs to know that the nation is watching her."

Sharpton first heard of the Jena Six case when the pastor of Trout Creek Missionary Baptist Church, Robert Green, called Sharpton's National Action Network.
Green and many members of the black community in Jena have also contacted Jesse Jackson, Judge Greg Mathis and Oprah Winfrey.

"If we get these national figures down here, something will have to be done," Green said in an interview following Sharpton's sermon. "(Sharpton's visit) has been inspiration for the community that they can overcome injustice. It has given the people hope, they are not the only ones in this struggle; there are other people all over the world with them," Green added.

Green said that he and Trout Creek Church have been involved with the Jena Six case since the students hung the nooses on the "whites-only" tree. Since the arrests of the six boys, Green has organized a prayer meeting led by black and white pastors in the community, attracting 600 people. He also said that he has tried to meet with District Attorney Reed Walters, but has been turned down.

"Maybe if adults had stopped having trees that would only shade some, this wouldn't have happened among our children," Sharpton said. "So maybe the adults, now, who allowed the tree to go that far could step forward and say, 'Let's have one sunlight of justice for everybody, rather than shade some and expose others.' It is in that spirit that I came, and it is in that spirit that we will continue to come."

The first of the six hearings is set for Sept. 4. Sharpton and Green plan to offer their support. "I told the boys 'when God delivers you out of this, let that be a lesson to you—ignore ignorance and move on in your life and progress.' Ignorance is always going to be around us; we got to learn how to deal with it," Green said.

Sharpton said during his sermon that Adam Clayton Powell was his hero as a young man and that the Jena Six should remember his words. "'Keep the faith, baby,'" Sharpton said.

Carmelita Pope Freeman, the southwest regional director of the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, said that they have been in Jena trying to educate and inform the public on "how to heal."

"We come in and bring with us strategic interventions, and different services to bring healing to the community," Freeman said. "We are the nation's peacemakers."
Freeman hopes that when she leaves Jena that seeds will be planted so that city officials and community members can work together to promote understanding and sensitivity. However, Sharpton says that he will continue to come to Jena until "justice rains down like water."

Sharpton added: "Racism in the south and the north are the same, it's just that in the south, it may just be that we have deluded ourselves into thinking that it's over. Then you see this. This is the most blatant and obvious case of discrimination in the judicial process I've seen in some time."

D.A. Reed Walters did not return phone calls.

Assistant Editor Maggie Burks incorrectly reported the following items in the Jena Six story:

Justin Purvis, cousin of Bryant Purvis, went to school administrators asking if black students could sit under the "whites-only" tree.

The fight, after which the Jena 6 were arrested and charged, occurred at Jena High School, not at a party. There was a scuffle between a few white students and a black student, Robert Bailey, Jr., at a party at the Jena Fair Barn prior to the fight in the schoolyard.

Bryant Purvis was not involved in the shotgun incident at the Gotta Go convenience store. Robert Bailey, Jr. and his two friends, Theo Shaw and Ryan Simmons wrestled a sawed-off shotgun away from a white Jena High School graduate in the parking lot the night after the fight at the Jena Fair Barn.

Trout Creek Missionary Baptist Church hosted Sharpton.

The Jackson Free Press apologizes for the errors.

editor's note: The above story and "Let The Punishment Fit The Crime" (Vol. 6, No. 3) have been corrected to remove the association of Justin Barker with the noose-hanging incident at Jena High School. Barker has been reported as a friend of the noose-hangers, whose names have not been disclosed, but not as a co-conspirator in the noose incident. This error was not intentional. Maggie Burks and The Jackson Free Press apologize for the error.

Previous Comments

ID
67969
Comment

Your copy said: (Sharpton first heard of the Jena Six case when the pastor of Turtle Creek Missionary Baptist Church, Robert Green, called Sharpton’s National Action Network.) [Below is an excerpt from a press conference held immediately after the church services, in which Rev. Sharpton preached.] from The Town Talk Following are some of Sharpton's comments and answers to questions during a news conference that followed his sermon Sunday at Trout Creek Baptist Church: Question: When did you heard about the Jena Six case for the first time? Sharpton: About four weeks ago. Bishop George informed us and 3½ weeks ago Marcus Jones and Melissa (parents of Mychal Bell) were on my national radio show. I have had them on three times and they asked would I come in? And I said I would. Then I made sure the members from my National Action Network ... officials had a conference call with all of the parents, because I wanted to make sure I was being invited because I didn't want to be arrested for breaking and entry -- I was invited. And I will continue to come as long as I can be helpful. Q: What concerns you the most about the Jena Six case? A: These young men should not be standing around waiting for the other shoe to drop on them, like it has in the case of Mychal Bell. Q: Is this an issue of racial justice? A: In the case of Mychal Bell, three of the attorneys that volunteered in the fight are white. This is not just about black and white -- it's about right and wrong. There are many whites in Jena who see this is as wrong, and we welcome them. America needs to know six young men are being profiled here in Jena, because there were many in this dispute but only six black men have been charged, and they have been overly aggressively charged in a manner that only speaks of a South we thought we left in the last century.

