The Jena Six

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  • At Shelley Powers’ Burningbird I left a comment in the discussion thread that follows her post about the Jena Six. I’ve lifted that comment and include it below…

    It’s difficult to write about the Jena Six because it’s undeniable that a wrong was done by them. They beat up another boy and the authorities have held them accountable. The Chicago Tribune said,

    The Jena case has drawn national protests because of the perception of many African Americans that blacks are treated more harshly than whites in the town’s criminal justice system.

    The Chicago Tribune understates the situation when they speak of the “perception of many African Americans.” If these kids can’t get their records expunged they will be stigmatized for life. That stigma will carry with it the documented consequences of being effectively excluded from the labor market. (See Marked, by Devah Pager.)

    The disparity in treatment between whites and blacks in the justice system is huge, and the consequences of that disparity have a profound effect on our ability as a nation to provide equal opportunities for all. The entire justice system needs a closer look, and the unfortunate facts surrounding the Jena 6 make that clear.

    Should there have been an arrest? Should the DA have charged the kids with a felony, and how should the case have been prosecuted? What discretion had the judge in terms of sentencing options and adjustment of charges? Why is Mychal Bell still in jail? What options exist for his release?

    I think there is data to show that black men are often charged when white men would receive warnings. I know there is data to show that black men receive harsher sentences than white men when convicted of equivalent crimes. And there is the amazing fact of more than ten times as many black men imprisoned per capita in the USA than white men. This is not about racism in small southern towns. This is about a national shame that we conveniently hide beneath the history of racial tension in the old south.

    Look at the circumstances leading up to the Jena 6 arrests. White kids undoubtedly crossed the line in terms of mishandling weapons, beating up other kids, and trying to create a climate of fear by hanging nooses, the symbol of black lynchings, on a tree in the school yard. But authorities used their discretion not to prosecute these offensive acts. When black kids crossed that line between right and wrong, the District Attorney was quick to bring them up on felony charges, as he had told them at a high school assembly that he could. Somebody turned the spotlight on Jena, Louisiana and it revealed this huge structural flaw in our justice system. But the spotlight could as easily shine on my home state of Wisconsin. Anecdotally, I am aware of a lot of African Americans of all ages who are pulled over simply for Driving While Black. (The link is to an article from Minnesota Law Review by Professor David Harris that provides statistical documentation for the “perception” regarding disparate treatment of white versus non-white drivers). If they are not appropriately circumspect, if they don’t project an attitude of humility, these random stops can turn into arrests. And once charged, the system is tuned to incarcerate black men at a rate ten times that of white men. It’s bigger than Jena, LA, but in Jena we have a chance to halt the injustice before more lives are ruined.

    Posted in Disparities
    23 comments on “The Jena Six
    1. rick says:

      From Frank:

      An anonymous commenter calling himself “rick” said

      Hmm, let’s see, when it comes to black/white murders, rapes, assaults, and armed robberies, [many times] whites are the victim and blacks are the assailant.

      He went on to offer mordant observations regarding the fate of America and so forth.

      I offered to allow his anonymous comment and seemingly spurious data to stand if he could provide a source for it. He couldn’t. Rather than blow away the comment, I’ve edited it and will leave it in place because it is the antecedent for other comments in the thread.

    2. Thank you for your input, “Rick.” If I understand you correctly, you assert that [many] (“black/white”) violent crimes are perpetrated by blacks against whites. You’ve challenged me to check FBI statistics to validate your assertion.

      Tell you what. YOU validate your assertion for me. If you can’t do that today, say in the next twelve hours, I’ll remove your anonymous (and, to my way of thinking, somewhat bizarre) comment.

    3. Rick sounds like he’s got the stats so i’d like to ask the following: let’s say you get your wish and Black folk were going to be put to death for their gangbanging marauding ways (or, if you’re kinder, let’s say it’s a mandatory vaccine to make em all docile and accepting of orders) — how much would the (violent?) crime on White folk, overall, go down? 20%? 30%? 5%?

      Like, would it then be safe for any White guy in (say) Boston to go out to a bar and not risk a beatdown by some angry Black dude? Really?

      Also curious if Frank or any of his regular posters have ever been in a physical fight with a Black person ever in their whole life.

    4. Re. fighting with blacks: only in the structured and secure environment at USMC platoon leader training at Quantico. Never on the streets. I’ve only been the victim of violence once… a white guy punched me, broke my glasses, bloodied my nose. I just stood there dumb-founded because frankly I had no clue what he was doing. Someone else restrained him. Odd question, Charles. How many fights have you been in, and were any of them inter-racial?

    5. As bellicose as I come off in virtual space, in real life I don’t seem to generate the same ire, not to the point of a physical throwdown anyway.

