Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Jena 6 and Civil Rights

The Chicago Tribune has recently reported on the continuing legal story of six African-American high school students who are facing criminal charges stemming from an extended period of violent civil unrest in Jena, Louisiana. As Howard Witt’s May 20 article for the Tribune notes, the collective potential maximum sentence of 100 years for the “Jena 6” has garnered criticism over whether due legal recourse is possible in Jena due to the town’s historical racial relations:

“Still others, however, acknowledge troubling racial undercurrents in a town where only 16 years ago white voters cast most of their ballots for David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana governor.”

Mychal Bell, the first defendant to face trial in the case, faces sentencing on September 20 (originally scheduled for July 31) after his conviction in June on charges of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. The NAACP (along with several other social justice groups) has publicly supported the Jena 6, and has specifically called for a retrial based on questionable factors during Bell’s case, including the selection of an all-white jury.

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