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CNN: SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT
Judgment in Jena
Aired September 20, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): These are the faces and the voices of protest. Thousands from across the nation are here in tiny Jena, Louisiana, where nothing has been normal since the three nooses were hung from a school tree.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We uncover stories never heard, images never seen.
UNIDENTIFIED: Tough streets of Baghdad.
UNIDENTIFIED: Gang members driving down this street.
UNIDENTIFIED: Deadly risk.
UNIDENTIFIED: You can hear and see the choppers.
ANNOUNCER: Now, Kyra Phillips, "Judgment in Jena."
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Jena, Louisiana, population, about 3,000. It's like so many small Southern towns. Jena is about 85 percent white, 13 percent black, and people here are, for the most part, civil to one another. Still, blacks and whites keep largely to themselves. Social life here is built on two enduring pillars, high school football and church on Sunday.
REVEREND EDDIE THOMPSON, RESIDENT OF JENA, LOUISIANA: Probably this way true in many places in the South, that the most segregated hour in America is Sunday morning at 11:00.
PHILLIPS: But civility and tolerance were splintered just over a year ago on August 31, 2006, when number 33, Kenneth Purvis, a star junior fullback for the Jena Giants, asked if he and his friends could sit under this large oak tree on the high school grounds, a tree that Purvis and other black students believed was an unofficial gathering place reserved for white students only.
(on camera): Why did you want to go there?
KENNETH PURVIS, JENA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I wanted to be more integrated.
PURVIS: Because it is always just separate over there. It's just separate. PHILLIPS (voice-over): Kenneth Purvis and his friends got a quick and clear answer from a school official. You can sit anywhere you want. The day after Purvis and his friends gathered under that tree, they were sent an unforgettable message.
(on camera): So, you come to school the next day.
PURVIS: Yes, ma'am.
PHILLIPS: And what did you see?
PURVIS: There was three nooses hung up in the tree.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Three nooses hung from the tree.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could not believe it. I joked about it, laughed about it, thought it was funny that somebody would actually do it. But that was an offending thing.
PHILLIPS: This educator, who wants his identity hidden for fear of reprisals, has been teaching in Jena for a decade. He wasn't at all surprised when he learned which white students hung the nooses.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Knowing the kids or having been around kids, yes, I do think that they knew what was involved. I think they knew exactly what they were doing.
PHILLIPS: Most of the white students, like Anna Maria Ranton (ph), were confused and on edge.
(on camera): You're coming in as a freshman. And this noose incident happens. Did you even understand what was going on?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was scared, especially as a freshman. But, you know, nothing ended up happening. And I felt like, you know, people made a mistake and that it was all blown out of proportion.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): The nooses were quickly taken down. And the three white students who hung them were identified.
Principle Scott Windham wanted them expelled.
(on camera): The kids, in fact, were a pretty mixed bag. None had any prior run-ins with the law. One of them wound up getting expelled for bringing brass knuckles to school. Another boy left high school, because, as his mother told us, he hadn't brought home a notebook since the seventh grade anyway.
Now, the third boy finished high school. As a matter of fact, his mom is a special education teacher who, we are told, taught her son to respect everyone.
(voice-over): But, after their parents appealed to the school board, the expulsions were overturned. Instead, they were suspended for less than a week, and allowed to return, after counseling sessions. Black parents were furious. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had several incidents where white kids committed major offenses at school, vandalizing through gluing locks, and the kids weren't even suspended from school. They were given cleaning duties around school.
PHILLIPS: Tensions between white and black students rose. The very next day, when Kenneth Purvis and his friends gathered under that tree a second time, there was some shouting, but no violence.
(on camera): So, you and the other black students saw the nooses, and you decided, all right, we're all going to sit under that tree again?
PURVIS: Yes, that's how -- that's how it happened.
PHILLIPS: That's how it happened.
PURVIS: We just went over and sat under the tree again.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Then, longtime District Attorney Reed Walters was summoned to speak to a hastily called school assembly of students and teachers.
