Mychal Bell is freed on bail

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 'Jena 6' suspect free on bail

Hat Tip: Doug Simpson, Associated Press

A black teenager whose prosecution in the beating of a white classmate prompted a massive civil rights protest here walked out of a courthouse Thursday after a judge ordered him freed.

Mychal Bell’s release came hours after a prosecutor confirmed he will no longer seek an adult trial for the 17-year-old. Bell, one of the teenagers known as the Jena Six, still faces trial as a juvenile in the December beating.

District Attorney Reed Walters’ decision to abandon adult charges means that Bell, who had faced a maximum of 15 years in prison on his aggravated second-degree battery conviction last month, instead could be held only until he turns 21 if he is found guilty in juvenile court.

The conviction in adult court was thrown out this month by the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, which said Bell should not have been tried as an adult on that particular charge.

Walters credited the prayers of people in this small central Louisiana town with averting a “disaster” when tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on the town. Some critics of Walters considered that a slap against the peaceful marchers.

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Finally, CBC steps up on the Jena 6

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Hat Tip: N.O. Times Picayune, Associated Press — The Congressional Black Caucus is asking the Justice Department to investigate possible civil rights violations in the “Jena 6” case that sparked a massive protest in Louisiana last week.

“This shocking case has focused national and international attention on what appears to be an unbelievable example of the separate and unequal justice that was once commonplace in the Deep South,” the group of 43 lawmakers said in a letter to Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the department has been closely monitoring the case of six black high school teens arrested for beating a white classmate in Jena, La. He said the department also is investigating allegations of threats against the students and their families.

“Since these investigations are ongoing, the department cannot comment any further,” Roehrkasse said.

The caucus also sent a separate letter asking Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to pardon 17-year-old Mychal Bell, the black teen convicted in adult court of aggravated second-degree battery after the charge was reduced from attempted murder.

Bell, who remains behind bars, was one of six Jena High School students arrested after a December attack on a white student, Justin Barker, and the only one to be tried.

Bell was tried as an adult and convicted of aggravated second-degree battery after the charge was reduced from attempted murder. A state appeals court recently threw out his conviction, saying he could not be tried as an adult.

District Attorney Reed Walters said Thursday that he would not appeal that decision and would let a juvenile court deal with the case.

The black lawmakers call the decision to charge Bell and his classmates as adults “an abuse of prosecutorial discretion” and claim no action was taken in a recent similar case involving a white defendant and a black victim.

“The failure to grant bail to Mychal Bell is harsh, to the point of being unconscionable, given all the facts that have come to our attention,” the lawmakers wrote to Blanco.

More than 20,000 people converged on the small town last week to protest the case, accusing local officials of prosecuting blacks more harshly than whites.
 

Mychal Bell’s bail set at $45,000

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Hat Tip: (CNN) — Bail was being posted Thursday for Mychal Bell, a black teenager accused of beating a white classmate, after a district attorney’s announcement that he would not appeal a higher court’s decision moving Bell’s case to juvenile court, according to the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Mychal Bell, 17, is accused with five others of beating Justin Barker in a school fight.

Bell’s bail was set at $45,000, Sharpton said. The paperwork was being worked out, he said, and the bail bondsman was at the courthouse.

Earlier Thursday, Bell was moved from jail to a juvenile facility, according to his attorney, Lewis Scott.

LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters said his decision not to appeal was based on what he believed is best for the victim in the case.

“While I believe that a review would have merit … I believe it is in the best interest of the victim and his family not to delay this matter any further and move it to its conclusion,” Walters told reporters. Video Watch the district attorney say he won’t challenge the ruling. »

He said a march by 15,000 people last week in the small town of 3,000 residents led by civil rights leaders Sharpton and Martin Luther King III did not influence his decision.

Demonstrators were protesting how authorities handled the cases of Bell and five other teens accused of beating fellow student Justin Barker.

Many said they are angry that the students, dubbed the “Jena 6,” are being treated more harshly than three white students who hung nooses from an oak tree on high school property.

The white students were suspended from school but did not face criminal charges. The protesters say they should have been charged with a hate crime.

Bell, now 17, was the only one of the Jena 6 behind bars. His bond previously was set at $90,000.

A district judge earlier this month tossed out Bell’s conviction for conspiracy to commit second-degree battery, saying the matter should have been handled in juvenile court. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles, Louisiana, did the same with Bell’s battery conviction in mid-September.

Prosecutors originally charged all six black students accused of being involved in beating Barker with second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy. Walters reduced charges against at least four of them — Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw — to battery and conspiracy.

Bryant Purvis awaits arraignment. Charges against Jesse Ray Beard, who was 14 at the time of the alleged crime, are unavailable because he’s a juvenile.

Wednesday, Gov. Kathleen Blanco announced that Louisiana State Police officers will protect the families of the Jena 6 and investigate any threats they have received. A white supremacist Web site posted the names and addresses of the six black teens after last week’s march, calling on followers to “let them know justice is coming.”