Author
Prophet
Date
2007-08-09T02:22:45-06:00
ID
67970
Comment

Prophet, I am not sure what you are challenging, but I was at that press conference and I spoke with Bishop Green. The statement is a combination of what both Sharpton and Green said and the transcript from the press conference does not refute that.

Author
maggie
Date
2007-08-09T08:58:02-06:00
ID
67971
Comment

Are Bishop Green and Bishop George the same people? Is that the question?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-08-09T08:59:12-06:00
ID
67972
Comment

Pastor Roger L. Green is the pastor of Trout Creek Baptist Church in Jena, Louisiana. The excerpt is from the Alexandria Town Talk. Bishop George is an entirely different person. Bishop George whose last name is George, is founder of the Louisiana Justice Foundation. The formal request for National Action Network involvement was procured and faxed to Rev. Sharpton's New York Office, under the parents authority and permission; by Bishop George. This is merely a statement of fact. Nothing is being challenged. Rev. Sharpton I have found is easily accessible. Certainly, the National Action Network's website has a contact number, if there is any further clarification.

Author
Prophet
Date
2007-08-10T23:34:53-06:00
ID
67973
Comment

I had signed a petition that colorofchange.org had a few weeks ago about this case. Here's an email response I got from them: On July 31st, more than 300 people came from around the country to stand with the families of the Jena 6. It was quite a scene for Jena. We rallied in front of the courthouse and marched through the city, but perhaps the most intense moment was when a group of six supporters, led by a Jena 6 family member, walked through a line of sheriff's deputies into the District Attorney's office, to deliver stacks of petitions representing the demands of more than 43,000 of you that District Attorney Reed Walters drop the charges against the five students still waiting to be tried. It was a tense and powerful moment. Black folks don't confront power like this in Jena, and certainly not with hundreds of people of every color supporting them. From the looks on the faces of the sheriff's deputies and other officials in the court house, it was clear they got the message—it is no longer business as usual in Jena and their racist attack on these young men will not be allowed to stand. We also know we're making an impact on Governor Blanco. She finally started responding to the more than 60,000 emails ColorOfChange members have sent. Her condescending and insulting response— claiming she's powerless to intervene and failing even to condemn the egregious injustice that's taking place—was clearly an attempt to back away from the issue completely. We're not going to let that happen. You can help build momentum and keep the heat on Governor Blanco, by spreading the word and asking your friends and family to get involved. You can find a brief letter to send them here: http://www.colorofchange.org/jena/thanks.html Our impact has also been felt by the families of the Jena Six. Your support for their sons — in person, and in spirit — gives them energy and strength to continue their struggle for justice. Concretely, ColorOfChange members have raised over $70,000 to provide legal support for the Jena 6. It's critical that these young men get representation from exceptional lawyers; even if they find pro bono counsel, they are likely to incur $30-50 thousand each in expenses. To help, visit the following link. Every penny goes directly to the legal defense of the Jena 6. You can contribute by credit card, PayPal, or check. http://www.colorofchange.org/jena_fund We are planning on-the-ground events on or around September 20th, the new date set for Mychal Bell's sentencing. In the next few weeks, we'll nail down the dates and locations. Until then, please keep the Jena 6 in your thoughts and do what you can to let others know about the situation. The road ahead for the Jena 6 is not likely to be short. But together, with a little persistence and some decent smarts, we can help them win. Moments like these—where the law and government oversight fail us—help us remember that our ability to survive and protect our children comes down to building a community of support. We are so grateful to have the opportunity to do this work, and so thankful that you are part of this community. Thank You and Peace, -- James, Van, Gabriel, Clarissa, and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team August 11th, 2007

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-08-11T16:10:03-06:00
ID
67974
Comment

