JENA, La. – Officials at a central Louisiana high school have banned T-shirts supporting six black students accused of beating of a white schoolmate, saying the shirts are too disruptive. About nine students at Jena High School wore the “Free the Jena 6” T-shirts Tuesday, and the slogan caused too much of a stir on campus, said LaSalle Parish Schools Superintendent Roy Breithaupt said.
John Jenkins said his three daughters wore the shirts to make a statement, not to cause trouble. “They weren’t doing anything other than wearing the shirts,” Jenkins said. “The school doesn’t have a dress code. They were covered. They’re trying to tell them what they can and can’t wear.” His son, Carwin Jones, is one of the six students charged with attempted murder in the December 2006 beating of 18-year-old Justin Barker. Barker was treated for a swollen and cut face and released the same day.
The attempted murder charges sparked outrage in the black community and drew attention from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is now monitoring the cases. The Rev. Al Sharpton has also spoken up for the six students, saying the attempted-murder charges indicate a different standard of justice for blacks and whites.
One of the students, Mychal Bell, 17, was convicted on a reduced charge of aggravated second-degree battery and faces up to 22 years in prison. He had initially faced attempted murder charges. The other five teens are awaiting trial on attempted murder and conspiracy charges.
Racial tensions surfaced in Jena — a town of 2,900 with about 350 black residents — last fall, when students at the high school found three nooses hanging from a tree on campus. Three white students were suspended, but no criminal charges were filed.