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Free the Jena Six, Stop the War on African People

by Wendy Snyder Friday, Sep. 28, 2007 at 10:47 PM

This last week, thousands of people converged on the small town of Jena, Louisiana to show support for the six African teenagers who face felony charges following a series of attacks by a hostile white school and criminal justice system.

Free the Jena Six, S...
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Just yesterday in my hometown of Oakland, California, a hundred people marched on city hall protesting the police killing of Gary King Jr., who was shot in the back and killed by an Oakland police officer in broad daylight on September 20th in full view of his friends and community. As in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, these events show that the historic attacks on African by ordinary white citizens and a system that serves our interests, are alive and well here in the United States.

Jena made international news when the six teenagers were facing time in prison following a school fight. Despite what was reported in the media, here's what really happened in Jena. In September of last year, white students received only three days suspension at Jena High School after hanging nooses on a schoolyard tree to terrorize African students.

With a quick look at our history we can recognize that the noose is a symbol of the hundreds of years of violent lynchings of African people by white people throughout the United States, but particularly in the south. In order to enforce the system of colonialism and white domination, ordinary white people formed mobs and gathered to celebrate the murder African people by hanging them from trees or burning them alive. At Jena High School, white students painted the nooses to reflect the school colors. While most of the North American or white people in Jena saw the gesture as a harmless prank. The African community, who has historically been the victims of brutal lynchings, did not see it the same way.

The day after the noose hangings, a group of African students including local Jena High football player Mychal Bell who was 16 at the time, decided that they were going to stand where they pleased. Mychal was joined by his other football teammates Theo Shaw, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Jesse Beard. Out of this stand for justice these young Africans would eventually become "the Jena Six."

One by one, more and more African students followed the football players' lead and gathered underneath the tree in bold and courageous defiance of Jena's colonial rules and regulations. The principal then called the police and the district attorney to handle the students who had determined that enough was enough. District attorney Reed Walters would later call an assembly to address the protest where he declared to the African students that he would and "could end [their] lives with the stroke of a pen."

Not long after that, in further defiance of Jena's racist and colonial regulations, Robert Bailey Jr. showed up at an all-white party. His head would be cracked open with a bottle. Weeks of unrest ensued in Jena. At the local Gotta Go convenience store, a white man pulled out a loaded shotgun on three black teenagers — one of whom was Robert Bailey Jr. The teens desperately wrestled the shotgun away from the man and ran away. They reported the incident to the police, who promptly charged them with assault and theft and returned the shotgun to its owner.

Sometime soon after that on December 4, 2006, Mychal Bell and Justin Barker, one of the white Jena High students associated with the noose hanging incident, allegedly got into a fight in the lunchroom. Barker lost the fight and emerged with a black eye and bruises. This is where district attorney Reed Walters attempted to deliver on his promise. For the simple school fight, Walters charged Bell and the other five students with 2nd degree attempted murder and conspiracy and face anywhere from 20 to 100 years in prison. By comparison, the student that cracked Robert Bailey Jr.'s head open with a bottle only received a simple assault charge. Caseptla Bailey, Robert's mother stated that "they want to take these kids — my son as well as these other children — lock them up and throw away the key... that's the tradition for black males...because they want to keep institutionalized slavery alive and well."

While the situation in Jena reveals the blatant white nationalist violence that white people and the white system continue to commit against African people in the South and other places, it speaks to the white nationalist assaults that are carried out every day in every part of the United States by school officials, the city governments, police departments, courts and the prison system. In Oakland, California, many white people who do not consider ourselves racist participate in attacking African people by supporting a city government and police department that enforces a deadly system of police containment of the African community. Rarely are the homicides in Oakland seen in the context of the white on black violence that has been perpetrated by the white system and enthusiastically supported by the white community for decades. From the attacks on Black Panthers offices in 1969, to the assassination of Huey Newton on the streets of Oakland in 1989, to the formation of the Oakland Riders more recently, the city of Oakland and the U.S. government have worked to suppress the movement of African workers and make Oakland "safe" for white investment and gentrification.

Gary King Jr. was shot in killed by the police in the streets where Huey Newton and Bobby Seale first founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and began to organize the community against police violence. His death is part of a counterinsurgency war on African people in the United States who are resisting a system founded on slavery and maintained by the colonial violence of the schools, police and prisons.

Many of us in the white community no longer want to participate in this system. Many of us are outraged and sickened by the death and destruction wrecked by the government. But we have to do more than go to a march. We have to unite with a larger struggle for justice on a global scale.

African People's Solidarity Day (APSD) is a campaign for white solidarity with the African liberation movement. The APSD campaign is based on the understanding that Africans are one people worldwide, including African people in the United States, and that African people were forcibly dispersed by a system built and maintained on slavery, colonialism and genocide. Wherever African people are, they continue to face colonial violence, massive imprisonment, terror and denial of basic democratic and human rights. The Uhuru Movement calls for economic development, not police containment in response to the problems that African people face in Oakland and everywhere else. The Uhuru (Freedom) Movement of African workers and poor peasants is leading an international struggle to liberate Africa and reclaim its vast natural resources for the benefit of African people everywhere. That struggle is about African people in the U.S. uniting with African people everywhere to end the system of slavery, colonialism and violence.

African People's Solidarity Day is a tribute to the struggle of African people to benefit from their land and resources, recognizing that there is a direct relationship between the affluence and power of white people and the poverty and oppression of African people. The struggle of the Jena Six makes it clear that African people face the ongoing legacy of slavery and colonialism inside the United States and that it won't be a struggle against racism but a struggle for African unification and liberation that will free African people. Free the Jena Six! Reparations to the family of Gary King Jr.! Join the Campaign for African People's Solidarity Day!

For more info on African People's Solidarity Day, contact or go to

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