Michelle Jones (ph), a substitute teacher, was at the assembly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He told the kids that, see this pen in my hand? I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen.
PHILLIPS (on camera): The DA said, see this pen in my hand?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
PHILLIPS: With the stroke of this pen...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can end your lives.
PHILLIPS: I can end your lives.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
PHILLIPS: What kind of message did that send to you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like, he was serious. He was going to, you know -- mainly, I was feeling he was mainly directing it to the black kids.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Billy Fowler sits on the LaSalle Parish School Board. He's the only board member who agreed to speak on the record.
(on camera): Teachers and students said he held up his pen and said, see this pen? With the stroke of this pen, I can end your life.
BILLY FOWLER, LASALLE PARISH SCHOOL BOARD: Well, that apparently happened. I think that's some wordage that he wished he could retract. As high-tempered as I am, I probably would not have done that.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Reed Walters has been the elected district attorney in LaSalle Parish for 16 years. Not only did he issue those threats. Three months later, he acted on them.
(on camera): So, what began as a simple request to sit under a tree would soon reach a boiling point. That tree isn't here any longer. It's been cut down. But, before long, what happened at this high school would lead to a chain of events that would stir echoes of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
(voice-over): Coming up: six black students charged with attempted murder.
(on camera): Do you feel justice is being served?
PHILLIPS (voice-over): After the three white boys returned to classes following their short suspensions, students say things were tense, but not out of control.
(on camera): When everything happened, what was it like to be on campus, Anna Marie?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a lot of tension for about a week. And then we had our first real football game, and everybody just kind of forgot about it.
(voice-over): Anna Marie Ranton, a cheerleader, and her mother, Charlene (ph), feel that outsiders have distorted the truth about their town. They are just a few of whites in Jena who agreed to talk on the record.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt like it was a lack of judgment, or showed a lack of judgment on those young boys' parts. And that was a time to have said, this is just something that we have to be careful about, we can't do in this day and time. That's old. That's long gone.
PHILLIPS: As football season came to a close, the school's calm was shattered once again. Just after Thanksgiving, on November 30, the main high school building burned down. It was quickly ruled the work of an arsonist.
The black community believed white kids did it. The white community blamed black kids. Events in Jena quickly began to escalate. The night after the fire, a fight broke out at a private party here at the Fair Barn. A 22-year-old white man, Justin Sloan, attacked a black high school student with a bottle. Sloan was charged with simple battery, the subsequent punishment, probation.
(on camera): Then, the next fight, another fight, here at this convenience store in a predominantly black part of Jena.
(voice-over): In the store parking lot, a white high school student, Matt Windham, would later tell police he felt threatened by three black students. Windham hurried to his pickup truck and returned with his shotgun. Three black students wrestled it away from him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are thinking that, number one, this is getting bad.
PHILLIPS: Jena's small black community was watching to see what charges would be brought against the white student with the gun.
(on camera): But there were none. Instead, the three black students were the ones accused -- among the charges, aggravated second-degree battery, assault, disturbing the peace, and theft of the weapon. Nearly a year later, those cases have yet to go to trial.
But two of the students, Theo Shaw and Robert Bailey, would soon find themselves at the center of something far more serious.
(voice-over): On Monday, December 4, just four days after the fire, classes resumed. It didn't take long for violence to erupt. A group of black students beat up a single white student.
TINA JONES, MOTHER OF BRYANT PURVIS: As my son was going up the steps, him and his girlfriend and several of his other friends, he said he heard a lick and someone fell.
PHILLIPS: Tina Jones is talking about her son, Bryant Purvis.
JONES: So, he said he jumped on the rail to see what was going on, basically. And he said, that's when he seen Justin Barker laying on the ground.
PHILLIPS: Justin Barker, a white student, had been badly beaten.
KELLI BARKER, MOTHER OF JUSTIN BARKER: He was getting kicked and stomped.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Why?
