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Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Student organizations rally to raise awareness about Jena 6

As thousands of activists converged on Jena, La., more than 400 UF students participated in two silent rallies Thursday in support of six black students involved in a racially charged controversy.

The rallies were held on Turlington Plaza and in the courtyard at the UF Law School.

In September 2006, several black students at Jena High School sat under an oak tree where white students generally congregated. The next day, the students found three nooses hanging from the tree. The white students responsible were later suspended. After several incidents, six black young men assaulted a white classmate in December. The young men, including Mychal Bell, now 17, were arrested. Some of the students' charges were later reduced from second-degree attempted murder to battery.

The rallies coincided with a national day of action and the day when the first of the Jena Six, Bell, was originally to be sentenced for aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery. The conspiracy conviction was overturned on Sept. 4. The battery conviction was overturned Sept 14. by a separate appeals court that concluded Bell should not have been tried as an adult. Thursday, a state appeals court ordered a hearing on whether Bell should still be in jail, even though his conviction was overturned.

At noon, students from more than 12 student organizations met to discuss the Jena Six, donate money, purchase "Free the Jena 6" T-shirts and sign an online petition.

The students observed a minute of silence and passed out fliers. They later walked to the Institute of Black Culture and watched footage from the protests in Louisiana.

Students who joined the movement wore black clothing and called local legislative officers. T-shirt and black ribbon sales in Turlington Plaza raised ,224, said Stephen Anderson, president of the Black Graduate Student Organization. The Black Law Students Association also raised ,400 raised at a forum held earlier in the week.

Jonathan Blocker, president of BLSA, organized the UF rallies after walking in on a conversation between several concerned law students and a professor.

"We are just hoping to raise money so that these students can afford adequate defense," Blocker said. "We want to foster discussion and get people thinking, get people Googling the Jena Six."

Anderson said he was impressed with the turnout, especially from the undergraduates.

"It was not one of those events where you hand someone a flier and they have no idea what you are talking about. People were interested in the Jena Six," Anderson said.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and Students Taking Action Against Racism (S.T.A.A.R.) will be hosting a forum titled "The Jena 6: Racial Injustice in the U.S. Judicial System" on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in CSE E121.

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