Mychal Bell, Jena 6 teen, shoots himself

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mychal

Hat Tip: By Kevin McGill, Associated Press

Hat Tip: BET.COM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — One of the central figures in the 2007 Jena Six civil rights case never gave up pursuing his football career, even after his well-publicized run-ins with the law.

Mychal Bell, an 18-year-old high school running back, clung to the hope that he could earn a college football scholarship. Then came another legal scrape this Christmas Eve.

After news broke of his arrest on a shoplifting charge, Bell shot himself in the chest Monday with a .22-caliber handgun. He remained hospitalized Tuesday but police said his chest wound was not life-threatening.

“When it was broadcast that he was charged with shoplifting he just felt that the whole year had been wasted and that he had worked all of that time for nothing,” said Louis Scott, who represented Bell in the case where Bell and five other black teenagers were charged in the 2006 beating of a white classmate.

Bell’s grandmother, Rosie Simmons, and mother, Melissa Bell, told police that “Mychal had made comments over the past two days that, because of the current media attention he had because of the shoplifting arrest, he didn’t feel like he could live anymore,” Monroe Police Lt. Jeff Harris said, reading from a police report.

Bell and the other members of the “Jena Six” once faced attempted murder charges in the beating at Jena High School, in north central Louisiana’s Lasalle Parish. The charges for all the defendants were eventually reduced. But the severity of the original charges brought widespread criticism and eventually led more than 20,000 people to converge in September 2007 on the tiny town of Jena for a major civil rights march.

After being sentenced to 18 months following his guilty plea to juvenile charges, Bell moved from Jena to Monroe, where he was in foster care. He was released from state supervision on Dec. 4, said Bill Furlow, a spokesman for Reed Walters, the district attorney for LaSalle Parish.

A football star at Jena High until the Barker beating, Bell had hoped to play for Monroe’s Carroll High School, where he is on track to graduate in the spring. But the Louisiana High School Athletic Association wouldn’t grant him a fifth year of eligibility to play. Bell had spent 10 months in prison awaiting trial after his 2006 arrest in the beating case.

“He had kept his grades up and he had worked out the whole year even though he couldn’t play. He had dealt with the fact that the state athletic association would not let him play high school ball,” Bell’s lawyer, Louis Scott said Tuesday.

It was unclear whether his dreams of a college football career were realistic. According to Scott, family members believed Bell was having encouraging discussions with the University of Louisiana-Monroe.

The school’s director of football operations, Peter Martin, said in an e-mail that the school had not evaluated Bell as a prospective student-athlete and would not speculate on his potential at the college level.

Police said Bell’s Christmas Eve arrest came after he allegedly tried to steal several shirts and a pair of jeans from a department store and fled when a security guard and off-duty police officer tried to detain him. After they found him hiding under a car, Bell “swung his arms wildly” and one of his elbows struck the security guard with a glancing blow, according to a police report. He was freed on $1,300 bond.

Scott said he believed the arrest likely resulted from a misunderstanding.

“I would be very surprised if he was shoplifting,” Scott said. “I had seen him working out every day even though he knew he wasn’t going to be able to play high school football.”

Monday’s shooting was reported at 7:40 p.m. According to the police report, Bell was staying at his grandmother’s home and his mother was visiting at the time. Melissa Bell told police she and Simmons heard a gunshot coming from Mychal’s room. They found him on his bed, wounded in the chest. It was not clear Tuesday who owned the gun.

Al Sharpton’s 2004 Presidential Committee being investigated

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In what could only be charitably called suspicious timing, the FBI announced a federal investigation into Al Sharpton’s 2004 campaign finances.      The Village Voice covered this in depth and shows us how shaky and nefarious all that bidness was and so I won’t do so again here.   However, after this was announced late last week and a Grand Jury impaneled for December 26th, I waited for a plausible explanation from the Department of Injustice about why they seem so damn pressed about this crap now.   This whole series of events is tailor made for skeptical negroes like myself to point the finger and say, “See they messin’ wit him again because he done got on their cases for ignoring the rash of nooses and racial terrorism in this country and the Jena 6.”   I would respectfully submit that if its political corruption that y’all are after, Chicago Mayor Rich Daley, a Barack Obama patron, is a more ripe target for a corruption probe.

