Paine College students head to Jena rally

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News 12 First at Five, September 18, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---More and more cities across the nation are turning their eyes toward the Jena 6 including people right here in Augusta. Paine College administrators are preparing for a field trip to Louisiana. But this is no regular school trip. "This is really about youth activism," said Sean Palmer, director of student activities.

A team of twenty students will join fifty thousand people headed to Jena, Louisiana. "Not only just going, but also participating in some events that shape them, shape their world view here, helps them be a better more contributing person when they leave this environment," Palmer said.

Jena, Louisiana is a mostly white town at the center of what some call a racial firestorm that was ignited when a black student sat under a tree where whites traditionally gathered. A day later, three nooses were found hanging from the tree. It was written off as a practical joke.

That decision spurred racial fights at the school that ended in an attack on a young white teen, and left six black teens charged with assault, facing years in prison. Elias Etinge, dean of student affairs says, "The legal system is funny, somebody can get seven years for murder and here young children are being threatened for 15 years for fighting."

James Reid is chief of campus police at Paine. He will accompany the students. "If we fail to address the issue in Jena effectively and collectively as one body to speak out against the injustices, eventually, it will come visit you at your front door," Reid said. "The Bible teaches to let justice rain down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. We're going in the spirit of Christ to do that which is just for those who have been treated unjustly."

Etinge says there is at least one lesson to be learned. "If it can happen over in Louisiana, guess what, it can happen here in Augusta."

Gloria Williams-Way, NAACP campus adviser, says of the case, "It's racist because the penalty simply does not fit the crime."

"The students from Paine College are headed to Louisiana because they feel that if justice is threatened for anyone, anywhere, then justice is really threatened for all people everywhere," she continued.

Palmer says, "It would be a disservice not to be involved in something as monumental as the treatment of six young men who are definitely feeling the blows of prejudice."

Reverend Larry Fryer calls this a pivotal time in our nation's history. "We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, and when something like this occurs it upsets the founding fathers' mission and dream in our Constitution."

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