On Nov. 7, many hundreds of people around the country rallied to demand freedom for the Jena 6. The actions were organized in response to a national call for locally coordinated actions by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).
The Jena 6 are six young African American students originally charged with second-degree attempted murder resulting from a schoolyard scuffle with a white racist classmate in December 2006. A growing movement to defend the Six has swept the United States. On Sept. 20, more than 50,000 people marched in the small town of Jena, La.
Four of the Jena 6—Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw—went back to court for pretrial hearings on Nov. 7. Charges for Purvis were reduced to second degree aggravated battery, still an outrageous allegation carrying the possibility of years in jail.
Another of the Six, Mychal Bell, is languishing in jail. A racist judge recently sent Bell back to jail for 18 months for alleged probation violations. Bell’s trial in the Jena 6 case is set to begin on Dec. 6.
Protests happened on Nov. 7 in at least 12 cities and towns, including Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle, New Haven, Conn., Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Reno, Nev., Sioux Falls, S.D., California, Penn. and elsewhere. Reports and photos from some of the actions are below.
More than 80 activists and community members came out to Leimert Park in South Los Angeles, the heart of the African American community, in a demonstration for the Jena 6. A strong picket line demanded “No more nooses, free the Jena 6!”
The action was organized by ANSWER Coalition-Los Angeles. Speakers included Linda Templeton-Dent, SEIU 721 Executive Board member; Linda Jay, Community Call to Action and Accountability; Big Money Griff, community activist; Jasimen Syler, Active Students for African People; Carlos Alvarez, ANSWER Coalition; Marcella Daneshinia, Party for Socialism and Liberation and others.
Mychal Bell’s uncle and Los Angeles resident, Emmett Simmons, delivered a special solidarity message to the event.
New York City
Over 100 protesters gathered in a spirited picket in front of the Bronx Courthouse. The protest, primarily composed of Black and Latino youth, chanted with increasing vibrancy and militancy as more people arrived.
The chants often turned towards the NYPD, which had surrounded and penned in the picket line. Chants included, “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” and “Until the Six are free, neither are we!”
Frances Villar, a student organizer at Bronx Community College, took the microphone to kick off the program. In a flagrant violation of the protesters’ First Amendment rights, NYPD officers surrounded the speakers and demanded the sound be turned off. When an ANSWER organizer tried to inform the crowd of the cops’ intention to silence the protest, NYPD officers wrestled the portable speaker out of his hands and marched off with it. For several minutes, protesters chanted “give it back” and faced off with a line of police officers, chanting with ever-greater determination.
Vanessa Alarcon of the ANSWER Coalition closed the protest by encouraging all the young people in attendance to become organizers in the campaign to free the Jena 6. The march was initiated by ANSWER, along with Black Legacy of Lehman College, the ANSWER Club at Bronx Community College and Mothers on the Move. It was co-sponsored by Lucha (Columbia University), Justice in Action (John Jay College) and Da Urban Butterflies.
Around 75 people came out in San Francisco. Protesters held signs reading “Free the Jena 6,” “Justice for Gary King Jr.,” and “Free the SF 8.” Political and civil rights activists spoke at the demonstration demanding an end to the racist injustices that are so common in the U.S. court system.
The demonstration took place in front of the Federal Courthouse and was organized by a cross section of different groups, including the ANSWER Coalition.
Chants of “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Free the Jena 6” rang out at the U.S. Department of Justice Building in downtown Washington, D.C. as demonstrators in a picket line called for all charges to be dropped against the Jena 6.
The demonstration drew a crowd of about 75 people. It featured speakers who called for an end to racist violence against working class communities and people of color.
Speakers included Tina Richards, Grassroots America; Yango Sawyer, Alliance of Concerned Men; Mara Verheyden Hilliard, Partnership for Civil Justice; Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition; Caneisha Mills, Party for Socialism and Liberation; Darryl Perkins, Hip Hop Caucus; Eugene Puryear, Youth & Student ANSWER and Howard University Student organizer.
