September 20th, 2007

15,000 Protest Prosecution of Black Teens in Jena, Louisiana

At the beginning of the 2006 school year, a black student at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana, sat under a large tree where white students typically congregated. The next day, several white students hung nooses in the tree. The students were recommended to be expelled but the school board later reduced their punishment to a short suspension. Following the noose incident, racial tensions increased and confrontations among the school's 90% white and 10% black student body grew frequent.

On December 4, 2006, Justin Barker, a white student, was bragging to his friends about a weekend fight in which a black student had been beaten by a white man. Several black students overheard Barker's comments and attacked him, causing a concussion, swollen eye, and minor injuries to his face, neck, and hands. Six black students were arrested and charged with aggravated assault. When the district attorney upgraded the charges to attempted murder despite Barker’s relatively minor injuries, the case drew national attention. Many throughout the country decried the unfairly harsh treatment of the “Jena 6” and criticized the school district’s insufficient response to the earlier noose incident. The students’ charges were later reduced and five of the six ultimately received sentences of no jail time but public outrage continued.

On September 20, 2007, at least 15,000 protesters, including celebrities and civil rights activists, came together in Jena to demonstrate against racial injustice and show solidarity with the local black students. Darryl Matthews, General President of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and one of many speakers at the protest, said: “It is sobering to know that in 2007, Martin Luther King's dream of equal treatment, respect, fairness and opportunity is still not realized.”