Monday, September 03, 2007
'Jena 6' case inflames racial tensions
The deadly weapon was his shoes. That's how the district attorney in a small Louisiana town persuaded a jury to convict 17-year old Mychal Bell, tried as adult on charges of aggravated battery.

Bell is one of the so-called "Jena 6" -- six black teenagers accused of attacking Justin Barker, a white classmate at Jena High School, last fall.

Barker was knocked unconscious and kicked as he lay on the ground. He went to the hospital and was treated for his injuries and released the same day. He went to a school function that night.

Barker was hit from behind and says he didn't see who did it, but school officials soon rounded up six "suspects". Instead of school suspension or expulsion, it became a criminal case. District Attorney Reed Walters had the students arrested and charged with attempted murder. In this state, that can mean 80 years in prison.

Mychal Bell was the first to go to trial. His attempted murder charges were dropped, but he faced a lesser charge of aggravated battery. His public defender called no witnesses. The district attorney told the jury Bell's shoes were a weapon used to kick the defenseless victim. It took an all-white jury just three hours to convict Bell, and he faces more than 20 years in prison.

That was before the news of this story sparked an interest from NAACP, ACLU, and Al Sharpton.

Now Bell has a new lawyer, and we will be in court Tuesday, as the lawyer tries to get the conviction thrown out.

Are the criminal charges realistic or racist? Depends on who you talk to in this town, and many locals refused to talk to us at all. We in the media are "making the town look bad," the mayor told me.

In a town that's 85 percent white, with a white mayor, sheriff, district attorney and trial judge, the parents of the black students who were arrested say their sons will never get a fair trial here. In conversations, they sometimes sound more exhausted than angry.

One question: If justice is blind, does that mean color blind too?

By Susan Roesgen, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 5:51 PM ET
  41 Comments
Susan

When I first heard this story, the picture that flahed through my mind was the town I grew up in. The town with the "Negroes" who lived at one side and the whites who occupied the rest. The separation was an imaginary line, for the streets did no stop.

If a "Negro" came into the white side of town for whatever reason you could literally see the fear in his eyes. It was always a he, never a she. For the whites the same rule applied.

My Grandfather lived in La., and worked for the railroad. He never mistreated anyone, never talked down to anyone. If his crew had to eat outside, or drink from an old pump, he did the same.

His boss carried a big, thick stick because he was afraid one or more of hid "Negroes" would kill him. He had reason to be fearful.I wasn't afraid of the "Negroes", but I was definitely afraid of Mr. Day.

If you think this was back in the early part of the century, you would be wrong.

I thought we had come farther. Guess not.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Maggie
Posted By Maggie, GVMO : 6:23 PM ET
Hi Susan,

It is unclear to me what Bell's past criminal record is. Two things stand out to me: that Bell was tried as an adult at age 17 and that in this trial his shoes were sought out as a weapon, because if you can't prove evidence of a weapon, then it would be a mis-trial. THis case was definitely handled the wrong way.

As far as the mayor and the residents of the small Louisiana town goes, their self-censored silence seems to tell a tale of its own.
Posted By Ratna, New York, NY : 6:39 PM ET
In many places in the South justice is color blind now - some places linger though in the "old ways" and the old attitudes. The lawyer for the young man should have asked for a change in venue to give his client a more solid shot at a fair trial.

Without knowing if a past record exists its hard to have an opinion any further. But if he didn't have a record, then without being seen as an attacker, and no other evidence to point to him as an attacker, the term railroaded comes to mind.
Posted By Annie Kate, Birmingham AL : 9:08 PM ET
Justice in the USA is never colour blind. I think America might just be the worst place on earth for black people - case after case comes up and proves that the racism in the USA is systemic and deep-seated and I don't see it ever ending.
Posted By Naomi Toronto Canada : 9:13 PM ET
it's not the media that's making the town look bad, it's their blatant disregard for the justice system that's making them look bad, I can't see how not having any witnesses proves that he DID do it, and aren't we entitled to a jury of our peers? you'd think they'd be able to put a few african american jurors in there, even if he did do it, this was handled inappropriately.
Posted By naomi mac millan hicksville, ny : 10:27 PM ET
Racism is a bloody disgrace, it is sad this happens in North America in this day and age, it is also sad that this is being allowed to happen.
Posted By Regina & Jerry : 11:14 PM ET
Hi Susan,

