Civil Rights

State Backs Down in Jena 6 Case

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The prosecution in a controversial case against one of the so-called Jena Six defendants has accepted a Louisiana appellate court ruling that he should be tried as a juvenile.

Mychal Bell, who was 16 at the time that he and five other black high school students allegedly attacked a white student, was originally charged with attempted murder. He was eventually convicted as an adult of lesser charges. However, an appeals court threw out the conviction earlier this month, saying Bell should have been tried as a juvenile. Although the prosecution originally vowed to appeal the case further, officials announced today that the state will not do so, reports CNN. Instead, he will be retried in juvenile court.

The case has been a catalyst for what some are describing as a new 21st century civil rights movement. As discussed in earlier posts, many see the Jena Six case as emblematic of a racist criminal justice system. That perception sparked a national protest march last week on the tiny Louisiana town—and a white backlash.

A reader e-mail illustrates the issue, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts writes today. Whites, too, can be treated unfairly by the criminal justice system, the reader points out, for-instancing O.J. Simpson’s murder acquittal—and using an unprintable racial slur to refer to Pitts, who is African-American.

But such individual examples, Pitts says, are not equivalent to the thousands of unpunished lynchings, burnings, bombings and shootings of black men and women that have taken place over the course of American history as “thousands of cops and courts … refused to arrest or punish even when they held photographs of the perpetrators taken in the act.”

Jena, he concludes, “did not happen in a vacuum.”

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