How we got to Jena
From: AMY GOODMAN
Last September, a black high school student requested the school's permission to sit beneath a broad, leafy tree in the hot schoolyard. The next morning, three nooses were hanging from the tree. The black students responded en masse. Justin Purvis, the kid who first sat under the tree, told filmmaker Jacquie Soohen: "They [other black students] said, 'Y'all want to go stand under the tree?' We said, 'Yeah.' They said, 'If you go, I'll go. If you go, I'll go.' One person went, the next person went, everybody else just went."
Then the police and the district attorney showed up. Substitute teacher Michelle Rogers recounts: "District Attorney Reed Walters proceeded to tell those kids that 'I could end your lives with the stroke of a pen.' "
It didn't happen for a few more months, but that is exactly what the district attorney is trying to do.
Jena, a community of 4,000, is about 85 percent white. While the black community gathered at a church to respond, others didn't see the significance. Soohen interviewed Jena town librarian Barbara Murphy, who reflected: "The nooses? I don't even know why they were there, what they were supposed to mean. There's pranks all the time, of one type or another, going on. And it just didn't seem to be racist to me." Tensions rose.
Robert Bailey, a black student, was beaten up at a white party. Then, a few nights later, Robert and two others were threatened by a white man with a sawed-off shotgun at a convenience store. They wrestled the gun away and fled. Robert's mother, Caseptla Bailey, said: "I know they were in fear of their lives. They were afraid that this man was going to shoot them, you know, especially in the back, running away from the scene."
The next day, Dec. 4, 2006, a fight broke out at the school. A white student was injured, taken to the hospital and released. Robert Bailey and five other black students were charged ... with second-degree attempted murder. They each faced 100 years in prison.