K. BARKER: I don't know. You tell me. I wish to goodness it wouldn't have happened.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): But why did the fight break out? And did Justin Barker do anything to provoke the attack?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was making racial slurs, and they had enough of it. And they took action.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Did Justin ever run his mouth and -- and make racial slurs towards the black boys?
NACI BARKER, AUNT OF JUSTIN BARKER: Not that I know of. And, again, you know, I'm not at school with him, but the Justin that I know wouldn't say things like that.
PHILLIPS: He's not that kind of boy?
N. BARKER: No. No, ma'am.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): But most of the witness statements taken by police agree that the black students warned Barker not to -- quote -- "run your mother-f'ing mouth" -- unquote.
Later, one witness said -- quote -- "A lot of the blacks, if not all, that was standing started kicking him and pushing him down. When he got knocked out, they still kicked him just as hard" -- unquote.
Parish authorities didn't wait long to take action.
JONES: Several of the kids were arrested from school that day.
PHILLIPS: In all, sheriff's deputies would arrest six black students, in the wake of the December schoolyard beating, including Tina Jones' son, Bryant. She says her son didn't even see it happen and never came close to hitting anyone.
Also arrested was Mychal Bell, number 10, the star football running back. All six boys were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
JONES: You know, that was horrible. That was a horrible feeling. You know, I had never, never been through something so horrific in my life.
PHILLIPS: Under Louisiana law, District Attorney Reed Walters had to identify a weapon to file murder charges, that weapon, a sneaker worn by Mychal Bell. It had been used, the DA said, to kick Justin Barker in the head.
N. BARKER: By the grace of God, Justin survived that day. It could have been -- you know, one more kick, and who knows?
PHILLIPS (on camera): For many in Jena's black community, the attempted murder charges were unbelievable. Three white students hung nooses from a school tree and received short suspensions. Then two fights break out between blacks and whites, and, legally, whites got slapped on the wrist. Many blacks believed the deck was stacked against them.
(voice-over): They also saw the threat that District Attorney Reed Walters made three months earlier as reality. He could, as he said then, change lives with the stroke of his pen. All six black teenagers were jailed. And 16-year-old Mychal Bell would be first on trial, charged as an adult.
(on camera): How do you think the DA is handling this case?
FOWLER: I would hate to be in his shoes. PHILLIPS (voice-over): The trial begins.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Free the Jena Six.
PHILLIPS: And controversy erupts around the nation.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: No justice.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No peace.
JONES: That's a horrible feeling, to wake up every morning, and your son's future is in the hands of a DA. That's a horrible feeling.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): For the families of those six black teenagers charged with attempted murder, life has been a costly, emotional roller-coaster.
For Tina Jones, it meant mortgaging her small house to raise the $70,000 bail for her son, Bryant. Other families had to mortgage their homes as well. The severity of the charges was surprising, even to people in Jena's white community.
FOWLER: I'm going to tell you, I have talked to a lot of people here, both black and white. Everybody thought the charges were set way too high.
PHILLIPS: But District Attorney Reed Walters knew that Mychal Bell had a record. As a juvenile, Bell had been found guilty of battery, and he had twice violated probation on that conviction.
In an interview with CNN's Susan Roesgen, Melissa Bell, Mychal's mother, defended her son's actions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A grown man was drunk, and he was picking on those kids. And him and Mychal had a fight. And he decided to go put a warrant on Mychal.
PHILLIPS: District Attorney Reed Walters reduced Bell's murder charge to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit second-degree battery.
Six months after the schoolyard brawl at Jena High School, Mychal Bell was the first of the six black teenagers brought to trial. Key to the prosecution's case were statements mostly written by student witnesses.
(on camera): And here is where it gets interesting. The one student who actually testified that Mychal Bell had taken a swing at Justin Barker was one of the three white boys who hung the nooses from the tree. (voice-over): The trial took two days. Bell's public defender called no witnesses, because he said he believed Walters had not proven his case -- the verdict, guilty as charged.
In his closing argument, District Attorney Reed Walters told jurors that what happened at Jena High School was not a fight. It was an attack.