Jena 6 teen, Mychal Bell, pleads out

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Mychal Bell (file)

Hat Tip: Associated Press, ABC News

A black teenager may get out of a juvenile facility in about eight months after a deal was struck Monday with prosecutors in the beating of a white classmate that sparked a major civil rights demonstration amid cries that his treatment was unduly harsh.

Mychal Bell, now 17, originally was charged as an adult with attempted murder in the beating of Justin Barker in December 2006. That charge was reduced before a jury convicted him in June of aggravated second-degree battery. In September, that verdict was thrown out by an appeals court that said Bell should be tried as a juvenile.

Under the deal, Bell pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery in return for an 18-month sentence with credit for the 10 months he already has served. Without a deal, Bell faced being placed in a juvenile facility until his 21st birthday.

Bell also must pay court costs plus $935 to the Barker family and he must testify truthfully in court if any other of his co-defendants in the Barker beating go to trial.

Bell is one of a group of teens who came to be known as the “Jena Six” as word spread of their arrests on attempted second-degree murder charges, which could have landed them in prison for decades.

“We were prepared to go forward with the trial, but you have to do what’s best for the client,” said Carol Powell Lexing, one of Bell’s attorneys. A juvenile court trial was to begin later this week.

As part of the deal, Bell will undergo counseling and begin to be reintegrated into the school system, his lawyers said.

LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters said he was pleased with the deal “because Mr. Barker is beginning to get the restitution and compensation he’s due.”

Walters said he would try to work out plea deals with the other teens charged in Barker’s beating. He said his decision to work out a deal was not influenced by the intense media coverage and civil rights demonstrations.

Critics said prosecutors have treated blacks more harshly than whites in LaSalle Parish, pointing to an incident three months before the attack on Barker in which three white teens were accused of hanging nooses from a tree at the high school. The three were suspended from school but never criminally charged.

Walters has said there was no state crime to charge them with.

I am livid right now and essentially unable to comment, but I’ll have more to say later.

Jesse disses Obama in Chicago Sun-Times Op-Ed piece

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Brotha Jesse is pissing outside of the tent again, this time its in the form of an op-ed piece in the Sun-Times. After reading it, give me your take.  Is Jesse’s criticism valid and is his timing right?  He’s endorsed the brotha and is pulling even with Miss Hillary in Iowa.  This piece begs the question of whether Jesse really wants Obama to win.

Hat Tip: By Rev. Jesse Jackson, Chicago Sun-Times  

Can Democrats get the votes they need simply because they’re not Republicans? You might think so in this presidential campaign. African-American and urban votes are critical to any Democratic victory. Bill Clinton won two terms without winning the most white votes. His margin was the overwhelming support of black voters. George Bush learned that lesson; that’s why his campaigns spent so much effort suppressing the black vote in key states like Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. His victory margin was the tally of votes suppressed or uncounted.

Yet the Democratic candidates — with the exception of John Edwards, who opened his campaign in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward and has made addressing poverty central to his campaign — have virtually ignored the plight of African Americans in this country. The catastrophic crisis that engulfs the African-American community goes without mention. No urban agenda is given priority. When thousands of African Americans marched in protest in Jena, La., not one candidate showed up.

Democratic candidates are talking about health care and raising the minimum wage, but they aren’t talking about the separate and stark realities facing African Americans.

The civil rights movement succeeded in ending segregation and providing blacks with the right to vote. But the end of legal apartheid did not end the era of discrimination. And the ending of institutionalized violence did not end institutionalized racism.