I am glad that this story was aired tonight, for the life of me I can't understand how this is able to happen and unfold before our very eyes, in this day and age.With all of the sex scandals involving political figures, the so called "war on terror" and years after the Rodney King beating. This is a blatten miscarriage of Justice and the whole world see's it just for what it is, it's not even being disguised it's pure Hatred and Racism! And if the Judge does not do the right thing in this case he should be removed from the bench permanently. This is 2007,with all the technology that man can create and think of,we have yet to solve and master the basics of Hate and ignorance. The very people who write the laws that say,"Racism won't be tolerated" have lied, oh but then again they are politicians....
Posted By Lisa From Phila. : 11:27 PM ET
It is very sad for all involved. However, as much as I would like to say it's racial, I know how that is used daily here in the city I live in. I like to see people for who they are and not the color, but living day to day and feeling like if anyone is a manority, it would be myself. I think this case, just opens another downfall for the people of Louisiana. It's very sad that anyone would do something like what those students did, but untill the facts are known, I think the term racist is an easy cop out
Posted By Anonymous : 11:55 PM ET
I'm taking a class on Black Culture in America at Indiana University and how it has developed since the time of slavery. It is BEYOND sad that blacks are still experiencing this type of treatment in America. No race is better than another! Fights of any kind are unfortunate but this DA has taken the Jena 6 case WAY to far. That town needs to get into the 21st century and deal with the fact that all people are equal in this country and hanging nooses in a tree as an intimidation method is not just a "silly prank." I pray that the all white jury will not throw the lives away of these young men who were probably just so upset with the segregation they were forced to endure (as any reasonable person would be) and didn't feel they had another way to express it. It's 2007, this should not be happening.
Posted By Nadia Bloomington, IN : 11:56 PM ET
Section 34 of the La. Criminal Code defines aggravated battery as "a battery committed with a dangerous weapon." The term "dangerous" is ambiguous. So an argument could be made that the shoe was "dangerous." (It may seem ridiculous, but it's possible.)

However, I think the real issue is the choice of venue. Has any effort been made to have a change of venue in order to ensure an impartial jury?

I am white and from a small south Louisiana town. Racism still exist, and I'm not sure if an all-white jury could be impartial.

I only hope this story influences positive change in Louisiana.
Posted By Victoria : 12:08 AM ET
Thank you for discovering this horrible distortion of justice that happened in Jena last year. The wheels of justice may finally be starting to turn for the Jena Six.

It is 2007. And 40 years after Martin Luther King's speech and 50 years after Rosa Parks stayed seated for justice, what is happening in Jena should be a long-forgotten footnote in history . But without the media attention and public outrage, this type of racial injustice is exists.

Please keep investigating and reporting on this issue.
Posted By Amy E. : 12:32 AM ET
So the town is worried about the media making them look bad? Is it the media that made the DA reduce Bell's charge to aggravated battery with a tennis shoe? The town of Jena is the only one making themselves look bad. It's sad that a simple and peaceful act of sitting under a tree could trigger such hatred and violence among the youth of today. I think the entire school and town should attend mandatory Diversity Training as a start.
Posted By Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 1:47 AM ET
Honestly, in this country, more black or minority children are put in jail at younger and younger ages as if it is our destiny to forever be institutionalized. What did we do to deserve this?