Again, black activists like Reverend Al Sharpton, began to complain of a double standard.
AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We're coming to appeal for justice.
PHILLIPS: Mychal Bell was facing more than 20 years in prison, but there was no real punishment for the three boys who hung the nooses. To prosecute them, the federal government would have to prove there was a hate crime.
But, Donald Washington, the U.S. attorney, decided not to pursue charges.
(on camera): The FBI believed it was a hate crime?
DONALD WASHINGTON, U.S. ATTORNEY, WESTERN DISTRICT, LOUISIANA: Yes. The FBI believed that we have the elements of a hate crime here.
PHILLIPS: Why did it stop there? Why did it go away?
WASHINGTON: Because these kids do not have the kinds of histories that we need to see in order to say, you know what? Yes, you're white, so we're going to prosecute you. That's not enough. We need more.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Washington also told me he had a talk with Reed Walters about the severity of the charges against the six black students.
WASHINGTON: The charge itself is under the umbrella, under the normal curve, albeit on the edges of the normal curve, of the kinds of charges that he could have brought under these circumstances. Perhaps we may have gone a little bit farther afield, from the prosecution's standpoint, than was necessary.
PHILLIPS: Now the story had become a civil rights cause. The black teenagers were dubbed the Jena Six. All of the six defendants found new lawyers, recruited by civil rights activists. Sitting in jail, unable to make bail, Mychal Bell now had five new attorneys.
CAROL POWELL-LEXING, ATTORNEY FOR MYCHAL BELL: The fact that you had a schoolyard fight, and you end up with a 16-year-old facing 22- and-a-half years in prison, that, in itself, was enough to stir anybody's conscience.
PHILLIPS: Up to this point, District Attorney Reed Walters had not spoken publicly, but he did send a fax to the local paper, "The Jena Times," addressing those who he said -- quote -- "have chosen to disrupt the activities of the school."
He warned, "I will see to it that you never again menace the students in any school in this parish." He added, "I have never charged anyone in this parish based upon who they are or where they come from, and I never will."
For months, those were his only public comments.
Then, one day:
(on camera): Mr. Walters, I'm Kyra Phillips with CNN. I would like to talk to you about the charges.
(voice-over): He was leaving his office, but he did stop when we approached him.
(on camera): Do you feel good about how the community is responding to this?
REED WALTERS, LASALLE PARISH DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Absolutely.
PHILLIPS: You do?
PHILLIPS: Do you see racial tension at all? Do you feel...
PHILLIPS: You don't feel any racial tension?
PHILLIPS: Do you think...
WALTERS: Not from the people of Jena.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Then, the day before thousands of protesters were expected in Jena, Reed Walters held a brief press conference. Flanked by Justin Barker and his mother, Walters denied that his actions were racist, but he was silent when I tried to ask him about the remarks he made at the school assembly.
(on camera): Mr. Walters, did you say, with the stroke of a pen, you could change their lives?
WALTERS: It looks as if we're getting out of control.
So, I thank you all for your...
I thank you for your time and your courtesies. I appreciate it.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Pastor Eddie Thompson is one Jena resident who believes there is racism in his town.
He wrote on his Internet blog, "I have lived here most of my life, and the one thing I can state, with absolutely no fear of contradiction, is that LaSalle Parish is awash in racism."
Jena, he says, is really two towns, blacks on one side of the main highway into town, whites on the other.
THOMPSON: Your prospects for a future depend on what side of that street you're born on. And we want to treat others the way we would like to be treated.
PHILLIPS: Ahead: one town...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God will take care.
PHILLIPS: ... two realities.
Blacks and whites talk about race in Jena.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: I'm Carol Costello in Washington. Back to "Judgment in Jena" in just a moment. Here's what's "In the News" now.
