Jena 6 Redux: Free Mychal Bell!!!!!!!!!

A Louisiana appeals court has vacated the second conviction that sent Mychal Bell, one of the Jena 6, to jail. Earlier this month, a district judge threw out Bell’s conviction for conspiracy to commit second-degree battery, agreeing with Bell’s supporters that the case should have been heard in juvenile court. On Friday, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Lake Charles vacated Bell’s battery conviction, but he remains in jail, where he has been since December, 2006.

This has been a classic case of discriminatory sentencing in which six Black teenagers are charged as adults and sentenced to long prison terms for a schoolyard fight. Certainly, it’s despicable that these six boys ganged up to beat up one student, and they should definitely have been punished for that. But they should have been treated as juvenile offenders and punished as juveniles.

There should also be equality in how the entire case is reported. The story starts back in September, 2006 after Justin Purvis, a Black student at Jena High School, got permission from his principal to sit under the “white tree” in the schoolyard. The tree got its name from the fact that it was a popular hangout for the school’s White students, a custom sufficiently entrenched to make a Black student feel the need to ask permission to sit under it. A day later, three nooses were hanging from the branches of the tree. Everyone who lives in the United States knows that nooses were used to lynch (publicly hang) Black men. Most often, the people who organized the lynchings were not even arrested. After the passage of civil and equal rights legislation, lynchings became rarer but the noose still remains—for Black people—a painful reminder of a very dark and violent time in US history. It has also become a symbol of hate that has been adopted by racist groups.

Jena High School’s Black students gathered under the tree to protest the nooses. Afterwards, District Attorney Reed Walters came to the school and told the demonstrating Black students that he “could end their lives with the stroke of a pen.” Three White students were suspended for hanging the nooses but the incident was generally written of as a prank. Tensions continued to escalate, eventually leading to a number of violent encounters. In one instance, a group of Black students was accosted outside a convenicence store by a White man who pulled a gun on them. The boys tussled with their assailant and eventually disarmed him before running away. The incident concluded with the Black boys being arrested and charged with the theft of a firearm. The White man who drew the gun on them was not prosecuted.

In another incident, a Black student was beaten up by White students at a party. Back at Jena High, a White student allegedly taunted this Black student with racial insults and references to the beating he had recieved at the party. This led a group of Black students, including the one who had been taunted, to gang up on the White student, who was punched, kicked, and stomped after he was knocked out. He was taken to hospital—for injuries sustained to his eyes, ears, and face. He was treated and discharged the same day. The Black students who beat him up were charged as adults and Mychal Bell—the only one incarcerated so far—was convicted of attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy. He was a star football player who was looking at college scholarships and a possible professional football career, but his conviction left him facing the prospect of coming out of prison at the age of 40.

Popular outrage against the convictions and support from diverse groups—including most recently music legend David Bowie—led to the charges gradually being reduced from attempted second degree murder to simple assault and battery. Mychal Bell, however, remains behind bars despite all his convictions being vacated. Yesterday, a three-judge panel decided that Bell would not be released from jail pending his November trial.

Thankfully, it seems that people are waking up and calling a spade a spade and hopefully, Mychal Bell will be out of jail soon and back on track to rebuilding his life.


5 thoughts on “Jena 6 Redux: Free Mychal Bell!!!!!!!!!

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!


  2. Pingback: Why Is It Never a Hate Crime? « T’ings ‘n Times

  3. Omelas,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re right, perhaps I am guilty of skimming over the details of the beating Justin Barker received at the hands of Mychal Bell and his friends. I’ll repeat again that I think the practice of a bunch of guys “jumping” one person is pretty despicable. It used to happen at my high school and I always hated it. But like many people in Jena and elsewhere, I think the charges, sentence, and incarceration of Mychal Bell were and are excessive.

    Ultimately, the adults in this case have to bear the responsibility. If school and law enforcement officials in Jena were interested in teaching these students—Black as well as White—that taking the law into their own hands is wrong, they should have intervened when the nooses were hung, when the Black student was assaulted by White students at the party, and when the Black students had a gun pulled on them. I failed to mention in my blog that the boys reported the incident to the police after they disarmed their assailant but he was not even questioned. Instead, these Black boys were arrested and charged with assault and theft of a firearm after they did the right thing by going to the police.

    The signal sent to these boys was that they could not look to school or law enforcement officials to protect them from overt racism—which is psychological violence—and physical violence. Violence is used to put and keep people in their place, and the nooses were supposed to remind Jena High School’s Black students of their place. When these students defied the racists by peacefully gathering under the “white tree” on which the nooses had been hung, District Attorney Reed Walters arrived at the school surrounded by armed police and threatened to end the students’ lives with a stroke of his pen. Is this not intimidation? Weren’t the nooses themselves symbolic of violence to the Black students? Clearly, they didn’t think it was just a prank. Yet school officials and the legal establishment continued to pooh-pooh the issue until it escalated into the violent confrontation with Justin Barker that resulted in his beating. Was it right or necessary? Of course not! Could it have been avoided? Certainly, if school and law enforment officials had taken the racism directed at the Black students more seriously and intervened sooner.

    The whole incident reminds me of Simpsons character Chief Wiggum’s response to Marge when she said, as she was being arrested: “I thought you said the law is powerless?” Wiggum replies, “Powerless to protect you, not to punish you.” Clearly, when it came to protecting Black Students, Jena’s law enforcement officials were asleep at the wheel. When it comes to punishing them, however, they’re operating in overdrive.

    If that’s not racism, what is it?


  4. Perhaps there would be a better dialogue if the case was indeed presented in it’s entire scale, with cavets that past incidences of unpunished racism do no merit pardons. Your version of the story does skim over one point and omits a second.

    The first skimmed over, is that these “teenagers” did more than get in a school yard fight and beat someone up. One of them punched the victim, knocking him unconscious. Then another one punched his unconscious head while he way lying on the ground. Then another one punched his head, and then stomped on his head, hard enough to leave a footprint. On and on. They didn’t stop on their own, but continued on until other students pulled them away. If they had been alone, it’s reasonable to forsee that they would have beaten Justin to death.

    The second is that Mychal Bell has a criminal record, and that is part of why he was charged as an adult. He has been conviced of four crimes in juevinal court, two of them have been for assault. That’s twice before that he has been arrested and convicted for assaulting someone. The legal age of adulthood in Lousianna is 17, and Bell was mere months from that age. In such cases that involve a violent crime, the perpetrator is close to the state’s majority age, and also has a history of violent crime, it is not that uncommon to try that person as an adult.

    While I didn’t support charging him with attempted murder, I hardly see where Bell should be just given parole as Jesse Jackson suggests. No, being tried as a minor has not helped Bell learn to exert self-control, and there’s no reason to see his freedom as a “win” for civil rights.

    Seriously, perhaps more deserving people exist to have thousands march in their defense?


  5. I think this is not right all of this ignorant stuff for reason at all people is just tring to get attention if u ask me. They should let them poor bys go people make mistakes all the time but this is not called for so I hope u reply shortly thank you and have a nice day.


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