JENA, LOUISIANA-People traveled from all over the country to participate in today’s rally. Here are a couple of voices from Jena:
Shannon Watkins, 20; Jackson, Mississippi
“I think the Jena 6 case was a full-circle moment for many young people. Growing up we learned about the Civil Rights Movement, saw the movies, and heard the stories, but we never knew what it was like to actually have to protest and stand for something. I feel as if this is a perfect opportunity to be a part of something, especially because I’ve wanted to be a part of it from hearing stories of past struggles. I think this is really beautiful.”
Charles Ewing, 25; Detroit
“Being here will give me a piece of history to pass on to my daughter, to say that I stood up for something that I believe in-justice. By coming to show our support and joining together with everyone else out here, we are creating a powerful united voice. It shows respect and love for my race to give back and say I will travel down here, I will march, and I will have my voice be heard.”
Lewis White, 57; Pine Bluff, Arkansas
“I came here to stand against injustice. It reminds me so much of the sixties when this was occurring on a regular basis. I think this should be the beginning for a new Civil Rights Movement. We need that. Too many of our youngsters have no idea what civil rights are, and the struggle we had to go through. I’m inspired to see so many of them out here today. Out of this will come new leaders.”
Tara Thompson, 29; St. Louis
“The treatment in this case is so unequal. They’re trying to take these young men’s lives away, and it’s totally unfair. Louisiana doesn’t have the only Jena. There are Jenas throughout the country, and we need to stand up against this treatment.”
Ricky Bertley, 50; Kensington, Maryland
“I brought my 9-year-old son and his best friend here because they’re the future, and they could be one of these guys. This march is historic, and I want it to be successful for them so they can have an easier life in comparison to what we’re going through right now.”
Jequita Williams, 18; New Orleans
“I never thought I’d experience something like this march in my life, considering that all this racism was supposed to have been over with. When I heard about the Jena Six, I wanted to come out to show my support for them. I think it sparked a sense of activism in a lot of people my age for the first time.”
(Updated September 20, 2007) JENA, LOUISIANA-Tens of thousands from across the country walked through the small rural town of Jena, Louisiana, in a powerful protest against the treatment of six Black teenagers charged with attempted second-degree murder following a fight with a White schoolmate last December.
Most of those present were African-American, many wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with such slogans as Free the Jena 6 and Enough is Enough. Protestors swarmed the entire town, from the small business strip that was closed today to the tree-lined residential areas and the local high school. Residents of the majority White town mainly stayed inside their homes, with the exception of a few bewildered residents who stood on their porches watching the thousands of Black folks-families with small children, college students, gray-haired elders-all of them chanting, “No justice! No peace!” and “Free Mychal Bell,” one of the six young men accused.
Celebrities such as Tyler Perry and Kym Whitley were also there, as were New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and actor-rapper Mos Def. Numerous speakers, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, addressed the crowds in rousing voices from the LaSalle Parish Courthouse, expressing the need to fight for the Jena Six but to also remain peaceful. When members of the New Black Panther Party suggested taking a more violent approach, even using racial epithets against Whites, the crowd booed them off the stage and began chanting, “We are united.”
“We’re not here for a riot,” stressed one college student who took the podium. “We’re here to make a change.”
Rev. Al Sharpton Speaks Out on Jena Six
(Updated September 20, 2007) JENA, LOUISIANA- ESSENCE caught up with the Reverend Al Sharpton on the eve of the rally. Read his comments on the Jena Six rally today. Stay with Essence.com all day as we report from the scene and sound off on Jena Six with our blogger Roland S. Martin here.
ESSENCE: Last Friday a state appeals court overturned Mychal Bell’s conviction. Many people celebrated this news. What was your reaction when you heard?
SHARPTON: My reaction was that it was good. But reduced injustice is not justice. It’s just a reduced injustice from [charging him as] an adult to [charging him as] a juvenile. And he’s still in jail. Today I visited him for the third time. He should be out, if nothing else, on time served. He has served ten months as an adult. And the others should not be charged. The reason I got in this case early, before anybody, is when I saw that an official said we [likely] can’t charge hate crimes to the White students who hung up the nooses because they’re juveniles. Yet Black kids the same age were charged as adults. The district attorney couldn’t charge the White guy who pulled a shotgun or the guys who assaulted a Black student at a party [incidents that led up to the fight at Jena High School]. So you have all of this as little to nothing on the White side, and you have this extreme kind of prosecution on the Black side. That is an unequal protection under the law.
ESSENCE: Do you think the prosecutor hoped that the ruling would make you call off the march and be quiet?
SHARPTON: He probably did. But we didn’t ask for a better bad deal; we asked for justice.
ESSENCE:Has the message for the march changed now that there’s no longer a sentencing hearing scheduled for Mychal Bell today?
SHARPTON: The message is the same message: equal justice under the law. And we don’t have it.
ESSENCE: Does Friday’s ruling signal anything for the other five charged?
SHARPTON: No. Because if we can’t turn the Mychal Bell situation around, you know the other five are doomed.
ESSENCE: The situation seems to have given rise to a new movement of Black activism, especially among young African-Americans. Have you felt that surge?
SHARPTON: I think we’ve seen it over the last several months. For Sean Bell we marched 7,000 down Fifth Avenue, mostly young people. Now you see this reaction in Jena. I think what we’re seeing is a revival of the Civil Rights Movement in the twenty-first century.
ESSENCE: Part of what has struck so many about this case is that it sounds like something out of the 1950’s.
SHARPTON: There are Jenas all over the country. There’s Jena when you have health-care disparities. There’s the Jena mentality in education. I think Jena symbolizes the continuing disparities of how America treats Blacks.
ESSENCE: You’ve called for an investigation of LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters for prosecutorial misconduct. Are the state’s attorney general and legislators backing you on that?
SHARPTON: I think when they see the numbers at the march, they’re going to have to. If we hadn’t had the threat of this march, I don’t think they would have reduced the charges. I don’t think the state is on our side, but the state never was. I think we can force the state to do what we want.
ESSENCE: So the pressure from the rallies, online petitions and people such as you has had an effect on this case?
SHARPTON: It has had an effect, but you got to keep going. The boycott in Montgomery lasted over a year. We just got in this in June. So there’s clearly a buildup going, and we’re going to stay on it. When we fight, we win. When we don’t fight, we’re guaranteed to lose.
Credit: Associated Press