A new message from Osama bin Laden calls for Muslims in Pakistan to wage jihad against their president. The 23 minute tape makes a case under Islamic law for taking up arms against Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan is a nuclear power and a key U.S. ally in the war on terror. Bin laden is thought to be hiding along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
A showdown brewing between President Bush and Congress over healthcare. A bill backed by Democrats and some Republicans would double the budget for a federally funded health insurance program for children.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe this is a step toward federalization of healthcare. Uh, I know that their proposal is beyond the scope of the program. And that's why I'm going to veto the bill.
SEN HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think to start engaging in name-calling and calling it government-run healthcare and all of that is not only wrong, but it really, in my view, does a great disservice to the people in this Congress who are working in a bipartisan way to try to cover more kids and give them the healthcare they deserve to have. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: The program is due to expire in 10 days.
American cyclist, Floyd Landis, has been stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title. An arbitration panel has upheld a test that showed Landis used synthetic testosterone to help him win the race. Landis denies it.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is ordering a second investigation into a nuclear bomb mix up. On August 30, an Air Force B-52, just like that one, flew from North Dakota to Louisiana without anyone noticing it was armed with six nuclear cruise missiles.
And in Jena, Louisiana, an enormous civil rights march and rally today. Tens of thousands of protestors showed their solidity with the" Jena Six," Black high school students accused of beating a White classmate.
Now back to Kyra Phillips and "Judgment in Jena."
PHILLIPS (voice-over): A half century ago, Americans watched from their living rooms.
ANNOUNCER: It's detrimental to your safety to continue this march.
PHILLIPS: As civil rights marchers were confronted with bullets and batons. Now, instead of violence, Jena is home to a war of words. Giant television satellite trucks and camera crews practically never seen here before, appear almost every day.
TONY BROWN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Good morning, everyone. Top of the morning to you.
PHILLIPS: Radio top show hosts like Tony Brown.
BROWN: All eyes are on Jena, Louisiana this morning.
PHILLIPS: Who broadcasts from nearby Alexandria, Louisiana.
BROWN: If you're Black in Jena, they throw the book at you and throw away the key and if you're White, you get a slap on the wrist and sent home to your parents.
PHILLIPS: Are not shy about pumping up the rhetoric.
BROWN: We've been in the trenches of racism here in Louisiana and some of these rural areas like Jena where there's a Klannish environment and a new Jim Crowe that is victimizing, particularly young, poor, Black youth.
PHILLIPS: We found no evidence of any real Klan activity in Jena, but even the suggestion of it is unsettling to Whites and Blacks.
LAURA FINK, JENA RESIDENT: This is a tight knit community...
PHILLIPS: Evelyn Talley-Moser and Laura Fink are mother and daughter.
(on camera): People from the outside are saying, oh, my gosh, those people in Jena, Louisiana, are country backwoods racist White people.
How do you respond to that?
EVELYN TALLEY-MOSER, CABOOSE CAFE: I think they're generalizing, I think they're labeling, I think they're bigoted.
FINK: No matter what color you are, we look out for each other. You know, I think that we watch each other's backs. We're neighbors.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Still, many Whites in Jena have become sick of the national attention. We spent a lot of time in Jena, waiting for interviews that never materialized, but a few people did agree to talk. People like Cleveland Riser. He's lived and worked here for most of his 75 years. Matter of fact, he's so well known that they named a street after him.
(on camera): Why did this happen? Why were nooses hung in this tree? Why was there such a racial tension between the Blacks and the Whites?
CLEVELAND RISER, JENA RESIDENT: When the Black kids first integrated, my son was a sophomore and there was no real assistance to try to get Black kids, White kids to understand that the reason why all of us at Jena High School was to get an education. They got the impression that this is our school for Whites and y'all don't have any school now because they closed yours. And so as a result of that, we get all of these second generation feelings still in their kids, that Jena High School is a White school.
BILLY FOWLER, LASALLE PARISH SCHOOL BOARD: Actually, we don't have near enough bagged up yet.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Across town, Billy Fowler is helping to unload tons of food that will be given out to Jena's poorest families, Black and White. He's a member of the Parish School Board, and like Cleveland Riser, has lived here all his life.
(on camera): Mr. Fowler, the Black community feel there is a double standard here in education, in justice, in economics. Do you agree with that?
