The Jena 6

I’m tired, never been so busy in my life, and I thought post-Katrina was exhausting…did not get the job, was encouraged to apply for XXXXXX, but the same week I was applying, Jena just blew up….I can’t leave yet, this is too big… feels real…..

When something important is going down my ex-wife is usually in the thick of it.

This time she’s been in the middle of the Jena 6 controversy. I was going to give my own spin on this but after reading all the info and links she sent me I thought it would be better to let her explain it to you in her own words.

For complete transparency my ex-wife is charge of Development & Public Education for the ACLU of Louisiana.

Back to Jena

I don’t care if you publish this or not, I have more to say on the big picture, but this will start you out, FYI….

OK, more on Jena…..These folks are really special. Although Alan and I (and King Downing from our national ACLU Campaign Against Racial Profiling) have been advising parents and residents about their rights and how to organize from the start of the “Jena 6 Defense Committee” in March, I’ve never encountered a group of folks so ready to fight for their own freedom. The Jena 6 are fortunate to have an amazing set of natural advocates and leaders in their group of parents. The parents, although shy and new to the spotlight, draw tremendous support and strength from family and friends who are simply fed up with the segregated, resource poor, second class treatment black folks in Jena have been putting up with for decades. The civil rights movement never stepped foot in Jena, so marches are powerful, foreign, and all led by the families and friends of the the Jena 6 down their own town’s mainstreet. We’ve conducted nearly two dozen protests since the beginning of March, and two marches, the town is very quiet and not used to anyone speaking up or out about anything.

Jena is a story that someone could really be able to delve into. The elementary schools are segregated, there is a white public school and a school that is mixed. But none of the black kids go to the all white one. Many in the town, black and white, have mentioned to me that this whole mess would not have happened if the kids knew each other better, citing the fact that high school is the first real time all the black and white kids in the town go to school together. Nooses would not have been hung, kids would know more about cultural symbols that cause real wounds, they would be somewhat familiar with each other. I’ve read all the eyewitness statements from other kids and the white kids’ mostly say the same thing “a bunch of black kids” hit the white kid… a town of 3,000 that is 12% black, many of the white kids quite clearly couldn’t distinguish one of the black kids from another because they grew up separately. With the recent supreme court decision undermining Brown v. Board of Education, Jena just might be our future.

Also, let’s see, all the black folks live in one part of town that is out of the city limits so they can’t vote for mayor, police chief, etc….and then of course there are 6 young talented black kids (star athletes, honor roll kids) on trial for second degree murder for a school fight where one white kid was not seriously injured in a school where in Sept six black kids asked if they could sit under the tree where white kids traditionally sat at school and the next day came to school to see hangman’s nooses hanging from the tree in school colors……and when the black kids all decided to stage a sit under the tree at lunch, after the 3 white kids who openly admitted to the noose hanging were given only 3 days in school suspsension instead of the original expulsion recommended by the principal, the DA was called in with police officers to speak at a schoolwide assembly convened only hours after that lunchtime protest….there he warned all the kids in the school that if they didn’t stop “making such a fuss” about this “innocent prank” he “could be their best friend or worst enemy, he could take away their lives with a stroke of his pen.” The organizers of that protest, and closest friends of the original 6 black kids who sat under the tree, are the Jena 6.

Jena was the site of a notoriously abusive prison that was shut down for abuse in the late 90’s. It was reopened after Katrina to house the prisoners from Orleans Parish who were abandoned for days locked in their cells, had to break out of jail, were then left without any administrative oversight or care in a field for a week where food was catapulted to them, and then transferred to rural Louisiana jails all over the state. Despite the inhuman conditions they had just come from, the prisoners sent to Jena suffered such severe additional abuse that in only a few months the state, although in the throws of a disaster, had to shut it down and relocate them to other facilities. Human Rights Watch, ACLU, NAACP LDF, and others issued reports about the abuses. Guards would beat the prisoners, make them lick up their own blood, and all sorts of horrific torture. Trash cans at the facility when the ACLU visited shortly after it was closed down again had KKK scrawled all over them (you can link to our report, page 82, there is a picture even in the report of one of the Jena trash cans with KKK on it: ). They are about to reopen this prison again in a few months to house immigrants.

