By Antonio Olivo, chicagotribune.com, Sept. 16, 2007
Black community leaders in Chicago on Saturday sought to keep the spotlight on the racially charged "Jena 6" case in Louisiana a day after a state appeals court there threw out a felony conviction against one of the teen defendants.
Both Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton pledged to continue plans for a demonstration in Jena, La., on Thursday, arguing the overturned battery conviction against Mychal Bell, 17, did not diminish the racial injustice of a case that drew national attention when Bell and five other black teenagers were charged with attempted murder for beating a white teen and leaving him unconscious.
The white student was treated at a local hospital for cuts and bruises, and later released.
Bell remains in jail, and the district attorney overseeing the case pledged to appeal the overturned conviction or bring new juvenile charges against him. The five other defendants are free on bail and await trial, said George Tucker, one of the defense attorneys in the case. Tucker and Bell's parents visited Chicago on Saturday to attract more people to the planned rally.
"It's taken a big toll on us from Day One," said Bell's father, Martus Jones, after a rally Saturday at Whitney High School that drew several hundred people.
The December beating came after several white-on-black attacks in Jena in which white assailants escaped serious charges. Racial tensions had been simmering in town after a black freshman at Jena High School asked a vice principal for permission to sit under a tree on campus claimed by white students as a favorite patch of shade.
The vice principal told the student to sit wherever he wanted. But three white students later hung nooses from the tree, perceived as a threat to blacks in the mostly white town of about 3,000 residents. Those students were suspended for three days.
On Saturday, during a morning sermon inside his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition headquarters on Chicago's South Side, Jackson called the Jena case emblematic of continuing systemic mistreatment of African Americans, who make up the majority of prison populations around the country and suffer from poor health care and underfunded public schools.
"Jena is just a DNA sample of what's happening around the country," Jackson said, arguing that the use of nooses in the rural South should have been treated by local authorities as a hate crime.
"Don't just put your eye on the Jena jail system," Jackson said. "If you can't make it to Jena, go to 26th and California," he said, referring to the site of the Cook County Jail.
Sharpton sought to use the case to spur more action against police abuse in the city's black neighborhoods. He announced plans for a march in the city in the fall.
"There hasn't been a mass march in this city for years," he said. "It's time we bring these issues to City Hall."