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August 2007 Archives

George Tucker, the attorney representing 17-year-old Theodore Shaw in the Jena 6 case, talked about the status of the case during a telephone interview on Thursday. Tucker's office is in Hammond, Louisiana, about 3-1/2 hours from Jena. The following are excerpts from that conversation:

"Mychal Bell [the first teen to be convicted in the "Jena 6" case] will have a hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 4. His lawyers will attempt to enter motions to try and set aside the verdict. Bell, who faces 22 years in prison, is set to be sentenced September 20.

"As for the others, some of them haven't been arraigned. Theodore Shaw is also on the docket Tuesday. He's already been set for trial twice--once in May and June--and on July 31 to address his motion to transfer venue. I entered that motion in early July."

I asked Tucker what could concerned citizens do at this point.

"One thing that they can do--this effort is real top heavy effort to encourage and an empty effort to support. These people are still indigent. We need to raise money in a very bad way. "

We can write letters, sign petitions and pray. But if there's not enough money to launch an aggressive defense against these unjust charges, that effort will be wasted. I'm researching the various defense funds set up to help these teens and will report the outcome of that search in Sunday's column.

From Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's press office:

“I have received hundreds of calls, letters and emails from citizens concerned about the situation involving the case of the high school students in Jena, La. As Governor, as a citizen of the State of Louisiana, and as a mother, without rushing to judgment, I condemn racism in any form, and I fully expect that those involved in this case, including all parties, will act with fairness and in complete good faith.

“I must clear up a widespread misunderstanding of my authority in this case. Our State Constitution provides for three Branches of State Government - Legislative, Executive, and Judicial - and the Constitution prohibits anyone in one branch from exercising the powers of anyone in another branch. This issue is currently a matter in the Judicial System, and should those involved in this case suffer any defects, it is their right to address them in that system through the appeals court.

“Again, the oversight regarding how this case was handled, from arrest to prosecution, lies within the Justice System. Therefore, I have consulted Attorney General Charles Foti and Donald Washington, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, regarding these events in Jena. As a result, General Foti has been and is in consultation with U.S. Attorney Washington and other members of the Justice System. Regardless of the outcome of this case, the Jena community has much healing ahead of it, and I urge all those citizens to come together for the common good of their community and their state. Our children deserve nothing less.”

What is Jena 6?

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The "Jena 6" are six African-American students at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana who are being held in connection with an assault on a white student at the school. That would be the end of the story, except the fight stemmed from on-going racial tension over a request by black students to enjoy the shade of a tree traditionally used as a gathering place for white students.

After being told by a vice principal at the school that the students could sit wherever they pleased, they did. The next day, three nooses were found hanging from said tree. Although the school's principal recommended that the white students responsible for hanging the nooses be expelled, the school superintendent and board overruled that recommendation and portrayed the nooses as a "silly prank." That led to several weeks of unrest that included one black student being assaulted by a group of whites at a party attended by whites, and black students being threatened by a former Jena student "pumping" a shot-gun.

The incident leading to the arrest of the "Jena 6" occurred on December 4, 2006, when a fight between a white student and a black student allegedly escalated into a beat-down of the white student by six black students. Charged were Robert Bailey, 17, Theo Shaw, 17, Carwin Jones, 18, Bryant Purvis, 17, Mychal Bell, 16 and a juvenile. Their bonds ranged from $70,000 to $138,000. They were charged with attempted second degree murder and conspiracy to commit second degree murder, and face decades in jail.

Mychal Bell has already been tried by an all-white jury and convicted of second degree aggravated battery and conspiracy (the prosecutors reduced the charges on the first day of trial). Bell is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 4 and faces up to 22 years in prison.

Those of you who don't understand why this case puts a spotlight on the crisis in America's justice system, please note that the white victim allegedly taunted the black student who had been beaten by a white group of teens a few days earlier. Only one person was charged in that incident and that person was arrested on a misdemeanor.

Also, the white victim was badly bruised and suffered a black eye, but was treated at the hospital and released, and apparently was in good enough shape to attend a social event that evening.

This case is just beginning to get national exposure, but has been circulating on various blogs for months.

Michelle Obama, the wife of Sen. Barack Obama, grew up in a working-class family on the South Side. She attended Chicago Public Schools, went to Princeton, became a lawyer and married her husband before giving birth to her daughters. In her words, she did exactly what black leaders told her to do. So while the question of whether her husband, who is of mixed race, is “black enough” to win over the majority of black voters keeps popping up, his brown-skinned wife knows this isn’t a new battle.

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