40 parish residents make way to Jena rally to offer support

October 04, 2007 at 7:34 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

40 parish residents make way to Jena rally to offer support
Photo provided by Desmond Hilaire
A bus filled with 40 African-American residents from St. Charles Parish headed to Jena on Sept. 20, to join crowds of thousands of protesters from all across the country, and chant in raised voices, "Free the Jena 6."

In a scene recalling the civil rights marches of the 1960s, an estimated 20,000 people went to Jena last week to peacefully protest the case including local residents.

Councilman Desmond Hilaire and Lillian August arranged the bus trip to lend their support to bridge the widening gap of racism.

"When we arrived in Jena, the first thing I noticed is that blacks and whites were wearing black t-shirts as a symbol of support," Hilaire said. "It was an issue everyone seemed concerned about, not just blacks.

"It was a peaceful demonstration for the most part and no one was aggressive or angry," he continued.  "We didn't feel uncomfortable, or like we weren't welcomed."

Lillian August felt the unity and was overwhelmed by the whole experience.

“It was heart warming to see all of the people united it was something I can’t quite put into words, and everything was peaceful,” she said.

Councilman Ram Ramchandran expressed his views about the Jena 6 case.

“It is hard to believe in this day and age that justice is based on the color of the skin,” he said.

“We need an open, fair and impartial society, where everyone is treated fairly within the legal system.”

One of the teens involved in the "Jena 6" case was released Thursday, hours after the prosecutor announced that he would no longer seek to try him as an adult.

"When I heard that Mychal Bell had been released, I knew it was worth it and a group of individuals meeting peacefully to protest a cause can make a difference," Hilaire said.

 Bell, 17, had spent nearly 10 months behind bars.  All of the teens involved faced charges that could have placed them behind bars for the next 50 years.

The shirts worn by all participants in the march symbolized unity and the dark days that could lie ahead for the teens and the once quiet town, which has been thrown into a media frenzy.

The Jena Six  case is long and filled with stunning details but the basic points are these: In the predominantly white town of Jena,  white students hung three nooses from a tree in September 2006, after black students sat under it instead of the white students who normally congregated there.

The white students were suspended for three days for hanging the nooses. After black students protested the incident of racism on campus, the La Salle Parish district attorney allegedly threatened them, saying, "I can make your life go away with a stroke of a pen."

Soon, protests led to fistfights, and a school building was set on fire.

Eventually, there was a schoolyard fight in which it is reported that six black students stomped and beat their white classmate unconscious. They were charged with attempted murder.

It was reported that the student was treated for the injuries and was well enough to attend a school function the same evening. The six black boys, all between the ages of 15 and 17, were arrested for attacking the student, five of whom were charged as adults with attempted murder and conspiracy. The sixth student was charged as a juvenile.

The Jena Six case attracted international news coverage and became a call to action for activists on the Internet and college campuses all across the country.

View other articles written Shonna Riggs

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Gunman on the run after robbing Popeyes
Gunman on the run after robbing Popeyes
The St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office is investigating the armed robbery of a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen on U.S. Highway 90 in Boutte.

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