A schoolyard fight with a simple expulsion or suspension is taken to court for attempted murder when there are more terrifying things out there than just getting beat up.
Posted By Carla : 2:42 AM ET
It shouldn't take just Rev. A.G. Sharpton, nor the NAACP to come to this lads defense. All Americans should rally to his defense. The trial public defender was obviously under local pressure to remain mute. Perhaps because he live there. Did the PD even challenge the murder weapon shoes? The trial was surely a farce. Where is the lawyer with the cowboy hat and swede jacket who claims to "seek justice"(Gerry ???) Mr. Bell sure could use him now
==Crain
Posted By ironwood : 4:05 AM ET
The 360 show is race baiting with its slanted coverage of the Jenna issue. I believe you reported that Bell has several prior cases of violence. He should have the book thown at him. He is on the road to becoming a hardened repeat offender. Anyone who comits violence towards another should be tried as an adult and the records should not be hidden under juvenile protection.Here in Atlanta, every morning news program recounts how many blacks killed each other over night, how many stor owners they robbe dand killed, etc. It's time the black community take some responsibility for its beahvior and stop blaming racial prejudice.
Posted By Anonymous : 5:59 AM ET
After watching this story on CNN's Anderson Cooper's 360 it continues to validate my thoughts concerning African American's civil rights and what is really causing their plight today. I blame their leaders, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpeton, for keeping them in their unjust situation. Constantly this leaders play the "race card". However, in reality, it is not the "race card" it is the "victim card" consistently reminding over and over again that they are victims of some injustice. Rather than taking on the persona of refusing to be a victim anymore, they continually reinforce, both blantly and subconciously keep African Americans in a "Victim" mode. When leaders are looked up to and respected what they say is taken as truth; believing their message. You are what you believe about yourself and this will continually be reflected in how you are treated. Until these leaders stop doing this, little will change
Posted By Colleen : 6:07 AM ET
I am grateful that this story finally received the national coverge it deserves. Most folks who have heard this story did not hear it from mainstream media outlets. The story has spread through youtube, myspace and other outlets and finally it has reached the mainstream.

I cannot imagine how anyone could believe that this could be a fair situation or that this is how the justice system in America is supposed to operate.

Something must be done, now only to protect these young men but to punish those who are manipulating the justice system the same way racist did in the South during and before the civil rights movement.
Posted By Jason : 10:47 AM ET
I think it is highly irresponsible of CNN to report this news as having began when black students sat under the tree. I have not seen or heard CNN report the nexus between the tree and the beating, only some incidents which are presumed and may be racially motivated. The students who were involved and/or the students who were charged in the beating are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The same can and should be said about the community of non-blacks who who had nothing to do with the beating and/or it's pursuit of justice for the victim.
Posted By Charles Kane : 10:58 AM ET
Hi Susan, I saw the story last night. The nooses hanging from the tree saddened me. In this day and age, I'd like to think we have all risen from racial hatred and prejudice, but this story reminded me that it still very much exists. I hope the publicity generated from this story helps to serve justice to all involved in this situation.

Thanks,
Lilibeth
Edmonds, Washington
Posted By Lilibeth, Edmonds, WA : 12:45 PM ET
This is a very important story, Susan, and I hope you guys stay on it. Not to tell you your job or anything, but have you looked into past records in the court system? If justice is truly injust and unequal, it should show up there.

Sounds like these young men are getting a raw deal, and I read elsewhere that they are having difficulties affording the kind of legal help they need. The Chicago SunTimes published an address to their defense fund:

Jena 6 Defense Fund, P.O. Box 2798, Jena, La. 71342.

They should consider setting up a website for online donations.
Posted By Arachnae, Sterling VA : 1:18 PM ET
Nooses hanging in the old oak tree are no prank, they're a threat of lynching, and lynching is organized crime, terrorism, and murder. For such an act to be dismissed as a "prank" is absolutely unacceptable.

The young men who put those nooses in that tree should be identified and put on trial for making terrorist threats. To do any less makes a mockery of equal protection under the law. We must not protect terrorists from justice simply because they happen to be white and their victims happen to be black and the incident happened to take place in rural Louisiana.

If trial as terrorists seems too extreme for this crime, then perhaps we need to rethink the definition and application of terrorism laws, but those laws are on the books, and terrorism is terrorism.

