All Eyes on Jena - Part II

NPR correspondent Audie Cornish, reports from the front lawn of the LaSalle Parish Courthouse in Jena, Louisiana. Cornish explains the public sentiment and how demonstrators are expected to spend their time in Jena.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We have more for you on this story. Earlier today, we talked with NPR correspondent Audie Cornish. She talked with us from the front lawn of the LaSalle Parish courthouse. That's where Jena is located. Crowds of people were beginning to exit chartered buses. They were dressed in black, as organizers had requested. Audie talked about what's expected to happen in Jena today.

AUDIE CORNISH: Well, originally, this entire day was scheduled around the sentencing date for Mychal Bell, the first of the six young men who had been tried and convicted. But last week, his conviction was overturned because a court said he should have been tried as a juvenile. As a result, there was no sentencing today, and that has diffused the activities that were going on. Instead of a sort of huge core rally going on in the morning, in seems like there are several programs happening throughout the day, and even an hour half away in the community of Alexandria.

MARTIN: We talked to somebody who's headed there. There is apparently a huge traffic jam on the way there. But is there a sense of, what? Anxiety, tension, anticipation?

CORNISH: There isn't anything like that so far. The - actually, the morning speaker was from the Nation of Islam, and an organization called the Millions More that helped organize the Million Man March, et cetera. And right now, the idea is don't spend any money in Jena. Don't make a mess in Jena. Don't get into any altercations here, and that this is supposed to be a day about solidarity with these families and bringing attention to the issue - the issue people say is at hand here about inequities in justice for young black men, I guess, in the justice system.

MARTIN: Are the people there mostly African-American who seem to be coming to protest, or is a mixed crowd?

CORNISH: It's almost exclusively African-American. There are white media. I think there are a handful of people from the town kind of peeking in and out of businesses there, declining interviews. But it's a mostly African-American crowd, and that may stem from the fact that a great deal of the buzz around this case has come from radio shows and blogs and a lot of online and broadcast activity within the black community itself.

MARTIN: And finally, we spoke to a local pastor in Jena who said that - his sense was a lot of the white community is afraid. They're not used to having this many visitors from out of town. A lot of the schools - schools are closed today, a lot of the businesses are going to close today, and he said that a lot of people are just kind of hunkered down in their houses. Does it feel it that way to you? Does is have a - do you have a sense that people who live there are behind closed doors, as it were?

CORNISH: Yeah, you have to assume that, because almost all of the businesses are closed. This is a community of just 3,000 people. And the majority of those people are white. So there are very few of them on the streets. And I think there was some concern that, you know, after all, all of these altercations over the last year have been violent in one way or another.

But this is not the first rally that's happened here. There was one in July. This one is just larger. So organizers say that they don't anticipate any kind of altercations, and there's no tension within the crowd.

MARTIN: Audie Cornish is an NPR correspondent. She joined us from Jena, Louisiana. Audie, thanks so much.

CORNISH: Thank you for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And now we'd like to hear from you. Tell us what you think about the events in Jena. Do you think the Jena 6 were treated fairly or unfairly? Do you think their case is receiving the right amount of attention? Too much? Too little? And what happens after the protests? How do you think the town can begin to move forward? To express your views about this or any of our programs, please visit our blog at npr.org/tellmemore. You can also call also call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Again, that's 202-842-3522.

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