Black leaders plead to Justice
By GERARD SHIELDS
Advocate Washington bureau
Published: Sep 29, 2007 - Page: 1A
WASHINGTON — National civil-rights leaders said Friday that they will seek a meeting with President Bush if the U.S. Justice Department fails to enforce what they consider federal hate crimes in the Jena 6 case in Louisiana.
A contingent of leaders from four civil-rights groups said that they were “extremely disappointed” after a Friday meeting with the Justice Department, whom they said made no commitments to prosecute the hanging of nooses on a tree at Jena High School in LaSalle Parish and the posting of addresses of Jena 6 family members on Web sites.
“There is a very violent atmosphere and those people’s lives are in jeopardy,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
A Justice Department spokesman said after the meeting that the agency, along with the FBI, is investigating the Jena incidents and are taking the allegations seriously.
In addition to prosecuting the incidents, Jackson called for the department to force the district attorney and judge in the Jena 6 case to recuse themselves from further proceedings.
Jackson, president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, was joined by Marc Morial, president of The National Urban League and a former New Orleans mayor. Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Dennis Courtland Hayes, interim NAACP president and CEO, and Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, also participated in the two-hour meeting.
As a result of Friday’s meeting, Jackson said the group has asked for a meeting with the interim U.S. attorney general and will call for a meeting with Bush if the group’s requests aren’t satisfied. Jackson also suggested that a march on the Justice Department offices could occur.
Justice Department officials told the civil-rights contingent on Friday that the cases involving hanging nooses were closed, Jackson said. “We see this as a real retreat for civil-rights enforcement,” he said.
The case of the Jena 6 rocketed to the public eye over the past several months, drawing national and international media attention.
Up to 20,000 people poured into Jena on Sept. 20 from across the country in a peaceful demonstration to support Mychal Bell and the five other black defendants — Bryant Purvus, Carwin Jones, Jesse Ray Beard, Theo Shaw and Robert Bailey Jr. — accused of beating white Jena High School student Justin Barker Dec. 4. The defendants have been released on bail.
The Rev. Al Sharpton has led a public charge since last spring and maintained that racial tensions started at the high school in August 2006 when a black student asked school officials at a student assembly whether he could sit under a tree traditionally used as a gathering place by white students. The next day nooses were hung in the tree. The three white students who hung the nooses were suspended.
The Jena 6 were first charged with attempted second-degree murder. That later was lowered to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. Until his conviction, Bell was held on $90,000 bond. Once convicted, his bond request was denied because he has a juvenile record, including adjudications for battery.
Bell, who was 16 at the time of his arrest in Barker’s beating, was convicted in adult court by an all-white jury in June on the battery charge and was to have been sentenced Sept. 20. But the conviction was overturned Sept. 14 by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, ruling the case should have filed in juvenile court.
LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters announced that same day he planned to appeal the court’s decision. But Walters said Thursday that he had since decided to let Bell’s case stay in juvenile court.
Meanwhile, families of the Jena 6 have been threatened on Web sites and radio shows, Morial said. “We believe they are actions that should be prosecuted by this nation’s civil-rights laws and this nation’s hate crimes laws,” he said.
Said Hayes: “Jena is not over with. We have much work to do.”
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Black leaders plead to Justice