Punishment doesn’t fit the crime
Posted Sept. 28, 2007

Just when many of us think that the civil rights turmoil of the 1960s is past and that America has turned its back on its racist past, an incident like the trial of the Jena 6 rears its ugly head.

It is clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal but maybe a few people in the tiny town of Jena, La., didn’t quite get the memo.

The complicated chain of events began in August 2006 at a back-to-school assembly at Jena High School.

An African-American student asked for permission to sit under a tree that was considered the exclusive hangout of white students.

The next morning two hangman’s nooses were found hanging from the tree.

Three white students were suspended for the act. There should have been a more severe punishment for these student. A noose is a serious threat. An expulsion at the least.

After several complaints, the FBI and the United States Attorney’s office were brought in to investigate, but no hate-crime charges were filed.

Tension grew between students after the incident and several fights broke out, which prompted officials to temporarily shut down the school. When the school re-opened, another fight broke out.

This time six African-American students severely beat a white classmate, Justin Barker.

The student was beaten unconscious and was taken to the hospital, but he was later released with a concussion and a swollen eye. He attended a school event that evening.

The six African-American students did not get off quite so easy. Rather than charge the teens with simple assault, LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, who is white, asked for the wildly overstated charge of attempted murder.

The charges caused an uproar in the small rural town of Jena, making it the focal point for many civil rights activists and protesters. The charges were eventually reduced to aggravated battery, but the discrimination did not stop there.

In June, the first of the so-called “Jena 6” to be tried, Mychal Bell, was found guilty of second-degree battery. Just recently his conviction was thrown out because the 17-year-old boy had been improperly tried as an adult by an entirely white jury.

Bell is currently being held by authorities until prosecutors decide whether to file new charges against him in juvenile court.

On Sept. 20, protests were held around the country including many local cities and campuses. Word of the Jena 6 has also been spread around the world through the Internet, television and radio.

What a sad commentary it is that the racism and intolerance of the Old South still exist, two generations after Martin Luther King died fighting for the equality of every American.

We can only hope the Jena 6 will receive a proper trial and those who are a little behind in understanding the privileges and rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution will catch up to the rest of America.

We welcome your comments, questions and story ideas. Please submit them to ctimes@ulv.edu.


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