It is a very compelling and complex story and I think the more we tell it, the better chance we have of freeing these kids, and making visible our plea that our own government live up to its promise of equal protection under the law, so that these parents’ cries for justice will no longer be ignored.

I’m pretty overwhelmed with work but will try[to stay in touch]….Oprah is not definitely in, nor is Cornell, but they are thinking about it…..

Yeah, I’m pretty much living out my dream of changing the world by starting a revolution, or rather supporting the start of a revolution by connecting folks to resources and power and helping them organize and learn to speak out. I believe this may be the biggest thing I’m ever involved with in terms of impact on the world.

stay tuned 🙂

Glad to hear you are back up and running and doing well….your mom called me yesterday, I owe her a return call…..anyway, hope you have a good day.

take care,


I know that was a lot to read (especially with no pictures) but important stuff is like that. Below it continues:

Here is an update: I’ve sent the BBC recently, well a few weeks back now. Al Sharpton has been there twice since then, and lots more progress made on all the solidarity organizing. There are Jena 6 solidarity groups popping up all over – in Boston, New York, Jackson, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and San Francisco. The Boston group has weekly rallies in Harvard Square, and the Cambridge City Council passed a resolution in support of the Jena 6. I recently heard the NY folks have a tag sale fundraiser on the subway where they take over a car and sell cool stuff garage-sale-style and all proceeds go to the families. Everything got really crazy when Bill Quigley’s article (and I love Bill but he listed my cellphone number as the contact number and I still get several hundred phone calls a day on my cellphone) and the first Democracy NOW hit the same week. All of a sudden all the international media, loyal bloggers, CNN, BBC, Chicago Tribune and Democracy NOW were joined by Newsweek, Good Morning America, and CBS Nightly News…the mainstream. I just hope that all of this attention serves to bring justice. So far, we are still fighting.

[NOTE TO YOU: Please don’t put any contact info for me. You can put the jena 6 defense account. I manage that so if folks want to get involved that really is the best place to email.]

OK, here goes….


We are still VERY busy down here, it is amazing how this story is spreading, we just hope that helps bring justice for these kids. Mychal’s sentencing was postponed until Sept 20th but we still had 300 people from all over the country show up to protest in support of the parents.

The group is becoming more and more organized by the day. Alan, King and I have still been working closely with the Jena 6 Defense Committee (officially comprised of parents of the Jena 6, residents, and any advisors they invite to the table, where voting decisions made by majority of parents only). They have been raising money, garnering an amazing amount of press and interest about the case, protesting, and even starting to organize ally groups into the Friends of the Jena 6 and Jena6-Lasalle Parish Legal Working group to create a network of ally organizations and individuals working together to bring justice to the Jena 6 and LaSalle Parish. Color of Change ( has partnered with the group and collected over 45,000 signatures on a petition to the DA in a weeks time. We delivered this stack of signatures to the DA at this Tues’s march/ rally. You can recommend folks go there to sign the petitions to the DA and Governor.

The Congressional Black Caucus (of the US Congress) issued a statement in support as has Mumia, .

There will be more official protests announced soon. Email requests, offers of help, or comments can be sent to an account maintained by the families and their volunteers, everyone who writes to that account will be added to alan’s list and color of change’s list as well as an e-list maintained by the parents to be sure they get regular updates from the parents on the progress of cases. The parents have set up a Jena 6 Defense Committee Fund where they vote themselves how to spend contributions. You can donate directly to the Jena 6 Defense Fund online at: Or mail donations to: Jena 6 Defense Committee PO BOX 2798 Jena, LA 71342.

Here’s some of the press we got for the protest/rally on Mon, hope to see you in Jena again soon 🙂

The picture gallery is really great for this one (bottom right of page). Alexandria town talk.
Marchers rally to support Jena Six: Petition given to LaSalle D.A. (aug 1st) :

NBC Nightly News = Tiny Louisiana Town Torn By Racial Strife (july 31st) =

NPR’s All Things Considered (july 30th):

Democracy NOW:

(august 1st):Hundreds March in Jena, Louisiana in Support of the Jena Six

(July 18th) Michael Eric Dyson comments on jena 6:

(july 10th) “A Modern-Day Lynching” – Parents of Jena Six Speak of Injustice, Racism in Sons’ Prosecution:

I’m tired, never been so busy in my life, and I thought post-Katrina was exhausting…did not get the job, was encouraged to apply for XXXXXX, but the same week I was applying, Jena just blew up….I can’t leave yet, this is too big… feels real…..

how are you?