Patterns of discrimination are sharply etched. African Americans have, on average, about half of the good things that whites have, and double the bad things. We have about half the average household income and less than half the household wealth. On the other hand, we’re suffering twice the level of unemployment and twice the level of infant mortality (widely accepted as a measure of general health).

African Americans are brutalized by a system of criminal injustice. Young African Americans are more likely to be stopped, more likely to be searched if stopped, more likely to be arrested if searched, more likely to be charged if arrested, more likely to be sentenced to prison if charged, less likely to get early parole if imprisoned. Every study confirms that the discrimination is systemic and ruinous. And yet no candidate speaks to this central reality.

African Americans are more likely to go to overcrowded and underfunded schools, more likely to go without health care, more likely to drop out, less likely to find employment. Those who do work have less access to banks and are more likely to be ripped off by payday lenders, more likely to be stuck with high-interest auto and business loans, and far more likely to be steered to risky mortgages — even when adjusting for income. And yet, no candidate speaks to this central reality.

The result is visiting a catastrophe on the urban black community. I and many others campaign for young people to stay in school, to graduate and not to make babies until they are prepared to be parents. My son and I write and teach about personal financial responsibility. Personal responsibility is critical. But personal responsibility alone cannot overcome the effects of a discriminatory criminal justice and economic system in generating broken families and broken dreams.

The Rev. Martin Luther King saw the movement to end segregation and gain voting rights as the first stage of the civil rights movement. The second stage — to gain economic justice and equal opportunity in fact — he knew would be more difficult. Now, 40 years later, it is no longer acceptable for candidates to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to entrenched discrimination and still expect to reap our votes.

Mychal Bell back in jail

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Hat Tip: Black America’s Web, Associated Press

JENA, La. – (AP) A judge ordered a black teenager back to jail, deciding the fight that put him in the national spotlight violated terms of his probation for a previous conviction, his attorney said.

Mychal Bell, who along with five other black teenagers in the so-called Jena Six case is accused of beating a white classmate, had gone to juvenile court in Jena on Thursday expecting another routine hearing, said Carol Powell Lexing, one of his attorneys.

Instead, state District Judge J.P. Mauffrey Jr. sentenced Bell to 18 months in jail on two counts of simple battery and two counts of criminal destruction of property, Lexing said.

“We are definitely going to appeal this,” she said. “We’ll continue to fight.”

Bell had been hit with those charges before the Dec. 4 attack on classmate Justin Barker. Details on the previous charges, which were handled in juvenile court, were unclear.

Mauffrey, reached at his home Thursday night, had no comment.

“He’s locked up again,” Marcus Jones said of his 17-year-old son. “No bail has been set or nothing. He’s a young man who’s been thrown in jail again and again, and he just has to take it.”

After the attack on Barker, Bell was originally charged with attempted murder, but the charges were reduced and he was convicted of battery. An appeals court threw that conviction out, saying Bell should not have been tried as an adult on that charge.

Racial tensions began rising in August 2006 in Jena after a black student sat under a tree known as a gathering spot for white students. Three white students later hung nooses from the tree. They were suspended but not prosecuted.

More than 20,000 demonstrators gathered last month in the small central Louisiana town to protest what they perceive as differences in how black and white suspects are treated. The case has drawn the attention of civil rights activists including the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

Sharpton reacted swiftly upon learning Bell was back in jail Thursday.

“We feel this was a cruel and unusual punishment and is a revenge by this judge for the Jena Six movement,” said Sharpton, who helped organize the protest held Sept. 20, the day Bell was originally supposed to be sentenced.

Bell’s parents were also ordered to pay all court costs and witness costs, Sharpton said.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Jones said. “I don’t know how we’re going to pay for any of this. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this.”

Bell and the other five defendants have been charged in the attack on Barker, which left him unconscious and bleeding with facial injuries. According to court testimony, he was repeatedly kicked by a group of students at the high school.

Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw were all initially charged — as adults — with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit the same. A sixth defendant was charged in the case as a juvenile.

