Sunday, September 16, 2007

Progress for the Jena 6

After several months and a steady burgeoning of activist support and national attention, one member of the Jena 6 finally received a notable legal victory on Friday. Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune (who was among the first within mainstream media to cover the story) reports that Louisiana’s 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the conviction of Mychal Bell on charges of aggravated battery, finding that Jena prosecutors improperly tried him as an adult. Bell was originally scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday after being charged with aggravated battery, consequently leading to a slight shift for the organizations that planned to demonstrate in Jena:

“Alan Bean, director of Friends of Justice, a Texas-based civil rights group that was the first to notice the Jena case, said he expected the reversal of Bell's convictions will turn next Thursday's protest into a ‘celebration’ of the power of public opinion to influence the Jena 6 case.

“ ‘People across the country, both black and white, conservative and liberal, were just appalled by what had happened in LaSalle Parish and the embarrassment factor weighed in very heavily for the appeals court,’ Bean said. ‘I don't think the state of Louisiana wants this travesty to go on any longer. I'd be very surprised if any of these other cases comes to trial.’ ”

There are plenty of questions and potential obstacles that remain. As Witt notes, there is a possibility that Bell will now face trial as a juvenile, and the remaining five defendants, while free on bail, will still face trial as of now (Bean’s confidence notwithstanding). Yet the overturning of Bell’s conviction is significant, for it indicates the effects that Friends of Justice, the NAACP, Color of Change, and other groups are creating through their efforts. Moreover, as Friends of Justice writes in a recent blog entry, the case now has national and international attention, thereby increasing pressure on Jena prosecutors.

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