In Chicago, over 50 people came out for a spirited picket and rally at Federal Plaza. The protest was joined by students from Columbia College, Harold Washington College and Northwestern Law School.
Protesters chanted “Until the 6 are free, neither are we!” and “No justice! No peace!” At the rally, Daylan Dufelmeier of ANSWER Chicago said, “We stand here united in the streets calling for all charges to be dropped in the Jena 6 case and all troops home now.”
The protest was endorsed by the ANSWER Coalition-Chicago; Charles Hendrix, Chicago Organizer for Nov 16 National March in DC; Chicago Area Code Pink, Chicago Progressive Alliance, Committee on Pilipino Issues, Greater Chicago for Dennis Kucinich, Nicaragua Solidarity Committee, October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, World Can’t Wait-Chicago and 8th Day Center for Justice.
Dozens of Seattle ANSWER activists and others conducted a rush-hour vigil and petition-gathering session for the Jena 6 case at Westlake plaza in Seattle.
Volunteers distributed hundreds of fact sheets and raised awareness of the Jena 6 case. Many passers-by took petitions to circulate with friends and co-workers.
New Haven, Conn.
Over 50 protesters gathered in New Haven, Conn. to demonstrate for the Jena 6. Protesters chanted slogans of solidarity for the Six and staged a picket line at the federal courthouse. The most popular chant was “The Jena 6 are under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back!” Many passing cars honked in support and a number of people passing by joined the protest.
Speakers at the demonstration included representatives of the Yale NAACP, Southern Connecticut State University NAACP, Southern Connecticut State University Black Student Union, People Against Injustice, Unidad Latina en Acción, Youth & Student ANSWER, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Clean Slate Committee of Hartford and the National Lawyers Guild.
The action also included several spoken word performances about the Jena 6 and the racist criminal justice system. The spirited protesters vowed to keep organizing until the Six are free.
In Boston, over 50 people rallied in support of the Jena 6. Speakers at the rally included area residents and local activists who related the case of the Jena 6 to issues faced by many in Boston.
The diverse crowd included high school students, and an energetic group of youth organizers with the Boston Youth Organizing Project. Other participating and endorsing organizations included the Boston chapter of the Muslim American Society, Friends with Justice, the Boston Workers Alliance, the Boston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Community Change Inc.
The rally was held outside the Roxbury Crossing train station, which is on the border of the working-class neighborhoods Mission Hill and Roxbury. Cars and pedestrians driving by showed support by honking their horns and pumping their fists. Participants signed the ANSWER Coalition’s Jena 6 petition. The crowd vowed to continue taking up the cause until justice is served.
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
A spirited picket in Ft. Lauderdale greeted cars and passersby. The majority of people responded favorably to the message to free the Jena 6. ANSWER Coalition-Florida activists passed out hundreds of leaflets.
Local activists gathered in front of the federal courthouse in Reno to support the Jena 6. Speakers included religious leaders and community activists from the African American and Native American communities, and leaders in the local anti-war movement.
Isha Echols, who works with young people in the community and attended the protest in Jena, La. on Sept. 20, urged the community to continue to struggle for justice.
The event closed with a traditional song and a moving call for multinational unity and solidarity from Janice Gardipe, a leader in the Native American community and activist with the ANSWER Coalition-Reno.
Sioux Falls, S.D.
The South Dakota ANSWER Coalition organized an afternoon rally for the Jena 6. Protesters started at City Hall then moved to the Court House, where they met up with members of the South Dakota Peace & Justice Center.
As most South Dakotans have heard little about the case, ANSWER members passed out flyers and explained the case to passersby.
Ian Thompson, Ben Becker, Ellen DeWitt, Sunil Freeman, John Beacham, Jane Cutter, Tahnee Stair, C. Gonçalves, John Peter Daly, Stewart Stout and Chris Huska contributed to this report.