Bell, who was 16 at the time, was convicted in June of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit that crime. LaSalle Parish prosecutor Reed Walters reduced the charges just before the trial. Since then, both of those convictions were dismissed and tossed back to juvenile court, where they now are being tried.

Charges against Bailey, 18, Jones, 19, and Shaw, 18, have been reduced to aggravated second-degree battery. Purvis, 18, has not yet been arraigned.

Noose found on Columbia University Professor’s Door

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Madonna Constantine

Hat Tip: By Adam Goldman, Associated Press

Investigators on Wednesday were looking into whether a noose hanging from the door of a black professor at Columbia University was the work of disgruntled students or even a fellow professor.

A police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because details of the investigation have not been made public, stressed that investigators were looking into a variety of possibilities. One is that the noose was placed on Madonna Constantine’s door by another professor with whom she was having a dispute at the university’s Teachers College, the police official said.

The discovery of the noose, found Tuesday, has roiled the Ivy League campus, prompting plans for a protest rally and a meeting for upset students and faculty.

“This is an assault on African Americans and therefore it is an assault on every one of us,” university President Lee C. Bollinger said in a statement. “I know I speak on behalf of every member of our communities in condemning this horrible action.”

Columbia planned a town hall meeting Wednesday afternoon for faculty and students to address the incident.

Derald Wing Sue, an adjunct professor at the Teachers College who does research with Constantine, said he was at work Tuesday morning when another colleague spotted the noose hanging on Constantine’s door. She wasn’t in her office at the time.

Constantine has written about race, including a book entitled “Addressing Racism: Facilitating Cultural Competence in Mental Health and Educational Settings.” Students said Constantine teaches a class on racial justice.

“Clearly, it was a symbolic act of racial hatred that was intended to intimidate,” Sue said. “I felt outraged and angry that this was directed at such a close colleague and friend of mine.”

Sue said he informed Constantine about the noose and she was devastated.

“She’s doing fine,” he said “She’s OK. I’ve talked to her. She’s getting a lot of support.”

An e-mail to Constantine was not immediately returned Wednesday, nor were calls to the publicist for Teachers College and Constantine’s office.

As word of the incident spread, students and faculty reacted with sadness and anger.

“It’s hard hearing about it,” Danielle Green, a black student, said Wednesday. “I’m not uncomfortable here but I’m not surprised. I mean, look at the world we live in. There is a lot of racism going on.”

In the message to the college’s 5,000 students and 150 faculty members explaining why police were on campus Tuesday, college president Susan H. Fuhrman said: “The Teachers College community and I deplore this hateful act, which violates every Teachers College and societal norm.”

“You would think, Columbia being such a diverse campus and New York being such a diverse city, it shouldn’t happen here,” said student Mikayla Graham.

Teachers College, founded in 1887, describes itself as the nation’s oldest and largest graduate school of education.

According to its Web page, the college brought black teachers from the South to New York for training in the early part of the 20th century, when schools in the South were segregated.

The college has a diverse student body, including students from nearly 80 countries. The racial breakdown is 12 percent black, 11 percent Asian American and 7 percent Hispanic.

The discovery of the hangman’s noose echoes other recent incidents involving the symbol reviled by many for its association with lynchings in the Old South.

Last year in Jena, La., three white students hung nooses from a big oak tree outside Jena High School. They were suspended but not prosecuted.

Racial tensions rose and a white student was beaten unconscious three months later. Recently, thousands of people protested the arrests of six black students in the incident.

Columbia has been the site of other campus turmoil, most recently last month when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to speak, prompting protests by groups angry over his statements questioning the existence of the Holocaust.

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Young NAACPers Collecting ‘Dangerous Weapons’ – Sneakers – to Send to Jena Six D.A.

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Hat Tip: By Sherrel Wheeler Stewart, Black America Web

Tennis shoes were used as dangerous weapons on Dec. 4, 2006 when six black students at Louisiana’s Jena High School fought white schoolmate Justin Barker, LaSalle Parish District Attorney J. Reed Walters told a courtroom this summer.