FOWLER: To a certain extent.
PHILLIPS: Why is that?
FOWLER: Well, most of the people who live here are old timers and this part of the country was not very forward, education, if they went through the sixth grade, was probably about as much as you'd get and even today, the state of Louisiana ranks dead last compared to other states in education. I've been on the school board. I want to try to do something about that. Color of skin is not going to enter into it, so I'm going to help on that end of it. And I think the board will do the same.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Many Whites in Jena believe their town is doing the best that it can.
TALLEY-MOSER: Just because this is South doesn't mean that this is not an integrated community. Do your homework before you print things. This is hurting our family.
CHARLENE RANTON, JENA HIGH SCHOOL LIBRARIAN: I feel that the world is not seeing the real picture of Jena High School.
PHILLIPS: Charlene Ranton (ph) and her daughter Anna Marie are deeply invested in the future of Jena High School.
(on camera): When I talked to both of you and telling you it was so hard to break into the White community and get families like you to talk to me. Why has it been so tough?
C RANTON: They fear speaking out because of, I guess, the danger to their family and themselves. I, on the other hand, believe that some of us that know the truth and the way things are, aren't speaking out loudly enough.
PHILLIPS: And why do you feel comfortable talking to me about it?
ANNA MARIE RANTON, JENA RESIDENT: Same way she does. I feel like, you know, people are looking at us like we're big racists, and we're really not and people that aren't need to speak out. Because the people that know what's really going on need to talk.
RISER: We told him the same thing that my parents told me...
PHILLIPS (voice-over): But most Blacks in Jena believe change here is long overdue.
(on camera): What do you think about Reverend Al Sharpton and these other leaders from the outside coming into town. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
RISER: I think it's a very good thing. Because what I think it can do is what it's doing, and that is get you here. Get the media here. At some point, someone is going to get the message here that we cannot afford to live a false life by having certain people in positions that make these kinds of decisions that causes all this to occur.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was racially charged from the get-go.
PHILLIPS: Just ahead...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Racial hatred and bigotry.
PHILLIPS: The Internet and talk radio.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are tired and fed up.
PHILLIPS: Propel the story to a new level.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Free the Jena Six.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I came to school and saw a noose hanging from a street, yeah, I would consider that right there some (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was racially charged from the get-go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Racial hatred and bigotry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Haven't Blacks in the USA suffered enough with no real reciprocity?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Free the Jena Six.
PHILLIPS: The Jena Six became a cause played out on the Internet and on Black talk radio.
MICHAEL BAISDEN, TALK SHOW HOST: Welcome back to the Michael Baisden Show. This is the week I'm calling "Journey to Jena."
SHERIFF CARL SMITH, LASALLE PARISH: It's been blown out of proportion, but it's not all the media.
PHILLIPS: Carl Smith is sheriff of LaSalle Parish.
SMITH: It's all this stuff that comes out on the Internet that's not -- nobody has to be responsible for. They get on there and say whatever they want to, whether it's true or not and that's a whole lot of what's causing us our problems here now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Just let me live my life...
PHILLIPS: Since early summer, prominent Black activists began arriving in Jena. Al Sharpton made two trips and Jesse Jackson reflected back to the battles of almost 50 years ago.
JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW COALITION: This (INAUDIBLE) the gravity of a Selma-type attraction. People around the national were rallying to the Jena Six. Boys 15 to 17 years of age, arrested and prosecuted, some think, persecuted.
PHILLIPS: Not surprisingly, at least three presidential candidates voiced their support for Mychal Bell and the protesters.
SEN HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Present day discrimination happening in Jena, Louisiana.
BAISDEN: It's the "Journey to Jena" on the Michael Baisden Show.
PHILLIPS: Radio talk show hosts like Michael Baisden began organizing bus caravans from a number of U.S. cities...
BAISDEN: We got stuff posted for busses. People are still looking for buses.
PHILLIPS: ...To arrive in Jena on September 20, Mychal Bell's sentencing day.