I can't defend the violent response to this act of terror, but acknowledgment that the fact that lynching is a form of terrorism helps to put this case into a more proper perspective. If justice is to be done, the charges against these young black men must be matched by proper charges of making terrorist threats against the young white men. Maybe after appropriate charges have been filed on both sides of this incident, a more reasoned and moderate response can prevail.
Posted By Ken Lonquest, Plano, TX : 2:03 PM ET
Susan,
They say justice should be colorblind, but I think that only means that what justice is shouldn't be different for whites and blacks or any other group. This is clearly a case where justice was not colorblind. White kids hung nooses from a tree--that sounds like a hate crime involving racially based threats on public property--and were given a few days' suspension while for reasons which are not clear the black boy was tried as an adult in the beating case. I remember several fights at my high school, and no one was charged as an adult. Also, at my racially mixed high school no one, and I mean no one of any color, would have thought they needed to ask a school official for permission to sit under a shade tree. That smacks of things being seriously wrong in this town long before the beating took place. As for the trial, that our standards of representation are so low that a judge didn't do something about the defense not calling a single witness, is a travesty. Legal experts say a mistrial would be hard to obtain because the Supreme Court has ruled that sleeping or drunken representaiton is adequate. This reflects another problem in our country, that we believe people are Criminials with a capital C and from the moment they are arrested and we therefore are not as concerned about their rights as we ought to be. Both of these problems, the facrical trial and the racial problems beforehand stem from the same root--not treating everyone like an equal human being.
Posted By Lindsay : 2:14 PM ET
People, get a grip! Hanging nooses is insulting and mean. Kicking someone in the head is violent and criminal. I don't know what the evidence is about who is guilty but if you were kicked in the head and beaten by someone, I'm pretty sure you would want them brought to justice no matter what color they are!

Would you be taking this attitude if the Columbine shooters were black and had suffered the indignity of someone's ignorant taunting by hanging a noose on a tree? Would you think that was an excuse for their violence? Keep some perspective.

If you think everyone should be allowed to kick and beat people who insult them, let's just dispense with justice and strap on our six-shooters.
Posted By Chipster : 2:19 PM ET
I was born and raised in Louisiana and I think it is very ignorant for individuals to comment that "racism" is a cop out that black people use. Racism is very prevalent and blatant in the U.S. and if you think anything otherwise, you're just as foolish as this D.A. and judge involved in this case. Someone commented above about how blacks in Atlanta are always killing one another and robbing stores....what does that have to do with this case? Yes, blacks commit crimes just like any other race so please don't act like black people are the scum of the earth who do nothing but commit crime. Blacks should take responsibility for their actions but we should also point out when we're being treated unfairly as well. I thought a jury of their peers were to determine innocence or guilt? Are you serious? A jury of all white people are going to serve the best interest of a black kid in a town where racism is tearing the city apart? This entire trial was a joke! A noose hanging from a tree is a vulgar symbol and reminder of the value attributed to an African-American life during slavery and the days of segregation and hatred of black people. It was very ignorant of the woman interviewed to say that it was not that serious and the entire thing has been blown out of proportion. Children get into fights at schools everyday and while I don't think it's right nobody's ever charged with attempted murder. Lets get real people. Open your eyes and see this for what it is. A small racist town trying to "hang" 6 young black kids for fighting a white kid. I would say that I can't believe this is happening in the 21st century, but I can believe it because racism has never disappeared from this society. There are murderers and rapists who receive slaps on the wrist. From what I understand, the "victim" attended a function that very same night. I think if he was near death he would have been in the hospital. I'd like to know the "victim's" involvement in this. I'm sure he wasn't picked out of a crowd of white kids to beat up. Suspend the boys from school but don't try them for attempted murder.
Posted By Krystle : 2:36 PM ET
Forgot to add one thing, I want to give big props to Anderson Cooper and CNN for "exposing" this story. This is something I've been following for months, and have been waiting for the 'media' to pick up on it. Props to Anderson and CNN (surpised CNN would give the go ahead on this story, it doesn't have celebrity drama in it).
- cc420
mpls, mn
Posted By Anonymous : 2:39 PM ET
Stories like this make me ashamed to be from Louisiana.
Posted By Debbie, Denham Springs, LA : 6:16 PM ET
If they want a fair trial might I suggest their lawyers request a change of venue to a place where potential jurors had no access to any media at all.

