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Judge Opens Jena 6 Juvenile Trial, Citizens March on DOJ

Posted Nov 16, 2007 6:04 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Responding to a legal action initiated by multiple media organizations, the Louisiana judge in an upcoming trial of one of the Jena 6 defendants says he will open Mychal Bell's trial to the public. However, that did little to mollify angry citizens who marched today on the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.

Participants in a civil rights march that drew thousands to Washington called for more hate crime prosecutions, and expressed doubt about the DOJ's willingness to address apparent justice system inequities affecting both the Jena 6 and many others, reports USA Today.

"(President) Eisenhower protected the Little Rock Nine and sent the U.S. attorney general down South to integrate department store lunch counters. (Presidents) Kennedy and Johnson protected freedom riders and voting rights, but this federal government has done nothing for the Jena Six or to stem the rising tide of hate that includes a proliferation of nooses and swastikas," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, a well-known activist who was one of the celebrity participants. "It is time that the federal government intervenes and offers protection against these injustices."

Meanwhile, back in Louisiana, LaSalle Parish District Judge J.P. Mauffray agreed yesterday to allow the public to attend Bell's trial, which is scheduled to begin Dec. 6. However, he said in a court filing that he isn't required to, and doesn't intend to, open preliminary hearings to the public, reports the Chicago Tribune.

The now 17-year-old Bell is charged with participating in a group attack on a fellow high school classmate, in the aftermath of several other racial incidents. He and the co-defendants are African-American, and the alleged victim, who was not seriously injured, is white.

As discussed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, the prosecution of Bell and five classmates has sparked international debate and a major civil rights march that drew 15,000 to Jena in September because of what many perceive as racial injustice in the way their cases were handled. Bell, for instance, was originally charged as an adult with attempted murder, but now faces lesser charges in juvenile court.

At last report, the Justice Department was still considering whether to pursue a possible civil rights case concerning the Jena 6.

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