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Monday, June 25, 2007

Looks Like Jena, La. is not exactly Mayberry, USA......Introducing the Jena Six

Please accept my apologies for getting to this story at the tail end, but you know what they say about being better late than never. Actually, I just found out about this story while viewing tonight's episode of Paula Zahn's Out in the Open show on CNN. It appears that we have yet another racially tinged case occurring in a southern town that is holding on to dated precepts and actions pertaining to its citizens of color. In a nutshell, we have six African-American high school students being charged as adults for the Dec. 4, 2006 beating of a fellow White student in a town with a predominant White population. These young men were brought up on attempted murder charges totaling in excess of 80 years!! Here's more on this story as reported by NOLA.com:

JENA, La. (AP) — Attempted murder and conspiracy charges against a black high school student accused in the December beating of a white student amid escalating racial tensions were reduced Monday to less serious charges that could mean far less prison time if he is convicted.

Mychale Bell still faces trial Tuesday on charges stemming from the Dec. 4 beating. But instead of sentences totalling 80 years, he now faces maximum sentences totalling just over 22 years if convicted.

Bell was one of five black Jena High School students charged in the beating, which occurred about three months after three white students were suspended for hanging nooses from a school yard tree.

Another juvenile, whose identity and charges were not released because of his age, was also accused. They were dubbed the "Jena Six" by supporters who say the attempted murder charges resulted from racism by authorities and were far out of proportion to the seriousness of the crime.

Prosecutors have refused to discuss details of the case.

Bell's charges were reduced to aggravated second-degree battery, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years, and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery which would carry a maximum sentence of 7 1/2 years, according to statutes on the state government Web site.

"I think he feels a lot better since they lowered the charges. At least that's a good first step," his mother, Melissa Bell, said after Monday's hearing.

Still, supporters say they are curious about the latest charges. Statutes define aggravated second-degree battery as involving use of a dangerous weapon and parents of the accused said they had heard no previous mention of a weapon.

It was not immediately clear if the other suspects' charges would be reduced as well. One other suspect, Theodore Shaw, also had been scheduled for trial this week, but his case was delayed. Trial dates for the others — Robert Bailey Jr., Bryant Purvis, Carwin Jones and the unidentified juvenile — had not been set.

Shaw and Bell, have been jailed since their arrests, unable to make $90,000 bond.

Let's hope that through community support and public attention, these young men can find justice and fairness through Louisiana's court system. One can only hope. But my contrarian nature must also comment on this matter from another perspective. When will people of color learn to be more proactive by teaching (better yet, training) our children not to put themselves in compromising situations where they are at the mercy of a biased US court system?. And what would have happened if this victim had died? In addition, would Jena's Black community want absolution for the alleged attackers if the race of those involved were reversed? Once again, if African-Americans are aiming for progress in these type of cases (as well as in other societal endeavors) a choice of rightness versus righteousness must be made. Perhaps my opinion doesn't jibe with our readers-share your thoughts with the class and for more on the Jena Six case, click on the link below:

Reduced charges for one suspect in race-tinged beating case

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