The White Tree
The ‘white tree’ in Jena, Louisiana was cut down this summer. In September 2006 a black pupil asked the white principal of Jena High School if black students could sit under this tree, where only white students ever sat. He answered: ‘You can sit anywhere you want.’ Three nooses then appeared in the tree, fights began, and six black teenagers were charged with the attempted murder of one white boy, who was well enough to go out on the evening of the day he was attacked. The white boys who hung the nooses were suspended from school for three days. An all-white jury convicted Mychal Bell, one of the black students, on a reduced charge of aggravated second-degree battery, which could have brought a 15-year sentence. The saga of the Jena Six began, a story of unequal punishment before the law that is all too familiar. Bell’s conviction has now been overthrown and he has been released on bail after ten months in jail, although he still faces trial as a juvenile, and charges against the other five have been scaled back.
The full text of this essay is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.