One of the best explanations I have found of the facts of the Jena, La., case was written by Gary Younge in The Nation:
Fittingly for a post-civil rights story, it began with the discrepancy
between what you are allowed to do and what you can do. In August last year,
Kenneth Purvis asked the principal at Jena High School if he could sit under the
"white tree"--a place in the school courtyard where white students hung out
during break. The principal said Purvis could sit where he liked. So the next
day he went with his cousin Bryant and stood under the tree. The morning after
that three nooses dangled from the tree.
The overwhelmingly white school board judged the nooses a youthful prank
and punished the culprits with brief suspensions. Black parents and students
were angry, and months of racial tension followed. Police were called to the
school several times because of fights between black and white students.
The principal called an assembly at which the local district attorney, Reed
Walters, warned, "See this pen? I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen."
The black students say he was looking at them when he said it; Walters denies
In an unsolved arson case, a wing of the school was burned down. A few days
later, Justin Sloan, a white man, attacked black students who tried to go to a
white party in town. Sloan was charged with battery and put on probation. A few
days after that a white boy pulled a gun on three black students in a
convenience store. One of the black students wrestled the gun from him and took
it home, only to find himself charged with theft of a firearm, second-degree
robbery and disturbing the peace. The white student who produced the gun was not
On December 4, in school, a group of black students attacked a white
student, Justin Barker, after they heard him bragging about a racial assault his
friend had made. Barker, 17, had a concussion and his eye was swollen shut. He
spent a few hours in the hospital and on his release went to a party, where
friends described him as "his usual smiling self."
The six black students were arrested and charged with attempted
second-degree murder--a charge that requires the use of a deadly weapon. Walters
argued that the sneakers used to kick Barker were indeed deadly weapons. Mychal
Bell, 17, became the first of what are now known as the Jena Six to be convicted
on reduced charges by an all-white jury, and he faced up to twenty-two years in
jail. His black court-appointed attorney called no witnesses and offered no
defense. Bell's conviction was overturned by an appeals court, which ruled that
he shouldn't have been tried as an adult. At the time of this writing he sits in
jail waiting to hear his fate, and a huge civil rights march is set to descend
on Jena. SOURCE
Now, I am not angry because local authorities dared punish six black young men who met foolish, race-based threats and violence with more foolish, race-based violence. What those young men did was not--I repeat NOT--okay. I am angry because these young black men should not be facing felony charges, while young white men who committed equally violent acts in this months-long escalation have largely gone unpunished. The issue here is unequal race-based punishment for equal crimes. It is a problem that should have faded with the rule of Jim Crow, but the Jena case illustrates that it hasn't.
Jena, La., could provide an opportunity to discuss and correct the failings of our justice system, but it likely won't, because reporting in the mainstream--even the venerated "gray lady"--is generally unclear about the violence that preceded the attack at the center of the controversy. The mainstream timeline of events goes like this: black kids sit under "white" tree; nooses are hung; vague racial "incidents" happen; six black teens beat a young white teen unconscious.
Just three examples:
New York Times
NBC Nightly News (Warning: includes racist responses to YouTube posting)
After comparing The Nation report to those of The New York Times, NBC Nightly News and the Indianapolis Star, do you think that the mainstream media reports give enough detail to provide context for the Jena Six case? If not, is this just another example of our crumbling Fourth Estate or something more sinister and intentional? I can't say I have an answer. But I'd like to hear from you. Please comment and, if possible, cite examples of good and not-so-good reporting on this topic.
Places to find good Jena 6 reporting online:
Collateral News YouTube video
What About Our Daughters
The Nation: Act Now!
The Carpetbagger Report