(on camera): What is the message today?.
BAISDEN: Enough is enough. I think that people are fully aware now the reason why we're getting this response is because a lot of people of all races understand that there's a lot of unequal justice out here and I think that we're ready for a change. We need a change. We have to have a change.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): And young Blacks around the country reacted...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did everybody else check in?
PHILLIPS: ...signing up for a chance to demonstrate and be a part of history.
BRANDON WILSON, ACTIVIST: It's vitally important that we don't let them pressure up. I tell you this, you all today write a page in history. Every one of your commitments, all of your enthusiasm is a part of history this day.
REV MARK LAWRENCE, BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA: We're going to stand up for not just one young man, but six young men, and we're showing this country we're not going to sit down. We're following in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King, all of those that led the Freedom Marches in the past.
PHILLIPS: Many people in Jena's White community were angered by the call to demonstrate.
(on camera): What's your message to those organizations?
FOWLER: Stay out. Stay out. Leave us alone. Let us solve our own problems.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): On September 14, Mychal Bell's new defense team emerged with a surprising legal victory. An appeals court vacated his conviction, ruling that District Attorney Reed Walters had wrongly tried him as an adult. But the demonstrations were not cancelled.
REV AL SHARPTON, ACTIVIST: This is the beginning of the 21st century civil rights movement. The issue is equal protection under the law. These thousands of people that have come resonates with them because their nieces, their nephews, their sons and daughters have faced this. We must realize when the D.A. walks out in front of the courthouse yesterday; it's a 21st century version of them walking out in front of the courthouse 50 years ago when our fathers were marched. So, our fathers faced Jim Crow, we face James Crow, Jr. Esquire. He's a little more polished.
Remember to stay calm. Stay together. And stay vigilant.
PHILLIPS: They would descend upon Jena for two reasons, to celebrate Bell's legal victory, and to register their outrage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the situation was reversed, I don't think a little White boy would be sitting in jail. I don't think so.
PHILLIPS: That Reed Walters would not drop the case against the Jena Six.
(on camera): Can you call for an investigation on this D.A. and trace his case history?
REP MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I can guarantee you that the Judiciary Committee of the Congress of the United States, headed by John Conyers is going to have official hearing on what is going on in Jena, here.
PHILLIPS: Just ahead, for one day, the nation focuses its attention on tiny Jena, Louisiana.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no fear.
WILSON: When this one bus joins the thousands of buses in Jena, Louisiana, that they know Birmingham is in the house and that we bring with us a history, a legacy of fighting, successfully fighting, for change. And for that, I give each and everyone of y'all a round of applause. Y'all have a safe trip.
PHILLIPS: They came by the thousands, marching, chanting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Free Jena Six.
CROWD: Free Jena Six.
CROWD: Free Mychal Bell. Free Mychal Bell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We ain't going to let nobody turn around, turn around. Come on.
PHILLIPS: Turning a tiny, nondescript southern town...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't let them get you distracted. Everybody help us march on this.
PHILLIPS: ...into the site of one of the largest civil rights demonstrations the nation has seen in years. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've come too far just to stand under the tree. It's time for us to move some action.
PHILLIPS (on camera): You're from San Diego. Why are you here in Jena, Louisiana?
MAIREAD BURK, ACTIVIST: I'm here because I think it's a human rights for everyone. This doesn't have to do -- I mean, color and class are -- classes of them are present everywhere in our nation. It's not only in Jena, Louisiana, it's all over. It's all over the United States and we need to change it. We need to do anything about it, so that's why I'm here.
STEPHANIE EDWARDS, ACTIVIST: There was a hate crime perpetrated here and unless we wake up and know that hanging nooses on a tree isn't a prank, it is a hate crime, and it harkens back to lynching and if you're threatening people with that kind of violence, there needs to be repercussion. And if the school had taken the right actions, like city government had taken the right actions, it never would have escalated to violence. And this town and our country needs to wake up to the reality of racism and we need to work together to change it.