Thursday, the FBI said it has been made aware of allegations of threats.

“Threats are taken seriously, and as these investigations are ongoing we cannot comment further,” said Sheila Thorne of the FBI’s New Orleans, Louisiana, office.

The December 4 attack on Barker came after months of racial tension, including at least two instances of fighting in the town, sparked originally when three white teens hung nooses from an oak tree on the town’s high school grounds.

Walters has said there was no direct link between the hanging of the nooses and the schoolyard attack, and defended the prosecutions ahead of last Thursday’s peaceful march. Blanco defended the prosecutor Wednesday, saying, “He has a solid record and is highly respected among his peers.”

Walters also addressed the stress and notoriety the town has been subjected to, saying the only way he and other residents “have been able to endure the trauma that has been thrust upon us is through the prayers of the Christian people who have sent them up in this community.”

He also suggested that some kind of “disaster” was averted when thousands of marchers came to Jena last week.

“I firmly believe and am confident of the fact that had it not been for the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened,” Walters said.

“The Lord Jesus Christ put his influence on those people and they responded accordingly,” he said, without explaining exactly what he meant.

Soon after the district attorney spoke, a local reverend took issue with his comments.

Obviously, we are serving two different gods here,” the Rev. Donald Sidley said. “My Bible says that we should do — we should be loving, love your neighbor as yourself.

“For him to try and separate the community like he is and then using Christ Jesus to influence the people that Jesus is working on their side, well, that’s — that’s absurd. … God is god of the human race,” said Sidley, of the New Evergreen Church.

Jena 6 DA yields to pressure from Governor

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 Hat Tip: Doug Simpson, Associated Press

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Wednesday that the prosecutor in one of the so-called “Jena 6” cases has decided not to challenge an appellate ruling that sends the case to juvenile court.

LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters had earlier said he would appeal the state appeals court’s decision that 17-year-old Mychal Bell’s second-degree battery conviction be set aside. The court ruled that Bell could not be tried as an adult.

Blanco said she had spoken with Walters and asked him to reconsider pushing to keep the case in the adult courts system. She said Walters contacted her Wednesday to say he had decided not to appeal the ruling.

“I want to thank him for this decision he has made,” Blanco said.

Bell, who remains behind bars, was one of six Jena High School teens arrested after a December attack on a white student, Justin Barker. Five of the six teens initially were charged with attempted second-degree murder, though charges for four of them, including Bell, were later reduced. One teen hasn’t been arraigned, and the case of the sixth, handled as a juvenile, is sealed.

Blanco made her announcement at a news conference with activists Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton said he hopes a bond will be set low enough to allow for Bell’s release, and he thanked Blanco for getting involved in the matter.

“I want to congratulate her for showing leadership,” Sharpton said. “And I want to congratulate the district attorney for good judgment.”

Blanco said Walters gave her permission to announce his decision, and that he planned to discuss his decision publicly on Thursday. A phone call placed at Walters’ home went unanswered Wednesday.

The case brought more than 20,000 protesters to the central Louisiana town of Jena last week in a marched that harkened back to the demonstrations of the 1950s and ’60s.

Critics accuse local officials of prosecuting blacks more harshly than whites. They note that no charges were filed against three white teens suspended from the high school for allegedly hanging nooses in a tree on campus — an incident that was followed by fights between blacks and whites, including the attack on Barker.

Walters has condemned the noose incident — calling it “abhorrent and stupid” in a New York Times op-ed piece Thursday — but said the act broke no Louisiana law.

In the article, Walters defended the aggravated second-degree battery counts most of those charged in the attack on Barker now face. He said Barker was “blindsided,” knocked unconscious and kicked by at least six people, and would have faced “severe injury or death” had another student not intervened.

To the Jena 6: Just hold on, change is coming

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Norman Hutchin’s song, “A move of God,” has been in my head all day.

To Mychal Bell,  Robert Bailey, Jr, Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, and the other unnamed young brotha, just hold on, change is coming.

“I feel a breakthrough coming your way, it’s a mighty move of God, it’s gonna change your day. With signs and wonders, miracles to perform, God is gonna bless you for just holding on.”

“Just hold on, a change is coming, feel it in the air, it’s in the atmosphere. Just hold on, a change is coming, a move of God is on the way.”

“You’ve been expecting a change in your life, looking for your midnight to turn to sunshine. It’s gonna happen, you wait and see, all things are possible to them that believe.”

“Just hold on, a change is coming, feel it in the air, it’s in the atmosphere. Just hold on, a change is coming…A move of God is on the way.”

Thousands of chanting demonstrators filled the streets of this little Louisiana town Thursday. It's not about black and white. It's about right and wrong. I would like to see these young men set free,

We should have progressed past this kind of unequal treatment based on race; however, we clearly are not. The outpouring of community support in the black community and the dearth of support from others is quite telling.   Katrina became an enduring symbol of neglect and racial indifference and Jena, Louisiana has provided the nation with another.  

