Race and Coverage of the Jena 6

The Elephant That is Never Leaving the Room

By Janine Beach

LynchingThe Jena 6 are six African-American high school students from Jena, Louisiana who were arrested and charged with attempted second degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder after their alleged involvement in an assault on a white student. That the students were charged for what amounts to a schoolyard fight is news in itself, but what is more troubling is that the District Attorney, Reed Walters, chose to charge the students as adults.

Jena 6 is a story of tenuous race relations in a town that the Civil Rights Act forgot. At the beginning of the first semester last year, a black student at Jena High School asked for permission to sit under the a tree that had traditionally been a meeting place for white students. He was told that he could sit wherever he wanted. The following day, students arrived to see the tree adorned with three hangman’s nooses, each painted in the school colors.

The story then follows an all too familiar path. Black students protest nooses at school. White students attend a nearby school as punishment while their actions are dismissed as a silly prank. Black student tries to enter largely white party. When white students attack and beat him, the student who breaks bottle over his head is charged with a misdemeanor and given probation.

White student threatens black students with a gun in a grocery store. Black students wrestle gun away from him and are charged with second-degree robbery. White student taunts black student about his beating with racial epithets. Black students beat him and he suffers bruising and concussion. Black students are charged as adults for attempted second-degree murder.
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