      I’ve only been in one fight where my fists got to connect, violently, with another person. Sixth grade, an argument over cubby holes (well, it was mine, dammit and i didn’t see any reason to give it up). I accepted the white kid’s challenge to meet up afterschool. I was clearly winning by the time the “teacher’s coming!” cries rang out (it was on school property). He didn’t bother me again after that.

      As an adult, there’ve been a couple brief shoving matches on a basketball court. Oh and one time I had to be restrained trying to protect the “honour” of some coed at a frat party. Boy my blood was up that time (yes, it would’ve been against a white dude there, too).

      That’s about it for me. I’m a muser, not a fighter, really. There was a time (early 20s) I was fairly itching to get into a rumble just to know what it might be like to get into a real knock-down, dragout fight with someone. Lawd knows I’ve imagined it in grisly detail more’n thrice. But it never happened. I’m told my physical presence is juust imposing enough and my personality juust convivial enough to bother with for the average schmoe.

      I asked b/c I want to better understand Rick’s thinking. That type of stuff works best as innuendo so I want to flesh it all out. If the FBI, as part of its mandate (ha!), did keep a giant database of the races involved in bajillions of local fights across the country, I’m supposing it should bear out in some anecdotal evidence 😉

    6. madame l. says:

      the only time i have ever been attacked by anyone was by a crackhead on 2nd and 2nd in ny. he happened to be black, but to me he was just some crazy motherfucker.

      by the time i reacted and picked up a piece of wood (believe me, there was plenty of garbage on 2nd ave when i was 19), about 5 of the usual drunks who sat against the buildings stood up and broke some bottles and went after the guy. they were black and white and hispanic, i guess.

      i was more shocked that they came to my defense because up until then our conversations were limited to one or the other of them saying: “how’s school ivory girl?” and “hey mountain, when you going back to idaho?” and me saying: “fuck off you old drunk bastards.” and “when you get a job.”

      charles: blacks and whites don’t go to the same bars in boston unless they’re yuppies. i think the fbi stats show that you have a much better chance of being beaten by someone from southie no matter what your colour.

    7. Scruggs says:

      I doubt Rick will be back. For whatever it’s worth, the stats he mentions negate his statement. The majority of violent crime is intra-ethnic and intra-class. Violent, organized racism, which he acknowledges, correlates strongly with organic brain damage and child abuse. So there might be some hope for salvaging bigots if that can ever be addressed properly. I’m not optimistic.

      Charles, yes I have. By a rough calculation, my experience of violence reflects the ethnic and class make-up of this country.

    8. Blair says:

      Jena High School administrators, teachers and students say virtually all students—black as well as white—congregated beneath the “white tree” from time to time. According to local reporters, the black student who asked permission during a school assembly to sit beneath the tree did so in jest; the entire auditorium erupted in laughter. The three white students who hung nooses from the tree claim they were they did as a continuation of the joke. They were not simply suspended for three days. They were forced to attend an alternative school for one month and then were given an in-school suspension. Federal investigators looked into the incident and determined there were no grounds to charge the three with a hate crime.

      The other incidents were not connected to the noose-handing incident. They stemmed from a fight at a private party. Both black and white students attended the party, but trouble started when a group of uninvited black athletes attempted to crash the party. Rather than call police, one white teenager, who was not a student, beat up one of the students (Robert Bailey) who were attempting to crash the party. Similar fights take place all the time across the Untied States when groups of uninvited teenagers, regardless of race, attempt to crash private parties. The white non-student was charged and convicted of simple assault.

      Witnesses support the white student’s testimony in the convenience store incident. The same group of black students who started the fight at the private party confronted the white teenager—who had attended the party—inside the convenience store and chased him to his truck in the parking lot. He pulled the shotgun to defend himself. His fears seem well-founded since the black students were the same ones who would later beat Justin Barker at Jena High School.

      The black students involved in the barker beating say they were angered because Barker taunted Bailey about losing the fight at the private party. Barker denies he taunted Bailey but claims he was attack because he was at the party. None of the black students involved claimed they were motivated by the noose hanging incidence. (Barker was not one of the students who hung the nooses.) The black students followed the white student from the locker room to the school ground. One of the black students hit Barker from behind and knocked him unconscious. As he lay unconscious, one of the black students stood on his head while the others kicked him in the head and body. (It was more than a schoolyard fight. Imagine the outcry if the six attackers had been white and the victim black.) The attack probably doesn’t qualify as a hate crime, because the black students didn’t single out the victim merely because he was white but because, they claim, he taunted Bailey about loosing the fight at the party.

      Mychal Bell’s conviction was overturned because he was a juvenile tried as an adult, but he remains in jail because he was on parole from previous convictions for assault and battery (he beat his girlfriend so severely her eye was dislocated from its socket).

