The University of Miami may have resembled a university from the 1960s civil rights era Thursday when the United Black Students organization sponsored a rally in protest of the treatment of six African American teenagers, known as the “Jena 6.”
The Louisianan teens were arrested and charged with beating up a white classmate a few months after three white teens were accused of hanging nooses from a tree at their high school. The white teens were suspended, but Jena 6 protesters believe that the white teens were treated less harshly than the black teens, five of whom originally faced adult sentences, although their ages at the time of the incident ranged from 15-17.
Mychal Bell, one of the six teens, faced sentencing on Thursday. In response, UBS organized a rally to coincide with the thousands of Americans protesting in Jena on Bell’s behalf.
“We decided to do something that would bring everybody together and spread more information about Jena 6 and the civil injustices that are going on,” said Lionel Moise, UBS’ public relations officer. “The most important thing is exposure and getting the word out. We’re letting people know that there are things they can do, like signing online petitions or writing letters to the governor of Louisiana.”
UBS had a turnout of about 50 students who came to the UC Rock wearing black to take photographs for the event. In addition, more than 300 students signed the online petition that was set up in the UC Breezeway.
“We assembled this in two days,” said Shajena Erazo, UBS’ first vice president. “That really shows the power of the community. One injustice really affects us all, and we need to stay unified and do something greater for our country.”
Although the Jena 6 were initially arrested in December, many students have become aware of the incident only recently.
“I was on Facebook one day and I got an invite to a group [regarding the Jena 6],” Carl Monfiston, a junior, said. “I read about it and I thought, ‘This is unacceptable’. This is 2007, and this is still going on?”
Although the students at UM are hundreds of miles away from the actual site of the case, many feel that continual protesting and public awareness will have an effect on decision makers.
“The mayor in Jena will hear that people are concerned and worried about what’s going on,” Chris Williams, a senior, said. “I think our voice will be heard and that it’ll be taken into consideration. This is not tolerated at all throughout the country.”
Bell was originally convicted on counts of aggravated second-degree battery, which could have resulted in 15 years in prison, but the conviction was overturned last week after a state appeals court said he should not be sentenced as an adult.
Joel Brown contributed to this article.
Karyn Meshbane may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.