Be it known, that the next court date for Mychal Bell is August 24th, a bond hearing. The next courtdate from that is September 4th. [Every penny goes directly to the legal defense of the Jena 6. You can contribute by credit card, PayPal, or check.] Although, the Bell attorney team has gotten the sentencing pushed back to 9-20-07; no funds have been received from either defense fund. [You can help build momentum and keep the heat on Governor Blanco.] http://www.thetowntalk.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070811/NEWS01/708110360/1002/NEWS17 Governor responds to questions A number of petitions have been circulating on the Internet, many addressed to Gov. Kathleen Blanco. She issued a statement explaining why she hasn't, and won't, be able to intervene with the case, as she has been requested to do. "I have received hundreds of calls, letters and e-mails from citizens concerned about the situation involving the case of the high school students in Jena, La.," Blanco said in the statement. "As Governor, as a citizen of the State of Louisiana and as a mother, without rushing to judgment, I condemn racism in any form, and I fully expect that those involved in this case, including all parties, will act with fairness and in complete good faith. "I must clear up a widespread misunderstanding of my authority in this case. Our State Constitution provides for three Branches of State Government -- legislative, executive and judicial -- and the Constitution prohibits anyone in one branch from exercising the powers of anyone in another branch. This issue is currently a matter in the Judicial System, and should those involved in this case suffer any defects, it is their right to address them in that system through the appeals court." Blanco went on to say that oversight with the entire case -- from arrest to prosecution -- is in the hands of the justice system, and she has contacted Attorney General Charles Foti and Donald Washington, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana. She said Foti has been speaking with Washington and other members of the justice system about the case as well. "... Regardless of the outcome of this case, the Jena community has much healing ahead of it, and I urge all those citizens to come together for the common good of their community and their state," Blanco said. "Our children deserve nothing less."

Author
Prophet
Date
2007-08-12T02:23:57-06:00
ID
67975
Comment

Here is a link to the petition that Color of Change circulated.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-08-13T22:40:13-06:00
ID
67976
Comment

All, Tom Head has an excellent page up about the Jena 6 on his about.com civil liberties page. Highly recommended. Pass the word.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-09-04T11:34:47-06:00
ID
67977
Comment

Oh, and the Mississippi Link has been running stories about it: From the Louisiana Weekly From the Dallas Examiner Cheers, all, for giving this story legs.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-09-04T11:38:46-06:00
ID
67978
Comment

YouTube clip

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-09-04T20:41:36-06:00
ID
67979
Comment

Jena judge reduces charges JENA, La. (AP)——A judge has thrown out one of the two charges against the first Black student tried for beating up a White student at Jena High School, saying juveniles cannot be charged with conspiracy in adult court. But Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. rejected arguments that, for the same reason, he should throw out the aggravated second-degree battery charge on which Mychal Bell, 17, also was convicted. The judge's decision means Bell will face at most 15 years in prison rather than 221/2 when he is sentenced Sept. 20.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-09-07T19:01:49-06:00
ID
67980
Comment

The Judge didn't--, J-U-S-T, -- throw out the Conspiracy Charge on the one defendant Mychal Bell. In fact this obvious civil rights case, was stumped all over, by the activist judge. This Judge is an activist judge. He is ADVOCATING RACISM, plain and simple. We will be asking for Malik Shabazz to come to Jena, to defend the civil rights issues, if the other civil rights entities do not STANDUP, IMMEDIATELY. Reed Walters, has tried to re-introduce the conspiracy charges in JUVENILE COURT/jurisdiction on Friday, Sept. 7, 2007. However, because of technical motions, he was not able to proceed as of 4:30pm Friday.---the Prophet has said--- We the people will not stand for this prejudicial, mess. It is UNEQUAL JUSTICE. CHARGE EVERYBODY THE SAME WAY, PLEASE!! In the court proceedings on September 4th, THE ATTORNEY'S Louis G. Scott, Carol Powell-Lexing, & Bob Noel along with Lee Perkins aggressively argued 7 seperate motions, to whiddle the Judge's prosecutorial stance, down to the "throwing-out" of the CONSPIRACY charge. The Judge didn't do any ways nice. In fact, the Judge acted in the stead of the prosecutor, arguing points for the state, directly with each defense attorney. I WOULD IMMAGINE A NOTICE WILL FILED WITH THE LOUISIANA SUPREMES. PROPHET

Author
Prophet
Date
2007-09-08T09:12:12-06:00
ID
67981
Comment

"JENA (AP) - The aggravated battery conviction that could send a black teenager from Jena to prison for 15 years in the beating of a white classmate has been overturned by a state appeal court. The state third circuit court of appeal says Mychal Bell should not have been tried as an adult on the battery charge." http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/breaking/9789942.html

Author
dvc
Date
2007-09-14T15:35:01-06:00

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