Jenna six treated unfairly

Sep 302007
Authors: Sean Reed

Racism is still alive and well in the United States.

On Dec. 4, six students from Jena, LA. were arrested and charged with attempted second degree murder for the beating of white student Justin Baker following a long spiral of racially charged events in their high school.

According to the LA Times one year ago at a school assembly, a black freshman student asked the vice-principal if he was allowed to sit under a tree commonly used for shade by white students. He was told he could.

However, when black students when out to the schoolyard to sit, they found three nooses hanging from the branches. The principal recommended the students responsible be expelled for the incident, but he was overruled by the superintendent, who brought it down to a three-day suspension.

No charges were filed against the students responsible for this incident.

Black students gathered under the tree to protest, sparking many violent racially charged altercations for the days to follow.

The principal then called in U.S. District Attorney Reed Walters to speak to the student body.

He has been quoted as saying, allegedly looking toward black students, “With the stroke of a pen, I can make your lives disappear.”

Walters has not denied that he made the statement, but said he was not directing it to the black students.

Many involved with the final incident have said these earlier events are unrelated to what happened on Dec. 4, but I think they likely had an influence on the events leading up to that day.

A few days before, one of the six, Robert Bailey, was attacked while trying to enter a party. He was struck with beer bottles by several attackers until he left.

Only one attacker was charged with battery.

The following day, a white student that was at the same party brandished a shotgun during an altercation between Bailey and some other boys. They wrestled the gun away.

According to the LA Times, the boy with the gun was not charged, but the others were – for stealing the gun.

Then, the famous incident happened. Michyl Bell, Robert Bailey and some others ganged up on one student, Justin Baker, and beat him unconscious.

He was hospitalized for two hours and was released. He felt well enough to attend a class ring ceremony that very same night.

Unlike white students involved in similar incidents – although the beatings were not

quite as severe – they were charged with crimes that could send them to jail for most of their lives.

The DA has said they were charged with such harsh crimes because they used a deadly weapon – their sneakers.

Call me crazy, but I think beer bottles or a shotgun can be far more deadly than a pair of shoes. Call me crazy again, but I think there is clear evidence of a bias in which the judicial system has treated these different cases.

It was neither fair nor proper for these six students to behave the way they did, but do they deserved to spend the rest of their lives in jail for it?

My fellow columnist Ian Bezek seems to think so.

However, in the context of all the events that precede it and in light of the very biased way in which these young men were treated, I would have to disagree.

Editorials editor Sean Reed is a junior political science major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to,

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