We have investigated and flushed out the facts in the Jena 6 case. Together, we have focused international attention upon a case of Unequal Treatment Under the Law. Six black teenagers were being charged with “attempted murder” and “conspiracy to commit murder” in adult court, where they could each receive up to 80 years. This was Jena, Louisiana, but it signified what is happening to thousands of black male youth across America.
Everyone agrees that the charges against the boys were excessive, but they never thought about how excessive. A recent Georgia case points out how exaggerated charges and excessive punishment can and do constitute Cruel and Unusual Punishment.
The case of Genarlow Wilson, a 17 year old, was charged with “sexual molestation” of a consenting 15-year-old girl. He was then sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Georgia state law under which he was convicted was later changed, but could not be applied retroactively. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that such charges and punishment were so excessive that it constituted Cruel and Unusual Punishment.
Indeed Cruel, but not hardly Unusual for black boys- it happens every day. Had not the world looked in on the all-white jury conviction of 17-year old Mychal Bell, all six of these youth would be on their way down the river with 80-year prison sentences for a schoolyard fight.
We hear inflammatory words like “thugs” to describe these boys, but when we look at their profile, we find that these were typical high school students with relatively good records before the fight. By calling them “thugs” and painting a negative image, some people would have us to consent to locking these teenagers up and throwing away their lives- over nonsense.
From September 2006- the time when three white students dangled nooses across a schoolyard tree- there had been racial tension at Jena High School, leading up to and culminating in the December 4, 2006 beating of Justin Barker. The prosecutor and the court contend no connection between the two incidents, thereby making any reference to the nooses “irrelevant” and inadmissible as a defense.
This would discount the testimony of outraged black parents at the noose hanging incident. It would discount the black student protest that escalated into racial fights on campus. Students have testified of a continual series of fights and rumors of fights. One student claimed that on the day in question, there were three fights, not just one. There were fights in school and out in the neighborhood. Someone tried to burn down the school, and each side started accusing the other of setting the fire.
At every turn of new violence, District Attorney Reed Walters would make a public statement, disassociating these events from the original noose incident- as if by the power of his word, he can make it so. In any case, without the admission of all relevant evidence, the Jena 6 boys will go to prison, not for an unprovoked assault, but because they stood up against tyranny and white terrorism in their community. That would make them Political Prisoners.