Justice for Jena 6!
Demand thousands at Louisiana rally
Militant/Jacob Perasso (left), Laura Anderson
People came to Louisiana from across the country to demand justice for the Jena 6 on September 20. Solidarity actions took place in at least 33 states.
BY JACQUIE HENDERSON
AND AMANDA ULMAN
JENA, LouisianaTens of thousands rallied here September 20 to demand that charges be dropped against Black high school students known as the Jena Six and that Mychal Bell be freed. Hundreds of busloads came from cities and towns from most states in the country.
Many hundreds more came by car, van, and plane. Dozens of buses were held up for more than an hour on the highway by police who said that too many people were in this central Louisiana town of 3,000. This is what people face everywhere, and it is rare to be able to openly fight it together, said Terral Roberts, a warehouse worker from Opelousas, Louisiana, who came with five coworkers. The injustice these students had to put up with was a lot like what we face at work.
Thousands of dollars were spontaneously raised during the rally to cover Bells anticipated bail.
The Jena SixBell, 17; Robert Bailey, Jr., 17; Theo Shaw, 17; Carwin Jones, 18; Bryant Purvis, 17; and Jesse Beard, 15were arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder after a white student filed charges following a fight at Jena High School last December.
The fight happened after months of racist harassment and attacks against Black students at the school, who had launched a campaign to protest racist practices there. After Black students staged a sit-in under what was known as the white tree, racists hung three nooses from the tree.
The white students who hung the nooses received only brief school suspensions.
Bell was tried and convicted by an all white jury. He remains in jail even though a state appeals court threw out his conviction of aggravated assault, ruling that he should not have been tried in adult court. The day after the demonstration he was again denied bail.
After I heard about these students I couldnt imagine not being here and being part of history, said Infinitae Speights, 21, a certified nurse assistant who came on a bus from New York.
The march through Jena to the LaSalle Parish court house was spirited and disciplined. Many wore T-shirts reading, Free the Jena 6! Enough is Enough! Others carried hand lettered signs.
An enormous police presence blocked buses and cars and, in some instances, prevented participants from reaching their buses for hours afterwards. While protesters faced few overt racist incidents, Confederate flags were displayed on the fence of a mansion outside of town and a lone pickup truck with nooses circled protesters leaving nearby Alexandria after a rally.
History is very much part of the present here. Following the Civil War, this area was both a center for freed slaves who fought in the Union army and for Confederate thugs organized by the Democratic Party. In 1873, hundreds of former Confederate soldiers from LaSalle Parish joined an attack on free Blacks in Colfax. After defeating the less well armed African Americans, they shot all the surrendering Blacks.
Ray Fairman, 62, a Jena resident with a long memory, welcomed the visiting demonstrators offering rides to people who lost their buses, jumper cables for stalled cars, and water for the thirsty.
If they are going to try to sweep this kind of thing under the rug, they have think to about it now, he said. Because they dont know who the janitor is going to be. Were going to come along with our brooms and see that its not right.
As working people we have to stand together because no one is going to do it for us, said Sandie Lollie, 50, president of the Monroe Federation of Teachers and School Employees. Lollie came with 1,000 others from Monroe, Louisiana.
Upon seeing a group of young immigrant workers at the demonstration who had signs in Spanish and English, she hugged them. Whether you are Black, white, Asian or Hispanic, this is about what is right, what is good and what is fair, she said.
Amos Edmonds, a truck driver from Tennessee, met a busload of demonstrators from New York at a truck stop and insisted on buying dinner for many of them after he heard where they had been. There are many other Jena, Louisianas around the country, he said.
Laura Anderson, Willie Cotton, and John Staggs contributed to this article.
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