Workers Vanguard No. 896

3 August 2007


Free Mychal Bell! Drop All Charges Against the Jena Six!

Outrage Over Jim Crow Justice in Louisiana

(Young Spartacus pages)

In a racist frame-up redolent of the lynch law of the “Old South,” six black youth in the small town of Jena, Louisiana, face decades in prison on phony second-degree murder and felony “aggravated battery” charges. The six were arrested last December after a white student was injured in a fight at Jena High School that followed months of intense racist harassment and threats of violence against black students. On June 28, one of the black youth, Mychal Bell, was convicted by an all-white jury of aggravated battery and conspiracy. He faces up to 22 years in prison, with sentencing set for September 20. Five others—Robert Bailey Jr., Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Jesse Beard—still await trial. We demand that Mychal Bell be freed and that all charges be dropped against the Jena Six!

While the New York Times and many other major newspapers in the U.S. have blacked out this racist atrocity, the story has been picked up in Europe, South Africa and elsewhere. Virtually every reporter has noted the parallels with the Jim Crow system of segregation that was legally dismantled following the mass civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s. The case began last September when a black student requested permission from a school official to sit under the so-called “white tree,” and did so. The next day, black students at the school, which is 80 percent white, arrived to find three nooses hanging from the tree. Robert Bailey remarked that when he came upon the nooses, “I’m thinking the KKK, you know, were hanging nooses. They want to hang somebody.” His mother Caseptla Bailey said, “It meant that, ‘We’re going to kill you, you’re going to die’.”

Black students some days later bravely held an impromptu protest under the tree. The LaSalle Parish district attorney was immediately called in for a school assembly where he threatened the black students. One of the few black teachers at the school reported that he held up a pen and said, “I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen.” Cops patrolled the school hallways, and disciplining of black students escalated throughout the fall. In December, Robert Bailey was assaulted at a mainly white party. After the cops showed up, they warned the black youth there to get back to “their” side of town. The next day, one of Bailey’s attackers pulled a shotgun on three black youth at a convenience store.

A few days later, a white student found himself on the ground in a fight that ensued after he hurled the word “n----r” at a black youth he was taunting for having been attacked at the party. After visiting a hospital emergency room, the white student was seen at a school event later that day. But as a result of the scuffle, the Jena Six were arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder, a charge that could mean one hundred years without parole in Louisiana’s hellhole prison system. Bail for the six ranged from $70,000 to $138,000, forcing some to spend months in jail. Mychal Bell’s family never did make bail. The battery charge against him was upped to “aggravated” because of the presence of a “dangerous weapon”—the tennis shoes on his feet!

The court-appointed defense lawyer tried to convince Bell to accept a plea bargain from the prosecution, but he refused. His father, Marcus Jones, pointed out: “Here in LaSalle Parish, whenever a black man is offered a plea bargain, he is innocent.” The judge put a gag order on Bell’s parents, banning them from the courtroom and from speaking to the media. His attorney called no witnesses, and the jury spent less than three hours deliberating before finding him guilty. As Marcus Jones described in a July 10 radio interview on Democracy Now, it was “just a 2007 modern-day court lynching.”

With anger spreading in local black communities, some 300 supporters of the Jena Six marched in Jena on July 31. Assisting the defense of the Jena Six is “Friends of Justice,” a group from Tulia, Texas, formed in the wake of the outrageous railroading of black people in that rural town. In 1999, some 10 percent of the town’s black population was rounded up and jailed as part of the government’s racist “war on drugs.” They were finally released in 2003 after the whole operation was exposed as a grotesque frame-up. We pointed out at the time that in such isolated areas, the government’s forces of repression are capable of “literally decimating black communities” (“After Four Years in Racist Prison Hell—Tulia Victims Freed, Finally,” WV No. 813, 7 November 2003).

As for Louisiana, the state has the highest incarceration rate in the U.S. and its prison hells are notorious. Jena itself is the site of the infamous Jena Juvenile Justice Center, which was closed in 2000 after reports of massive abuse of prisoners. Among those rotting in Angola prison, a former slave plantation, is Gary Tyler. In Destrehan, Louisiana, in 1974, amid raging battles over school integration, Tyler, then a high school sophomore, was on a bus with other black students when it was attacked by a white mob with a barrage of bricks and bottles as 200 cops stood by. A bullet hit a white child, and although a man with a rifle was seen nearby, Gary Tyler was arrested. Though no gun or other evidence was found on him, he was framed up for the killing, convicted by an all-white jury and given the death penalty (since changed to a life sentence). Free Gary Tyler!

The racist humiliations, provocations and physical and legal attacks that Jena’s black youth have endured exemplify the brutal reality of racist oppression in capitalist America. Jena lies not far from the impoverished Mississippi Delta. It was after the massive civil rights struggles that this country’s rulers dismantled the Jim Crow system of de jure segregation. But the liberal-reformist strategy of reliance on the Democratic Party, the federal government and the courts brought the fight for black freedom to a dead end in the 1960s. This was particularly seen when the civil rights struggles went North and ran into the solid core of racist American capitalism in the ghettos: segregated, wretched housing, rampant cop brutality, entrenched unemployment. And especially in small Southern towns like Jena and Tulia, Jim Crow “justice” is still the order of the day.

The incompetence, cruelty and contempt for black and poor people demonstrated at all levels of the U.S. ruling class before, during and after Hurricane Katrina is emblematic of this murderous capitalist system. After Katrina, the Jena juvenile prison was opened to house New Orleans prisoners, some of whom barely survived after being initially abandoned in locked cells with water up to their necks. On the legal front, the June U.S. Supreme Court decision throwing out school desegregation plans struck another blow against black rights. The situation today cries out for a class-struggle fight for black rights, mobilizing the social power of the labor movement, where black workers play a crucial role. That potential power was seen in the shipyard strike in Pascagoula, Mississippi, earlier this year, where workers, many of whom had lost their homes because of Katrina, shut down one of the world’s largest shipbuilders.

The Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Clubs fight for revolutionary integrationism, a strategy counterposed to both the liberal integrationist notion that black people can achieve social equality within the confines of the capitalist profit system and to black nationalism, which capitulates to and helps perpetuate the racist segregation fostered by this country’s rulers and despairs of multiracial class struggle. While fighting against all forms of racist segregation and discrimination, we realize that, as we wrote in “Supreme Court: Segregation Forever” (WV No. 895, 6 July): “Ultimately, social conditions cannot be fundamentally altered short of the overthrow of the racist capitalist system and the construction of an egalitarian socialist society. The Spartacist League is committed to the fight to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party that can lead all the exploited and the oppressed in the struggle to sweep away this decaying capitalist system.” We say: Finish the Civil War—For black liberation through socialist revolution!

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The Partisan Defense Committee has contributed to the Jena Six defense. We urge our readers to send donations to: Jena 6 Defense Committee, P.O. Box 2798, Jena, LA 71342.