Tuesday, March 11, 2008

University of San Fransico Examines Jena Six Case

There seems to be a good bit of Universities disecting the Jena 6 situation still. I was part of a panel at Middle Tennessee State University a couple of weeks ago, that I still need to write about, and I received an information request on a list serve today from someone at the University of Louisiana.

Here's another examination from USF:

Justice Forum Examines Case of Jena 6

Feb. 28, 2008 -- A USF School of Law Justice Forum Feb. 27 brought together students, faculty, and a city official to examine the case of the "Jena 6" and its implications for racial and criminal injustice.

Professor Rhonda Magee moderated the forum, which featured Professor Sharon Meadows, USF Associate Professor of Politics James Taylor, and San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Eric Flemming. The event was sponsored by the Black Law Students Association, National Lawyers Guild, and the Student Bar Association.

The Jena 6 are six black teenagers from rural Jena, Louisiana, who in 2005 were charged with beating a white classmate. The fight followed an incident in which a noose was hung from a tree unofficially designated for white students on the high school campus after a black student asked to sit under the tree. Jena District Attorney Reed Walters drew nationwide criticism for the racially disproportionate severity of the charges and sentences for the Jena 6.

"The argument was that the white kids who hung the noose had been tried lightly while the other kids were slammed," Meadows said.

Taylor placed the controversy within the historical context of the African American experience, dating to slavery, and within the context of today's criminal justice system.

"Black criminality was woven into our Constitutional framework," he said. "Jena 6 is microcosmic for a social phenomenon. How did we get to a place where we have 2 million people in prison, and 700,000 are black, and that's okay?"

Mychal Bell, the only member of the Jena Six who has been tried, was originally charged with attempted murder, but the charges were reduced and he was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy. Both convictions were overturned on the grounds that Bell should have been tried as a juvenile. Bell pled guilty in December in juvenile court to charges of second degree battery and was sentenced to 18 months. Charges against four defendants who are adults under Louisiana law remain pending. The status of charges against the sixth defendant, who was a juvenile at the time of the attack, is not known.

Flemming said he disagreed with the Jena district attorney's handling of the case. "It was just a fight," he said. "Our function is to be fair, not to see white, black , male, female. It is to see justice."

Flemming quoted Frederick Douglass: "In a composite nation like ours, made up of almost every variety of the human family, there should be, as before the law, no rich, no poor, no high, no low, no black, no white, but one country, one citizenship equal rights and a common destiny for all."

"That was not the case with the Jena 6," he said.