By Martin Savidge, NBC News correspondent
Jena is in gridlock. The number of buses leaving Alexandria 40 miles away is said to look like a hurricane evacuation. Cell phone service is overloaded. Local officials have declared a state of emergency. Schools and businesses are closed and security has beefed up. Protest leaders stress this is a peaceful protest. The crowd size had to measure with people, cars and busses, which stalled in the street. The Reverend Al Sharpton proclaimed to a crowd in front of the courthouse, "this is the start of the civil rights movement for the 21st century!"
There are signs in the crowd in front of the courthouse read... "Stop racism now" "Free the Jena 6" "justice includes us". "Mychael Bell could have been my son" - "why cut down the tree?" "Blacks protest N justice".
Riders on the buses are abandoning them due to stalled traffic. They are moving on foot -some hold banners and signs, others have cameras - recording it all. One older African-American woman told a younger man, "you will be able to tell others you were here this day." On the sidewalk vendors do a brisk trade selling t-shirts for $10. They read "justice for the Jena 6."