There’s an article with interviews of Robert Bailey, his mother Casepta Bailey, Justin Purvis and Marcus Jones at Democracy Now on the Jena 6: The Case of the Jena Six: Black High School Students Charged with Attempted Murder for Schoolyard Fight After Nooses Are Hung from Tree.
Again, I don’t agree with every characterization they make – for example they say “attempted murder” which is not as accurate as “attempted second degree murder” which is still a very serious charge, but less than the one they imply. Facing up to 100 years in prison…? Collectively, I guess. But, as I’ve written before, the plain facts are so abominably bad that there’s really no need to dramatize or exaggerate. Nevertheless, it’s original reporting and the interviews are excellent – the more light everyone shines on this case, the better. It also gives a wealth of new detail on how this all got started.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: A few days after the nooses were hung, the entire black student body staged an impromptu demonstration, crowding underneath the tree during lunch hour. Justin Purvis, the student who first asked to sit underneath the tree, described how the protest came about.
JUSTIN PURVIS: It was like, the first beginning, in the courtyard, they said, “Y’all want to go stand under the tree?” We said, “Yeah.” They said, “If you go, I’ll go. If you go, I’ll go.” One person went, the next person went, everybody else just went.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: The school responded to the protest by calling police and the district attorney. At an assembly the same day, the District Attorney Reed Walters, accompanied by armed policeman, addressed the students. Substitute teacher Michelle Rogers, one of the few black teachers at the school, was there. She recalls the DA’s words to the assembled high schoolers.
MICHELLE ROGERS: The kids didn’t say anything. They were listening. The kids were quiet. And so, District Attorney Reed Walters, you know, proceeded to tell those kids that “I could end your lives with the stroke of a pen.” And the kids were just — it was like in awe that the district — you know, Reed Walters would tell these kids that. He held a pen in his hand and told those kids that, “See this pen in my hand? I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen.”
JACQUIE SOOHEN: A series of incidents followed throughout the fall. In October, a black student was beaten for entering a private all-white party. Later that month, a white student pulled a gun on a group of black students at a gas station, claiming self-defense. The black students wrestled the gun away and reported the incident to police. They were charged with assault and robbery of the gun. No charges were ever filed against the white students in either incident. Then, in late November, someone tried to burn down the high school, creating even more tension.
Four days later, a white student was allegedly attacked in a school fight. The victim was taken to hospital and released shortly with a concussion. He attended a school function that evening. Six black students were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, on charges that leave them facing between twenty and one hundred years in jail. The defendants, ranging in age from fifteen to seventeen, had their bonds set at between $70,000 and $138,000. The attack was written up in the local paper as fact, and DA Reed Walters published a statement in which he said, “When you are convicted, I will seek the maximum penalty allowed by law.”