Posted Sept. 10, 2007 – The nation is turning up the heat on the tiny town of Jena, La. Civil rights leaders, student activists and ministers are being heard on the latest high-profile prosecution of young Black men for a crime they say presses all the wrong racial buttons.
The subjects in the latest case – six Black teens originally charged with attempted murder for schoolyard fisticuffs that would normally invoke a three-day suspension – are looking at prison terms that hearken back to the Jim Crow Era.
Three of the defendants have seen their charges reduced to second-degree battery and conspiracy in recent days, which could still earn them up to 20 years in prison. Two others are still looking at attempted murder charges, which could get them up to 80 years behind bars. The charges against one juvenile, 17 years old, have not been disclosed.
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On Sunday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson became the latest big-name Black leader to roll into Jena to meet with family members and to help plot a strategy to get charges against the young men dismissed.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, the son of the slain civil rights leader, have also been to Jena recently, seeking an end to the case.
"Why be fighting when we can turn to each other and find common ground?" Jackson told The Associated Press Sunday. "Jena is too small not to move together."
On Sunday, Sharpton said he wants the state attorney general and judicial oversight agencies to investigate the actions of LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, AP reports.
The fight between the Black teens – commonly referred to as the “Jena Six” – and a White 18-year-old student followed a racially charged incident at Jena High School. A day after a Black student sat under a tree where only Whites had previously sat, two White students hung nooses from the tree. The school expelled the students responsible, but the school board overturned the expulsion.
On Sept. 20 – the day Mychal Bell faces sentencing in the case, following his recent conviction – a flood of Black activists will pour into Jena in a show of support. Bell could spend the next 22 years in prison for his role in the fight.
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