New York. NY -- Black and Latino/a artists, activists and students across the country are organizing a national day of support for six Black high school students known as the "Jena 6." Over 100 schools have joined in the call to walk out of classrooms at 12 noon, Central Standard Time on Monday October 1 and rally either on campus or at other designated areas to demand the immediate release of Mychal Bell from jail.
Mos Def, who spearheaded the campaign, said "This is the time for Black people to support the Jena 6, and call attention to the unequal treatment the criminal Justice system is dishing out not only in Jena Louisiana but across this nation"we all live in Jena."
The Jena case began last fall, when two Black high school students sat under the "white" tree on their campus. White students responded by hanging nooses from the tree, conjuring up images of lynching and racial terrorism endured by Black people across the country. When Black students protested the light punishment for the students who hung the nooses, District Attorney Reed Walters came to the school and told the students he could "take [their] lives away with a stroke of [his] pen."
Racial tension continued to mount in Jena, and the District Attorney did nothing in response to several egregious cases of violence and threats against black students. But when a white student--who had been a vocal supporter of the student's who hung the nooses, taunted a black student and called several black students "nigger"--sustained minor injuries from a school fight, six black students were charged with second-degree attempted murder. Last month, the first young man to be tried, Mychal Bell, was convicted. He faced up to 22 years in prison for a school fight until Black people began to organize and his conviction was thrown out by a court that rules he should not have been tried as an adult. However, the DA and the judge still refuse to drop the charges in this case and Bell, though released on $45,000 bail, is still subject to trial.
This case has become a symbol for the Black community of the disproportionate arrest and incarceration rate of Black people and the excessive punishment of Black students in schools across the country. Many local organizers say what is happening to the Jena 6 youth is similar to what happens in their cities.
Mos Def added, "Jena Louisiana is the same as "Jena" New York. From Mychal Bell to Sean Bell our communities continue to be targeted."
The group has created a list of demands that will be read at noon during rallies around the country.
Judge J.P. Mauffray and District Attorney Reed Walters have engaged in a string of egregious actions. We call for:
1. All charges against the Jena 6 be dropped;
2. The United States Department of Justice to convene an immediate inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the arrests and prosecutions of the Jena 6;
3. Judge Mauffray to be recused from presiding over Bell's juvenile court hearings or other proceedings;
4. The Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel to investigate Reed Walters for unethical and possibly illegal conduct;
5. The Louisiana Judiciary Commission investigate Judge Mauffray for unethical conduct;
6. The Jena School District superintendent to be removed from office; and
7. That each local, state and federal criminal justice apparatus stop profiling the black community in general and specifically black youth for imprisonment and free labor.
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