      Most black and white students seem to get along fairly well.

    9. I tracked down “Rick’s” data source based on a comment he left a while ago at One Good Move (ain’t google grand). It’s a French language website that tracks anti-white “racism” world-wide. I decided not to go any deeper since it’s really up to “Rick” (or “Horst,” or “Skinhead,” or whatever his real name is) to provide me with data that supports his assertions here, and it’s up to me to assess the data after he does that.

      If we’re going as far back as middle school, I remember tussling with my friend Steve in 5th grade, wrestling on the playground. Not sure what pissed us off. And in sixth, there was a guy named Kenny who was aggressive and tough and scared me. He got into a shoving match with me one day and I clobbered him with my cornet case. He was tougher than me, so why fight fair? Anyway, that pretty much resolved our differences. Both those guys were white, but there weren’t any black kids in my school. At that time Madison blacks were pretty much ghettoized on the south side by a combination of restricted covenants, redlining, and aggressive racist hostility. Things haven’t improved as much as one might hope, here in progressive Madtown. But y’know? Progressive Berkeley, CA wasn’t all that much better. I lived there as an adult and knew that while Berkeley High School was integrated, in the school yard the white kids had their own exclusive turf and the black kids theirs.

      (OMG, I just remembered bloodying a guy’s nose at Freshman football practice because he was being an aggressive asshole. I wonder how much more violence I have buried back there?)

    10. madame, thanks for your story. i didn’t pick self-segregating boston by accident.

      scruggs, frank i’m quite sure we’re on the same page. just offering buddy a lil rope to play with. let’s just see where (if) this goes.

    11. Scruggs says:

      Yeah, I’m pretty we are sure too.

      My bet is that Rick will still wind up ardently supporting the people who want him databased, piss-tested, microchipped, cavity-probed and subjected to constant other minor humiliations when he goes to work or travels — as long as they do it to the other guys more often.

    12. Essie says:

      Harassment, violence, discrimination is wrong no matter who is doing it.

      The white kids beat up, harass and discriminate against some black kids and the issue doesn’t even come up.

      The black kids fight back and beat up a white kid and all of a sudden, it’s a federal offense.

      Let’s be fair, if they are not going to prosecute the white kids, then don’t prosecute the black kids. Being fair in this matter is necessary. You can’t just ignore it when black are beat up on and mistreated and prosecute only when they fight back. That’s institutional racism at its best!

    13. Shelley says:

      This is a note to ‘Blair’. You wrote:

      “Mychal Bell’s conviction was overturned because he was a juvenile tried as an adult, but he remains in jail because he was on parole from previous convictions for assault and battery (he beat his girlfriend so severely her eye was dislocated from its socket).”

      Most of your post was directly from the Jena Times ‘timeline’, but this paragraph isn’t.

      He was charged with simple battery twice. Beating someone so severely that their eye is dislocated from a socket is not simple battery. At a minimum, this is second degree battery or assault.

      I’ve talked with a reporter who talked about Bell’s sealed juvenile record. The only information released, and this was for a bail hearing, was the types of convictions and that he was on probation. Nothing about this charge.

      Where exactly did you read this, or hear this from? If you don’t clarify, I’d recommend that Frank delete this comment, also, as containing fabricated information.

    14. Blair exemplifies the difficulty with conspiracy theories. You can always craft an alternative history that sounds pretty reasonable to anyone who needs to believe something different. Sometimes there’s a seed of truth, sometimes…not so much. It’s effective in either case.

      Oh, woah! Which o which news brand to trust!?

    15. Blair says:

      Note to Shelly: ABC News has reported on the “white tree” and Bell’s prior convictions and parole status.

      Locals Dispute Growing Story of Jena 6 (

      The so-called “white tree” at Jena High, often reported to be the domain of only white students, was nothing of the sort, according to teachers and school administrators; students of all races, they say, congregated under it at one time or another

      “It was widely reported that Bell, now 17, was an honor student with no prior criminal record. Although he had a high grade-point average, he was, in fact, on probation for at least two counts of battery and a count of criminal damage to property.

      I should have written that according to some bloggers, one of the victims of Bell’s previous attacks was his 17-year-old girlfriend who was beaten so severly that her eye was dislocated from the socket. Actually, this type of injury is more common in fights than people think.

    16. Shelley says:

      Blair, do you understand what you’ve done here?

      The following is fact: Bell’s prior convictions and parole status were reported at Bell’s bail hearing after the initial charge was dismissed. It was reported by a parole officer and a court clerk.

      You made a statement of fact based on things you heard as hearsay from ‘some’ bloggers.

      In addition, can you contemplate the possibility that the only reason you recounted this is because you believed it, and you believed it _because_ Mychael Bell is black?