So hundreds of miles away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, youth members of the NAACP have launched a drive to encourage people to turn in their dangerous weapons — sneakers, or tennis shoes as they are called in the South.

“We want used sneakers. We want the rank, stank, dirty sneakers. We want to send a message,” said the Rev. Elisha B. Morris, youth advisor for the Philadelphia Youth Council NAACP. “We’re going to box the sneakers up and ship them to the district attorney in Jena, Louisiana.” The group also wants each person who donates sneakers to contribute $2 for the Jena Defense Fund.

The effort is in response to charges brought against six black youths following the 2006 fight. Initially, Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw faced charges attempted murder and conspiracy in connection with the fight. A juvenile was also charged.

Bell was tried as an adult and convicted before an appeals court overturned that action and said Bell’s case should be handled in juvenile court. He is now going through proceedings in juvenile court, which are not public.

The fight followed weeks of racial tension in the town of 3,000 touched off in August 2006, after white students hung nooses from a tree. The white students were suspended from school several days, school officials have said.

The call for equal justice for the Jena Six picked up volume throughout the summer, and on Sept. 20, more than 25,000 people from across the country converged on Jena to show support.

The “Dangerous Weapons Drive” was launched on that day during a rally at Temple University in Philadelphia. Morris said a photographer at the event took his sneakers off and turned them in on the spot along with $2.

“No student, regardless of race, should have to tolerate what the Jena Six has faced,” said Darius Alexander, president of the Temple University Progressive NAACP Chapter.

“The charges were absurd. We want to send a message that this will not be tolerated,” Alexander told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

About 80 pairs of sneakers have been collected at Temple so far, but organizers expect more to come.

A local radio station is helping the effort by supporting a drop off point for sneakers at an Oct. 19 concert at the Wachovia Center featuring Kanye West, Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Eve, Akon, Swizz Beatz, Soulja Boy and Cassidy. Also, contests throughout the Philadelphia area have different organizations competing to collect the largest number of sneakers.

Morris said he wants to encourage activism among youths while sending a message to the justice system in LaSalle Parish and the state of Louisiana. He said he envisions a scene reminiscent of the courtroom scene in “Miracle on 34st Street.”

“The judge asked, ‘Where is the proof that this man is Santa Claus?’ First, they presented the judge a few letters that had been sent to him through the post office. Then, they brought in several loads. That’s what I want to see,” Morris told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

When Syracuse University professor and activist Boyce Watkins heard about the sneakers campaign, he laughed, he said.

“I think the shoes prove a point. It is so reflective of the energy and creativity young people bring to the movement,” Watkins told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

“The civil rights movement was driven by youths. They are idealists, and they believe. They are not constrained by social norms,” he said. “Some people call it the hip-hop generation. I call it the hip-hope generation. We have to support them and harness and nurture their energy.”

Mike Weaver, an Atlanta-based researcher who visited Jena long before the thousands arrived on Sept. 20, said while the sneakers drive will send a message, he is doubtful of the impact.

“They are going to ship (the shoes) to District Attorney Reed Walters, and he’s going to do the same thing he has done before,” Weaver said.

Morris said the goal of the sneakers drive and the contributions is to keep the momentum of Jena going, especially among the youth. “This is not over,” he said.

According to Watkins, attention needs to be focused on the entire system of justice in LaSalle Parish and in Louisiana.

“This is much bigger than Jena,” he said. “What about the thousands who are in prison because of an unequal system of justice?”

None of the six Jena youths currently are in jail. Bell was released on Sept. 28, a week after the rally that attracted world wide attention.

Alexander, a senior majoring in kinesiology at Temple, said word of the drive is spreading to other Philadelphia-area college campuses, including the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. High school students are also getting involved.

“For me, personally, I just think about the same thing could happen to you,” he said. “That should give enough reason to fight.”