Oh, we also came out yesterday with this followup to last years Abandoned and Abused report on the prison and other post-K problems:

Explore posts in the same categories: ACLU, bbc, Democracy NOW, jena 6, jena six, Justice, racism, Tory Pegram, YouTube

11 Comments on “The Jena 6”

  1. rafi Says:

    Thank you for this post. I didn’t know you were about to drop this when I mentioned Jena this morning to you.

    I’ve just changed the Jena banner on my site’s sidebar to point to the Color of Change site so people can take action / donate instead of to the informational post that it was previously pointed to.

  2. chartreuse Says:

    I’ve been thinking about it for days and the ex is really into it (obviously). Just wanted to make folks aware.

  3. Manny Says:

    hey, we’re putting together a CD/Show for the Jena 6, I’ll be doing a lot of production for it. Need your help man. You ain’t dead yet, are you???

  4. thomas smith Says:

    The GREEN PARTY is contributing to the defense fund because justice in america is intrinsic to the treatment of black americans. this thinking has led us in the past to include reparations as a permanent stake in our platform (1991) and leds us to make
    the monetary contribution we can
    black folds , stop being taken for granted by the dems and ignored by the repubs,
    think GREEN!!

  5. Cynthia H. Casteel Says:

    Is it “Just-Us”, the ones who get no justice. This is something America needs to ashamed about. Here it is 2007 and we’re still dealing with this bull&^%$ Those of us who believe in justice for all and not just for some must take a stand. Now is the time!

  6. Cynthia H. Casteel Says:

    Frankies Angels, an organization that spreads happy feelings and an organization that believes that “We Are One” will be making contributions to help the families fight this injustice. As Frankie Beverly has written in one of his songs: “I can’t understand why we treat each other in this way, taking up time with the silly, silly games we play. We’ve got so much, and we all could be having fun, WE ARE ONE!”

  7. chiquis1 Says:


  8. pvdugas Says:

    This is just great information. I was watching the video and I’m a little “suspect” of the women claiming she didn’t know what the nooses in the tree meant! She is old enough to know about Jim Crow. It’s such a cop-out. It’s time to take a stand!

  9. Mack Says:

    The politically correct motivated pinheads preach and preach that race does not matter.

    Intergrate, dumb down, and tolerate ghetto culture or wear the badge of racism and humiliation.

    Black Power is justified and honorable.
    White Power is evil racism.

    A black beats a white to near death and thousands of blacks march, demonstrate and protest the attempted murder charge by the district attorney.

    It is obvious to me that if you are black then race does matter. Damn the white kid that nearly got killed but uplift and praise the black that nearly beat him to death.

    The nooses hanging in the tree was in extremely poor taste, but no one attacked the blacks and nearly killed them.

    The double standard here is so obvious.
    Tolerance and multiculturalism are a perverted twisted one way street at the expense of white American culture and heritage.

    “Welcome to the new America where thugs and gang bangers are the new heroes and the white middle class are the villains”

  10. Ed Pollnac Says:

    I am a little upset that EVERY news caster starts the story about the black students… as if they started the issue. The white students instigated the whole thing. NOT that what the Jena 6 did was right… and I’m sure they know what they did was wrong… and that’s the key, they knew they were wrong. The white kids are too darn stupid to know what they did was wrong. The white kids should be charged with inciting a riot! The black kids… whelp, not just a slap on the hand… but they definitely do not deserve the harsh treatment they’re getting!

    I back the Jena 6 with ALL my heart. I WISH I could afford to help them. I just wish prejudice would go away!

    The Jena 6 I’m hoping have asked the Lord for forgiveness and the Lord will forgive.

    The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?
    The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?
    When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh,
    when my enemies and my foes attack me,
    they will stumble and fall.
    Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
    though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.

    Psalms 27: 1-3

  11. Mark A. Adams JD/MBA Says:

    Parents of Jena 6 speak at National Judicial Reform Conference

    Link to speech titled “No Justice, No Peace” given by Mark A. Adams, Esquire JD/MBA at the National Judicial Reform Conference at Rice University in Houston, Texas
    Higher Quality Video
    Lower Quality Video

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