A racially divisive incident put the tiny town of Jena, Louisiana on the map last year. Six African-American teens, referred to as the "Jena 6," allegedly jumped a white classmate named Justin Barker, knocking him unconscious. Some say this attack was provoked by Justin, who they say hurled racial remarks at their sons. Barker and his parents maintain that he did nothing to deserve his beating.
Reportedly, this attack stemmed from an earlier incident that also had racial overtones. After a black student sat under a tree at Jena High School usually occupied by white students, he returned to find nooses hanging. Now the story of the Jena 6 has grabbed national headlines because of the second degree attempted murder charges brought against these six African Americans.
Mychal Bell, a member of the Jena 6, remained behind bars for 10 months. Recently, thousands of mostly African-American protesters rallied in Jena to raise awareness of what they see as an unequal justice system.
David Barker, the father of the white victim, Justin, speaks out about the beating. "People have got this turned backwards. Six kids beat one student " my son," he says. "They've got these six portrayed as the victims. The real victim is my son, Justin."
His wife, Kelli, shares her views. "This was not a schoolyard fight. This was six boys on one child repeatedly kicking him, stomping and standing on his head," she says.
Mychal's grandmother believes Justin provoked
the Jena 6 prior to the attack. "The boy was saying explicit things to them, racial slurs," she says.
"They think it was blown out of proportion because they didn't want to be exposed," declares Melissa, Mychal's mother. "Jena is finally being exposed for what it really is."
Jackie, the Barker's family friend, expresses her outrage. "They're being made to look like heroes. It wasn't a fight. It was an attack. The idea of 'Free the Jena 6' is just absurd," she says. "You don't free people who do things to hurt other people."
"This boy [Justin] got up and walked out of the hospital two to three hours later, and went to a ring ceremony the same night. That's not attempted murder," Melissa insists. "It is two forms of justice in Jena. The whites get treated differently in Jena. Everything that the white kids do around here, including the three kids who hung those nooses. They got three day's suspension."
"They just keep on about the nooses being a hate crime," says Jackie. "The boys put the nooses there as a prank. They didn't touch anyone."
Rev. Brian Moran, a family friend of the Bells', believes the nooses hanging from the schoolyard tree were not harmless child's play. "I wonder how could they look at such things and consider them as jokes or pranks. And then it came to me: It is a joke to them," he says. "We are on a racial battleground right now."
"Yet, is it blown out of proportion that you're trying to give six kids life for a school fight, when it should have been handled by the school board," adds Melissa. "Was it possible for Mychal to get a fair trial? No. It was an all-white jury. You had an all-white courtroom, period, except for Mychal and his lawyer â€¦ The most outrageous thing to me is that here it is almost 10 months later, and my son is still sitting up in there. They locked my son up at 16 years old in an adult jail."
Mychal's grandmother says, "The judicial system is corrupt. It's rotten, as far as the black and the white in Jena."
Kelli wants justice for her son. "We are not racists. I was a minister's daughter, but my son could have been killed. Somebody has got to pay for it."
"I want Mychal's name cleared. I want the authorities in Jena to pay for those 10 months," says Melissa.