Back in September 2006, a group of African-American students chose to sit under the 'white tree' at their Louisiana high school. The following day, three nooses were found hanging from the bows of the same tree. In response, school officials suspended the three white students who were found responsible. The local prosecutor 'declined to charge' the white students.
The six black students then allegedly beat up a white student to the point of unconsciousness, although he was released from the hospital and was well enough to attend a school function that same evening. The same prosecutor then saw that these six young men were each charged with attempted murder in the second degree, which was later reduced to second degree aggravated battery and conspiracy.
Mychal Bell was only 16 years old at the time of the schoolyard fight, yet he was convicted by an all-white jury and faced up to 22 years of imprisonment. Given that he was wrongfully tried as an adult, the charges against him have been vacated, but he remains in an adult prison. The charges against the remaining five men are still pending.
Today, thousands of people descended upon the town of Jena, LA to rally in support the young men known as the 'Jena Six.' The protesters in Jena and those who have organized corresponding events around the country hope to highlight the unjust treatment received by these young men who were victims of malicious and selective prosecution. The Jena Six have become symbolic of the racism that still pervades our criminal justice system, as well as our media.
Despite months of public outcry among the black blogosphere and defenders of civil rights, mainstream media have been very slow to report on the Jena Six. The New York Times only picked up the story yesterday, and CNN has managed to report on it in a way that normalizes the unfair racial dynamics at issue.
Because of the rollback of civil rights in the area of prosecutorial misconduct, the students in this case may never be able to seek justice against this prosecutor for unfair prosecution. More to come on two critical Supreme Court cases that rolled back the rights of people victimized by overzealous prosecutors.