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Focus on the Jena 6

Mychal Bell Back in Jail as Movement for Justice Grows

by Kosta Harlan |
October 22, 2007

Durham, NC - Speaking to a packed audience of mostly African American students at North Carolina Central University on Oct. 18, Louis Scott, lead attorney for Mychal Bell of the Jena 6, said that the struggle to free the Six was far from over. Reverend William Barber, civil rights leader and president of the North Carolina NAACP, also spoke at the forum. The discussion was focused on the injustices of the Jena 6 case, but speakers at the event also highlighted the ongoing abuses of the criminal justice system used to oppress African Americans here in North Carolina.

Attorney Louis Scott presented an outline of the case of the Jena 6 (See “Justice for the Jena 6!”, Fight Back! September 2007), emphasizing the breakdowns of the criminal justice system in the railroading of Mychal Bell. Scott pointed out that no white student was ever punished for hanging the nooses. No police report of the fight has been seen. Charges against the Jena 6 were brought on the basis of written statements - many of which contradicted one another. Bell was tried as an adult through a questionable legal maneuver of District Attorney Reed Walters. An all-white jury convicted Bell - and all members said they knew the District Attorney on a personal level. At least one juror said he knew he could not be fair, but still served on the jury.

It was soon after Mychal Bell’s conviction that local residents in Jena, Louisiana asked Louis Scott, a civil rights lawyer in nearby Monroe, to take over the defense. Mychal Bell was briefly released from jail thanks to Scott’s efforts and the pressure of mass mobilizations - including the tens of thousands who marched on Jena and demonstrated around the country on Sep. 20 and the student walkouts on campuses across the country on Oct. 1. Today, however, Bell is back in jail on trumped-up charges, thanks to the work of the district attorney, who, despite the blatant racism and injustices in the conviction of Bell, having been exposed for all to see, refuses to back off. As Reverend Barber said on this point, “We have a system from the White House to the court house that does not know how to repent.”

Louis Scott explained the political significance of the case, “This case struck a nerve. But we have to ask why. On one level, it’s your parents’ classic civil rights case: ‘Do African-Americans have the same right to stand under the same tree as whites?’ In that sense it’s a 1957 civil rights case.”

“But the tree is symbolic of more than just a tree,” Scott continued. “The tree is symbolic of the Constitution of the United States. It asks the question: do we, African American people, have the same rights as other Americans under the Constitution and the criminal justice system? Do we have equal rights and equal justice? It’s as simple as that.”

After the presentations by Scott and Barber, several students and parents took the floor to comment and ask questions. Some parents explained how their children were currently locked up in prison due to blatant racism in the North Carolina criminal justice system, and asked members in attendance to support their cases and help build pressure to free them. Several students spoke of the urgent need to organize and resist the assaults on African American civil rights.

Denaro Allen, a law student at North Carolina Central University, said, “This makes my blood boil. This generation needs to wake up. A lot of times we’re afraid to talk about it. I’m not afraid anymore. I encourage you to wake up.”

Allen continued, “This is not an isolated incident, by any means. They have killed millions of our people, Black people, African American people - we’ve been fighting since the day we got here! It’s a testament to the will and strength of our people that we’re still here to speak out.”

Mychal Bell’s next court date is Nov. 7. In the meantime, the movement to free Bell and the Jena 6 continues to grow. All across the country, African American students and youth and their allies are organizing forums, teach-ins, sit-ins and street protests to expose the racist U.S. criminal justice system and defend the Six.