IMAIR BRYAN, ACTIVIST: This is movement for all people. I think everyone should be offended. Like you said, this was a hate crime that took place. This is not just about Black people. It's about everyone here and us standing together, taking a stand against what happened here and recognizing that this should not be allowed to happen. And that it has to stop.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): The U.S. attorney said he had no grounds to file federal hate crime charges against the kids who hung the nooses, but he does understand the emotions fuelling this rally for the Jena Six.
(on camera): Has this been blown out of proportion?
DONALD WASHINGTON, U.S. ATTORNEY: To a degree, I believe so, yes.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): I spoke with Donald Washington earlier in the week.
WASHINGTON: If you're not careful, you can overpaint that. I would not compare the two incidents myself. Again, I'm putting on my hat as a federal prosecutors. The two incidents are separate incidents.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Do you think there's a double standard here with regard to the justice system?
WASHINGTON: It is standard to charge, you know, a first-time fight type deal, if it's truly a fight where people are actually in some type of contest against each other, and one's not unconscious, that you do go on the low end of the scale. Mychal Bell, as of December the 4th, has already had at least four simple batteries. One of which he's currently on probation for, so I think it appropriate for the prosecutor to look upon that, even if it weren't the same kind of fight that occurred on December 1st, as well, gee, what do I do with Mychal Bell. Do I give him the fifth simple battery or do I go to some another crime that's a little more rigorous that I can charge based upon these facts?
I think a district attorney is well within his rights to do that if that's what he wants to do. That's not to say that I would do it, but he's certainly well within his rights to do that.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Tina Jones' son, Bryant Purvis, is one of the Jena Six. She sent him to live with relatives near Dallas until his trial.
TINA JONES, BRYANT PURVIS' MOTHER: You know, all I can do is tell him I love him all the time. You know, because I feel less than a mother because, you know, I'm not able to do, you know, the things that a mom normally do, you know, for her son because he's gone. You know? And that's breaks my heart.
PHILLIPS: What about Justin Barker, the White student who was the victim of the attack? Several months after the beating, he was expelled for bringing a shotgun on school grounds. He as since dropped out of school. U.S. Attorney Donald Washington underscored the viciousness of the attack.
WASHINGTON: The victim, I understand, has encountered thousands of dollars of medical expenses. The hitting and the kicking with the tennis shoe was much more devastating that most of us would have anticipated. I doubt if anybody in this room would know what it feels like to be unconscious and to have someone stand on your head while other people were kicking you.
PHILLIPS: What will happen in Jena after all of the attention dies down and everyone leaves. It very much depends on who you ask.
RANTON: I think that what we have to do to move forward is learn the lessons of the past. I do believe that we will learn lessons from it and benefit from what we've experienced here in Jena.
PHILLIPS: Tina Jones is worried.
(on camera): Once all the media leaves, this goes away, dies out. What's Jena, Louisiana, going to be like?
JONES: This may become a very uncomfortable place for us to live. So, you know, we might have to think about leaving, you know, because, you know, they feel like, you know, things may get worse after the media leaves.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Cleveland Riser, for one, somewhat hopeful.
RISER: I applaud this kind of chop (ph) that we will grow from this much faster than had this not occurred. Until this silence has been broken in response to a current type of event happening, then I don't know how long it's going to take. PHILLIPS: Pastor Eddy Thompson.
EDDY THOMPSON, PASTOR: I have concern that our ministers, once this is all passed and the decisions have been made, are going to be left picking up the pieces in terms of race relations and I want to see our town come together. You know? And it's a -- it's still a ways away. You know? We're going to have to go through these trials, it seems, before we can start working that process again.
PHILLIPS: Washington believes Jena should have reacted in a far different manner when those nooses were hung more than a year ago.
WASHINGTON: I think what people are disappointed about is that there was nothing else sort of said about it. There was nothing else done. There was no very vocal and very outspoken leadership in this area that said, you know, this is a very heinous, very horrific thing that has occurred in our community, let's get together and figure out ways to avoid this in the future.
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