Civil Rights

Under Fire in Congress, DOJ Mulls Jena Case

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At a Congressional hearing today, U.S. Department of Justice officials said they are considering a prosecution over the handling of the case of the so-called Jena Six—black youths who apparently were treated much more harshly than whites concerning similar alleged schoolyard crimes in a small town in Louisiana.

However, they seemingly did so with some reluctance, under “pointed questioning” from Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, reports the Chicago Tribune.

“As we all know, it is illegal under the guarantees of our Constitution and our laws to have one standard of justice for white citizens and another, harsher one for African-American citizens,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., as the session began. “We come to this hearing inquiring as to how we can correct this situation in our nation.”

As discussed in earlier posts, the so-called Jena Six prosecution has been a catalyst for what some are calling a new 21st century civil rights movement:

Many see the Jena Six case as emblematic of a racist criminal justice system, which sparked a national protest march last month on the Louisiana town—and a white backlash.

Adding fuel to the fire, the one most adversely affected defendant, Mychal Bell, remains in jail even though he is now expected to face reduced juvenile charges in a prosecution over an alleged schoolyard attack on a classmate by six youths including Bell. (Originally, the attack resulted in attempted murder charges against the Jena Six.)

Although Bell was finally released on bail for a brief time, after months in jail awaiting trial, he was soon back behind bars. This time he is serving an 18-month sentence for violating his probation in an earlier, unrelated juvenile case, in a sentence perceived by many as the latest example of Jena’s racially biased criminal justice system.

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