The Jena Six were six black teenagers in Jena, Louisiana, convicted in the 2006 beating of Justin Barker, a white student at the local Jena High School, which they also attended. Barker was injured on December 4, 2006, by the members of the Jena Six, and received treatment at an emergency room. While the case was pending, it was often cited by some media commentators as an example of racial injustice in the United States. Some commentators believed that the defendants had been charged initially with too-serious offenses and had been treated unfairly.
A number of events had taken place in and around Jena in the months before the Barker assault, which the media have associated with an alleged escalation of local racial tensions. These events included the hanging of rope nooses from a tree in the high school courtyard, two violent confrontations between white and black youths, and the destruction by fire of the main building of Jena High School. Extensive news coverage related to the Jena Six often reported these events as linked. Federal and parish attorneys concluded from their investigations that assessment was inaccurate for some of the events; for instance, the burning of the high school was an attempt to destroy grade records.
Six students (Robert Bailey, then aged 17; Mychal Bell, then 16; Carwin Jones, then 18; Bryant Purvis, then 17; Jesse Ray Beard, then 14; and Theo Shaw, then 17) were arrested in the assault of Barker. Mychal Bell was initially convicted as an adult of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. His convictions were overturned on the grounds that he should have been tried as a juvenile. Before a retrial in juvenile court, Bell pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of simple battery. The other five defendants later pleaded no contest to the same offense, and were convicted.
The Jena Six case sparked protests by people who considered the arrests and subsequent charges, initially attempted second-degree murder (though later reduced), as excessive and racially