No sympathy for the Jena Six

As I sat in the small room with 15 or so other students, listening to prominent journalist talk of his experiences covering the Jena Six, I couldn’t help but think, “Where are they now?”

If you’re not aware of who the Jena Six are, they were six young, African-American men who were accused of beating up a Caucasian student during a time of racial tension in the small, north-central town of Jena, La.

The young men, really just boys at the time, were Jesse Ray Beard, then 14, Robert Bailey, then aged 17, Mychal Bell, then 16, Bryant Purvis, then 17, Carwin Jones, then 18, and Theo Shaw, then 17.

The boys were charged with varying counts, with the most prominent being attempted second degree murder. Perhaps the most eye-popping thing about the cases were the possible sentences, with all of them being excessive and outrageous.

Through a strong backing from black civil rights activists and extensive media coverage before and during the sentencing, the charges were reduced.

What a happy ending – these six boys made a juvenile mistake and were now fast on their way to becoming an inspirational story to people of all colors.

Unfortunately, as we look back over the past five years, it’s been far from that.

In 2007, Jesse Ray Beard was arrested for simple battery, simple assault and simple criminal damage to property less than $500. He was convicted and sentenced to house arrest. He was still freed to attend a football camp in New York.

In 2008, Bryant Purvis was arrested for assault on another student at his new high school in Texas.

In 2008, Carwin Jones was arrested on two separate occasions: once for a misdemeanor simple battery and another for a trespass related charge.

Mychal Bell has been arrested twice since the incident and twice before it. His first, reported in 2005, was for simple battery. He then violated his parole by garnering another count of simple battery and two counts of criminal damage to property. That was before the Jena Six, mind you. Since then, he was arrested for shoplifting, resisting arrest and simple assault. His latest arrest came in 2010 for simple battery in a Jena barber shop. In 2009, he attempted to commit suicide, citing pressure of the media attention.

The final two members, Robert Bailey and Theo Shaw, have not been arrested since the Jena six incident.

So let’s do the math: of the six members, four have been arrested since. Of those four who have been arrested, they’ve managed to accumulate six arrests.

My point being, these kids had the chance to be the face of activism in our generation, but they couldn’t stay out of trouble.

What is even more appalling than that is the lack of media coverage. Once it was over, everyone assumed they went off to college and lived happily ever after. Only one part of that is true, unfortunately – the majority of the Jena Six ended up at least attempting college. In reality, they’ve spent the last five years struggling to become law-abiding citizens.

Let it be known that I still feel sympathy for Robert and Theo, the two who have managed to stay out of trouble.

Another disturbing thought is the fact about how misinformed the public is, due to the lack of media coverage after their trials and proceedings. People still think that they should’ve never been arrested in the first place. By all means, they should’ve been arrested. When six men, of any color, send another man of any color to the hospital, they should be reprimanded. In fact, we’ve seen it since: Bell has been arrested for simple battery – what should have been the same charge he received in the Jena Six case – four times. Beard and Jones have both been arrested for it, and Purvis managed to score an assault charge in his case.

The only thing those boys didn’t deserve was the initial sentences that were given down from the court.

Who knows why the kids keep doing what they do? Some say once you go to jail the first time, trouble just seems to follow you. Maybe it’s true; maybe it’s not.

Essentially, the stir was caused by ethnicities.  That’s all anyone will ever see out of this story, the fact that one color attacked another color. But this editorial is not about black or white; it’s a debate between right and wrong.