You need to stay on the story until justice is served. And justice means these boys are tried by a jury of their peers with adequate evidence presented to make a case for or against guilt. Justice also means the people who hung nooses are held accountable for their hateful actions. Justice finally means that people are held accountable for their actions no matter who they are and who they know. Louisiana is still divided, and it's not just a white versus black issue. Maybe calling enough attention to these issues can lead to education and changing mindsets so that skin color and socioeconomic status are the last things we see when we meet a person.
Posted By Tammy C., Berwick, LA : 6:39 PM ET
I feel that the article didn't give sufficient background. Without the history of the racial conflict in Jena, it wouldn't be possible for readers to decide if the DA and others are treating black students differently from whites.
Posted By nick : 2:32 PM ET
The DA is right to pursue this as a criminal case. There is a racial issue, yes, but the fact is these 6 boys assaulted (you know what let's just say "beat") another boy. This is senseless. I've seen plenty of fights in my high school days, nobody ever went unconscious, let alone to the hospital. And one of the kids was quoted on Foxnews saying "They should just drop all charges." No way! These boys should be tried and given a stiff penalty in my opinion. Oh, and by the way..I'm black.
Posted By Anonymous : 2:51 PM ET
It has been a year since this case began and I sadly admit to knowing nothing about it.I am now finding out about this from a coworker who happen to hear about it on a morning radio show. I am deeply distrubed that this case hasn't gotten the media attention it deserves. Many of my coworkers are still unaware of what "Jena 6" is about. Thank you Susan and Anderson Cooper for reporting on this story. However, what's more disturbing is that celebrity trash is called "news" in this country, yet real issues like this case aren't even heard of. Ask anyone on the streets which celebrity is getting a divorce or pregnant and you will get an answer immeditately, ask about "Jena 6" and you'll get an "I don't know!"
Posted By Anonymous : 3:28 PM ET
This is why we will never be an intelligent world. America is covered with advanced technology but racism is still antiquated. We will never see a Black president because America is not ready. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this out. This is a small cry for all of the racism that is going on today in America. They say watch out for terrorist but we need to watch out for racism. What is the difference? Everyone will always live in fear until we can gain control of the racism in America. But that will have to start with the old and end with the new generations. We are truly hurting ourselves America.
Posted By Nichole : 3:59 PM ET
My husband and I live in a very small town in GA. We are a mixed couple with two beautiful mixed girls. Rasism starts at a very young age unforturnely. My eight year old daughter came home from school crying after she was told that whites should be with whites and blacks shoud be with blacks.
I feel these boys will not have a chance for a fair trail with a all white jury. Thank you for reporting on this story. I hope it sheds light on a subject that needs to be talked about more often. What kind of message does this send around the world?
Posted By G&J : 5:16 PM ET
What is the proper punishment, I wonder, for someone who is willing to kick in the head a fellow human being who is lying on the ground, knocked unconscious. Yeah, "Free" them. Incidentally, Anderson, you might point out to your colleagues at CNN that six athletic young men kicking and stomping the head of one other kid who is lying on the ground unconscious is not simply "a fight." I'm getting the impression that actual facts of the crime are becoming increasingly irrelevant as the race-left have established the official narrative.
Posted By Anonymous : 12:35 PM ET
Leave it to the REV and Mr AL to bring race into it. These two guys will never get off of the "White man bringing down the black man" The black race is just as racist as the white race or any other race for that matter, if not more racist. They are also more outspoken about it. I live in a large Metropolitain area there are more blacks in this city than whites and more Hispanics than both. The 17 year old should have been tried as adult. His prior record also tells that he is a troublemaker. Also telss why he would need 5 of his friends to whip a dude. I want to make sure I got this straight so I can tell it to my 8 year old REV and AL. If 5 white guys beat up a black guy it is a racist hate crime, but when 5 black guys beat up a white guy it is a civil rights movement. The blacks will accomplish one thing by protesting this case because from what I can see is they are protesting justice. They are not preaching equality for all. They are preaching black supremacy. Come down off your high horses. The blacks have just as many rights in this country as anyone. There may be a reason that white people move or locate to this town. I have personally had my house robbed, car broken into 3 times, property stolen. All by blacks. So how do think I am supposed to feel about blacks. People dont start out racist. They are not born that way. They become one. Mostly from some kind of BAD experience. Are going to tell me that the whites in the town of Jena are not going to feel threatened by 10,000 blacks marching on there town?
Who is the actual victim here?
Posted By Anonymous : 12:54 PM ET
I'm not entirely sure why the mob violence is getting a free pass here...