There is nothing particularly unique about the disproportionate felony charges meted out to these six teenage boys, this happens everyday to black children somewhere in America, as Al Sharpton has pointed out.  What is unique is the black reaction the racially discriminatory actions of the LaSalle Parish School Board and LaSalle Parish District Attorney provoked.    

Today’s rally was amazing in its genesis and scale, as the song above says, “It’s a mighty move of God, it’s gonna change your day.” I feel confident in predicting that the charges against all six young men will be dropped.  

Praise God for Michael Baisden, Tom Joyner, Howard Witt, Amy Goodman, Roland Martin, Rev.Al, Rev. Jackson, Color of Change, the black blogosphere, and for the many black college students and other concerned persons who raised the alarm to inform the community when it was needed.  

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, on hand for the day’s events, told CNN’s Kyra Phillips that the House Judiciary Committee is preparing to subpoena the LaSalle Parish District Attorney to Washington to explain his conduct and the President himself said that the Justice Department is monitoring this case.  Despite protestations to the contrary, there is a valid reason why Tina Jones, mother of Purvis Bryant, believes that the D.A. is “so adamant about destroying these kids lives.”  I would love to hear his explanation of how a tennis shoe becomes a deadly weapon.   

The idea of a 21st century civil rights movement which focuses on the disproportionate punishment of people of color in the criminal justice system warms my heart.  That’s something that this skeptical brotha can get with enthusiastically.  Much remains to be done and it is not simply a local issue.   I hope that that Congresswoman Waters and Congressman Conyers grasp that a comprehensive solution which addresses the lack of resources for indigent defense is at the root of the harsh and disproportionate treatment that our children and adults face nationwide. 

 

Jesse Jackson takes Obama to task over Jena 6

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Hat Tip: By Roddie A. Burris, the State

The Rev. Jesse Jackson called Tuesday on Democrats seeking the 2008 nomination for president to give S.C. voters “something to vote for” when they go to the polls in January.

On a statewide tour to register new voters, Jackson said South Carolina will determine “who has momentum” in the primary when it votes Jan. 29.

Jackson sharply criticized presidential hopeful and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for “acting like he’s white” in what Jackson said has been a tepid response to six black juveniles’ arrest on attempted-murder charges in Jena, La. Jackson, who also lives in Illinois, endorsed Obama in March, according to The Associated Press.

“If I were a candidate, I’d be all over Jena,” Jackson said after an hour-long speech at Columbia’s historically black Benedict College.

“Jena is a defining moment, just like Selma was a defining moment,” said the iconic civil rights figure, who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1965 Selma civil rights movement and was with King at his 1968 assassination.

Later, Jackson said he did not recall making the “acting like he’s white” comment about Obama, stressing he only wanted to point out the candidates had not seized on an opportunity to highlight the disproportionate criminal punishments black youths too often face.

Jackson also said Obama, who consistently has placed second in state and national polls behind New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, must be “bolder” in his political positions if he is to erase Clinton’s lead.

Jackson is the only African-American ever to carry South Carolina in a presidential primary election.

Obama’s South Carolina campaign pointed to a statement it released last week in which Obama called on the local Louisiana district attorney to drop the excessive charges brought in the case.

“When nooses are being hung in high schools in the 21st century, it’s a tragedy,” the Obama statement said. “It shows that we still have a lot of work to do as a nation to heal our racial tensions.”

Thousands from across the country, including some from Columbia, are expected to converge on the small town of Jena today to protest the “Jena 6” arrests.

Jackson told the 500 to 600 students in his audience at Benedict that “criminal injustice,” instead of a rope, is the pressing civil rights issue of their day, but that voting remained their strongest ally.

Your fight is not about ropes, it’s about hope,” Jackson said, blasting the flood of guns and violence he said permeates many black communities.

Civil rights, he said, has become the counterculture of the day rather than the prevailing culture. “You can’t call on the Justice Department anymore; it’s not there.”

Jackson, who became only the second major black candidate to run for president, won five primaries in his 1984 bid for the office, then 11 primaries and nearly 7 million votes in his 1988 run.

He said the 2008 presidential candidates must speak most directly to the pressing S.C. issues of housing, high tuition costs, health care and a plan to end the war in Iraq.

“The candidates have got to speak to South Carolina,” said Jackson, who was traveling also to S.C. State University in Orangeburg and to Charleston Tuesday evening before wrapping up his registration drive tonight in Aiken.

A Greenville native, Jackson said he hoped to register thousands of new voters during the statewide swing, which began Saturday in Rock Hill.

“Their votes must equal change,” he said, referring to residents in a state where only 1 in 4 eligible voters go to the polls. “I want to make sure the right agenda is being voted on in 2008.”

His approach worked for senior mass-communications major Darius Dior Porcher, 21, who graduated from famed Scotts Branch High School in Clarendon County, which produced the Briggs v. Elliott school desegregation case of 1954.

“The main thing when you speak to students is to get them to move,” Porcher said. “He moved students today. He got them to come down to the floor and register to vote.”