A Louisiana judge on Friday denied a request to Mychal Bell—one of the African-American teens known as the Jena 6—on bail. Bell—the only defendant to be tried so far in the case—was convicted as an adult for the racially tinged beating of a white schoolmate, but a Louisiana appeals court this month overturned the battery conviction, ruling that he should have been charged as a juvenile.
The harsh treatment of Bell and the rest of the Jena 6 is a reminder “that bigotry remains a problem in this country,” said The Houston Chronicle in an editorial. They were arrested for a “schoolyard fight” that was part of a string of racial violence. The ugliness started last year when white students hung three nooses in a tree under which white students traditionally gathered, to scare off black classmates who had dared sit there the day before. The white kids were given in-school suspensions. The Jena 6 were charged with attempted murder.
The attempted murder charge was excessive, said Ruben Navarrette Jr. in the San Diego Union-Tribune. but “the real victim is Justin Barker, the teenager who was beaten and stomped unconscious and taken to a hospital with injuries to both eyes and ears.” The Jena 6 deserve to be judged fairly, by a jury of their peers—and the all-white jury Bell got “doesn’t cut it.” But if he and his co-defendants are found guilty, “they ought to be ashamed—and punished.”
“It has become common for some pale Americans to deny that these and other inequities have anything to do with skin tone,” said Leonard Pitts Jr. in The Miami Herald. It’s tempting to look back on this nation’s bigoted past and “tsk tsk the behavior the poor, benighted souls” who lived through it, thinking ourselves “enlightened beyond history.” But in Jena, La., we are reminded that we still live in a nation where pale-skinned kids get special treatment, and dark-skinned kids get the book thrown at them for giving a classmate “a black eye and a concussion.”
Thousands showed up in Jena last week to protest, said Clarence Page in the Chicago Tribune. The town is quiet again, but the problem of “unequal justice” remains. Black men are three times more likely than white men to face jail time if arrested. But other races can feel the sting, too—think of the bogus Duke rape case. The “best legacy” for the march would be “a new movement, dedicated this time to the reduction and elimination of unequal justice wherever it appears,” and “it shouldn't be for blacks only.”