White separatists rally in Jena, La.

Decry Jena Six, King holiday

Email|Print| Text size + By Mary Foster
Associated Press / January 22, 2008

JENA, La. - About 50 white separatists protested the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday yesterday in this tiny town, which was thrust into the spotlight months ago by 20,000 demonstrators who alleged prosecutors discriminated against blacks.

Police separated participants in the "pro-majority" rally organized by the Nationalist Movement, based in Learned, Miss., from a racially mixed group of about 100 counter-demonstrators outside the LaSalle Parish Courthouse.

There was no violence and one counter-demonstrator was arrested.

Chants of "No KKK" from the mostly college-age counter-demonstrators were met with a chant from the separatists that contained a racial epithet.

At one point, dozens of state police forced back about 10 people, dressed in New Black Panther uniforms, who had gathered around a podium where the separatist group's leader, Richard Barrett, was to speak.

One man who broke away from that group was arrested and charged with battery on a police officer and resisting arrest; authorities identified him as William Winchester Jr. of New Orleans and said he was a member of the New Black Panthers.

Members of the group at the scene declined to comment.

Race relations in Jena, which has a population about 2,800, have been in the news ever since six black teenagers were arrested in the beating of a white classmate at Jena High School in December 2006.

About 20,000 people peacefully marched in support of the so-called Jena Six in September, and yesterday's demonstration was organized in opposition to both the teenagers and the King holiday.

Five of the black teens were originally charged with attempted murder, leading to accusations that they were being prosecuted harshly because of their race. Charges have since been reduced.

Critics of the prosecutor have noted that months before the beating, no charges were filed against three other white students accused of hanging nooses - seen as signs of racial intimidation - on a tree at the high school.

The prosecutor has said that the noose hangings, while "abhorrent," violated no state law.

Many Jena residents said that coverage of the controversy last year unfairly portrayed them as racists, and that Barrett's group brought renewed unwanted attention.

Only when faced with a lawsuit did the town drop a requirement that the Nationalists post a $10,000 security bond for a permit.

Almost all the demonstrators and counter-demonstrators appeared to be from outside Jena.

"I'd like to see more people from Jena here," said George Ferguson, a local resident who wore a T-shirt reading "Justice for Justin," referring to Justin Barker, the white teen beaten in the school attack. "I haven't seen anyone else I know."

A few locals, black and white, watched from the sidelines.

"I wanted to see what was going on, I've heard a lot about it," said Charles Bailey, a white 58-year-old Jena resident.

"It looks like a big waste of my tax money."

Law enforcement officers from several organizations, including Louisiana State Police and at least three parish sheriff's departments, were on hand.

Snipers staked out the roofs of buildings across the street from the courthouse.

Jena resident Dayna Brown, a black woman who made a scrapbook on the September protest, had her camera in hand yesterday. She said she was ready to see Jena's time in the spotlight end.

"I'm hoping this is the last of it," Brown said.

"Jena's not a bad place to live if you're black or white. We'd just all like to see things settle down."

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