When I was a student in college in California my friends were walking down the street by as a black man got into a fight with another black man. Soon 4 friends of one of the men joined the fray and the lone individual was knocked to the ground and his head was kicked and stomped repeatedly.

What happened?

The man died right there on a busy street corner, 1 block from the University. The murder weapon was indeed a pair of shoes.

Obviously these kids deserved to be charged with something serious . The appropriate charges would probably depend on the savagery of the attack moreso than the nature of the injuries. Compelling evidence of disregard for human life should be the standard for the att. murder charge. I don't know enough about the case, but based on the recovery of victim it didn't sound that bad.
Posted By Anonymous : 12:59 PM ET
the people who surrounded a defenseless boy, hit him from behind while he wasn't looking, beat him unconscious and continued to kick him in the head while he was laying unmoving on the ground are somehow the victims in this case. Racism IS alive and well...

Marco
Los Angeles CA
Posted By Anonymous : 1:06 PM ET
6 against 1!!!!! Assult is a crime. These 6 were not defending themselves. These 6 teens teamed up and jumped 1 person. I dont have any sympathy for them, and I really dont understand why so many people do. Crime is crime people.
Posted By Anonymous : 1:53 PM ET
Unfortunatly that kid would have had to die to get justice, and even then blacks would have supported the 'Jena
6'. I truly don't understand what all those "supporters" are doing in Jena? How can you support violence? I support the kid that was violently beaten, I suppose that makes me racist?

Tom - Ohio
Posted By Anonymous : 1:58 PM ET
I am sick and tired of hearing how black youths are misrepresented in this country, and seeing Al Sharpton run to the media spotlight. Apparently a beating occurred, and someone needs to pay for this crime. I am appalled that teens treat each other this way. And instead of Mr. Bell being concerned that his son get to play football, he should be ashamed that his son behaved in this manner! These boys need to learn a lesson to prevent them from growing up thinking they can get away with this type of behavior. Regardless of color, teens, children need to learn manners, respect for others and their property!
Posted By Anonymous : 2:14 PM ET
I am completely outraged at the way people are handling this case. The young boy comitted a crime. I agree that the hanging of the nooses was completely disrespectful and wrong. The boys who did this were suspended from school. However this BEATING occured three months after that incident. I have yet to read an article that implicates the fact that the white boy who was beaten was one of the boys who hung the nooses. Belle has a criminal record and 15 charges pending against him of unrelated crimes. I have also heard no coverage on how the 6 boys blocked off the section of the school so no one could get to where they were stomping this young boys head in the ground after he was unconcious.I agree that if this were the other way around and it was 6 white boys on one black boy Reverend Jackson would be protesting that the punishments were not harsh enough and probably push for life in prison. The charges have been reduced, let the justice system work.
Posted By Hollie K. : 2:16 PM ET
Yes , indead racism is Alive in America . If this was the poor black boy who got beat up by a gang of thugish white-boys , Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would be the first in line leading a charge to nail the white thugs to the wall. But because it's a gang of black thugs getting nailed to the wall , its called RACISM?? These 6 young men need to be held accountable for their crimes . Here ,in Mobile recently , we had 2 students attack a teacher . And it turns out its racism because the black youth filming it got suspended from schoool . Your race should not be a determining factor in if your held accountable , but your actions should be the guiding light. Rev's Jackson and Sharpton , why do we not ever hear you come out in support of anyone having injustice done to them if they are not black??? Doesn't the Bible teach to "Love thy neighbor"?? it doesn't say you only love them if they are black. From where I am sitting , I can plainly see where the racism is coming from . Clean up your own backyards before you preach at others and the world might be a better place.
Posted By chad : 2:51 PM ET
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