      Please list the links to the ‘some bloggers’ that are reporting this story.

    17. Blair says:

      Shelly: I believe that Mychael Bell has previous convictions because the news media is reporting he had previous convictions. I did read the Jena Times ‘timeline’ you referenced. It’s a newspaper, not a blog. However, I posted my statement after the networks began backing up the Jena Times version of events.

    18. Blair, just so there is clarity here: you asserted that Mychal Bell remains in jail because he was on parole from previous convictions for assault and battery (he beat his girlfriend so severely her eye was dislocated from its socket).

      Shelley called you on that, noting that Bell’s juvenile record is sealed so the level of detail you provided made it seem like you were trying to blow smoke up our collective asses (I’m paraphrasing here.)

      You defended yourself by deflecting your false and/or misleading statement to unidentified bloggers. You said: I should have written that according to some bloggers, one of the victims of Bell’s previous attacks was his 17-year-old girlfriend who was beaten so severly that her eye was dislocated from the socket. Actually, this type of injury is more common in fights than people think.

      Shelley (with an “e”) said, in effect, “What bloggers are you talking about?”

      Here’s where it gets absurd… you said, in direct response to Shelley’s question… you said, help me here, I’m blowing beverage out my nostrils, yes, you said… (hey, and this is after you’d gotten all clinical about people’s eye-sockets being emptied of their orbs and shit) you said… well, you said NOTHING. You did NOT respond to Shelley’s question, but for some reason you thought it would be meaningful to try the smoke blowing trick one more time.

      Do me a favor, “Blair.” Don’t come back until you can point to the bloggers that are spreading the misinformation. And until you do provide us those links, we can all rest easy in the understanding that YOU MADE THAT SHIT UP. Jackass.

    19. Someone representing The New Century Foundation left a link in the comments to a “report” on black-on-white crime in America. I refer you instead to this report on The New Century Foundation.

    20. Shelley says:

      What Blair and others don’t realize is that a fair and equal justice system is for all people–not just tiny women riding in the front of the bus, or people dressed in their Sunday Best walking down a road singing a hymn.

      Mychael Bell does have a juvenile criminal record, including battery and property damage. We don’t know the circumstances, but even if we did, it doesn’t change the facts behind these events.

      There was nothing but inconsistent testimony by the eyewitnesses who saw the event, and the only person who said he saw Mychael Bell kick Justin Baker was one of the people who hung the nooses at the school. Frankly, I would not consider him a reputable witness.

      Even the injuries that Justin Baker suffered are inconsistent with the assertions that 6 black men (all star football players), knocked and held this man down, kicking and hitting him repeatedly. His injuries were consistent with being hit and knocked down, perhaps hit again, and either getting hit in his hands, or his hands were stepped on.

      The stories neglect to mention all the other events, including (and this was from another journalist, Darryl Fears, from the Washington Post), about Justin Baker bringing a loaded gun to school a few weeks after this incident, and why wasn’t he charged for doing so? Frankly, I find a loaded gun to be more dangerous than loaded tennis shoes.

      There really wasn’t enough clear, substantiated fact to bring this to trial, much less bring about a conviction. The witnesses were tampered with, what physical evidence exists does not corroborate the stories, which were inconsistent with each other. Realistically? This should have resulted in suspensions, perhaps being expelled, and that’s about it. There wasn’t enough criminal evidence to make this a clean charge in court.

      To bring about a charge of second degree murder based on such flimsy testimony and evidence is an absolute miscarriage of justice. Then, when the charge is ‘reduced’, to justify second degree assault (which requires a weapon) by saying that tennis shoes are a dangerous weapons — well, I would think the people of Jena would rather admit to racism than to being thought of us as stupid po’dunk ignorant hicks who got their legal training from watching old Perry Mason shows.

      I’ve been seeing that link in other weblog posts on this topic, Frank. It’s sad to see how eagerly it was accepted.

    21. The (White) ruling class in Jena are a bunch of vindictive lowlifes. All you hear from them is, “all this trouble is coming from the outside!” See, the Black folk in Jena don’t have any trouble with this case because we keep our negroes in check.

    22. Blair says:

      Following the Jena High School beating incidence, the Justice Department reopened its investigation into the noose-hanging incident and found no link to the assault on Justin Barker or other confrontations between black and white students. Donald Washington, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, told CNN that “A lot of things happened between the noose hanging and the fight occurring, and we have arrived at the conclusion that the fight itself had no connection.” He added that “We could not prove that, because the statements of the students themselves do not make any mention of nooses, of trees, of the ‘N’ word or any other word of racial hate.” Washington also told CNN that Bell had “several previous assault charges on his record. “ The CNN story is online at

    23. Karl says:

      Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2024 Statistical Tables:

      “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”



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