Imagine this. You are a 16 year old black male and high school football player. Racist white students hang three nooses (symbols of lynching) from a tree on school grounds because one of your fellow black students had the audacity to sit under the “whites only” tree. When you protest this action, you are harangued by the local district attorney, and told if you don’t get in line he will destroy your life. One of your friends gets beaten with beer bottles at a party, and threatened with a shotgun a day later. Then you and your friends are taunted by a foul mouthed white student. You lose your temper for one split second and start a fight in a school cafeteria. The young white man who taunted you is briefly treated at the local emergency room and then returns for a “social function” later that night with no serious injuries apparent.
Now what do you think happened to that young black man? Well, instead of being disciplined with an “in school suspension” (the punishment meted out to the whites who hung those nooses on the school tree), or given probation for simple assault (as the white man who beat up your friend, Robert Bailey, received) you get thrown into jail, charged with attempted murder and conspiracy as an adult, not a juvenile. At your trial, every witness is white, the judge is white and all the members of the jury are white. You are convicted of felony assault which could put you in an adult prison for up to 15 years.
Then, a miracle occurs. The appeals court says you should have been tried as a juvenile. Your conviction is overturned and the trial court is directed to re-try your case as a juvenile offender, although the district attorney immediately appeals this decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Furthermore, you are finally granted a bail hearing pending the outcome of that appeal. So, is there a happy ending to this story coming? Will you finally get out of jail and be reunited with your family? Sadly, this isn’t a movie script, it’s real life:
JENA, La. (AP) — A judge on Friday denied a request to release a teenager whose arrest in the beating of a white classmate sparked this week’s civil rights protest in Louisiana. Mychal Bell’s request to be freed while an appeal is being reviewed was rejected at a juvenile court hearing, effectively denying him any chance at immediate bail, a person familiar with the case told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because juvenile court proceedings are closed.
Earlier, Bell’s mother emerged from the hearing in tears, refusing to comment.
Bell, 17, was convicted of aggravated second-degree battery, which could have led to 15 years in prison. But his conviction was thrown out by a state appeals court that said he could not be tried on the charge as an adult because he was 16 at the time of the beating.
This is justice in America, my friends. A young black male who is did nothing more than beat up a mouthy white bigot (who incurred no lasting injuries) after whites beat and threatened his friend with a gun, rots in jail for months, and then even when his conviction is overturned, he continues to rot in jail. Do you think he is such a danger to the community that bail should have been refused? Well, they grant bail to accused murderers and rapists everyday. Was Mychal Bell a flight risk? He’s a poor young man in rural Louisiana. Where is he going to go? Barbados? France?
By the way, the white judge who wrongly tried Mychal Bell as an adult, and who was willing to sentence him to prison for up to fifteen years, remains the judge in this case:
At a separate closed hearing Friday, a judge refused a request from defense attorneys to remove Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. from Bell’s case, said John Jenkins, father of one of Bell’s co-defendants.
But don’t kid yourself. This isn’t just a problem in the rural South. This just happens to be the case that is getting all the attention right now, because African American bloggers and activists brought this case out out of the swamp of ignorance and indifference and forced the mainstream media to cover this story. Their efforts led to the largest civil rights rally in the South in over a generation. But our flawed justice system operates to the detriment of young black men in every state of the country.
African Americans are incarcerated all out of proportion to their numbers in the larger American population, up to nine times the rate of non-hispanic whites. They receive longer sentences on average than white offenders. And despite the decline in incarceration overall, the rate at which blacks are being incarcerated has not slowed down. The seven states with the highest rates of incarceration of blacks, according to Human Rights Watch, are:
Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin … In Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, blacks are incarcerated at rates that exceed 2,000 per 100,000.
Too often, many in the progressive blogosphere, consumed by the Iraq war, health care, the assault on civil liberties and the bizarre behavior of our political and media elites, have ignored issues such as racial injustice, Latino rights, gay rights or sexism. Some prominent bloggers even go so far to dismiss those who complain about these issues as “single issue” activists who need to wait patiently in the interest of electing more and better Democrats who, at some undefined time in the future will address their concerns and make everything better. In short, the message that they are delivering to blacks, hispanics, gays, feminists, et alia, is:
“Get used to being second class citizens until the glorious progressive revolution can be accomplished. And in the meantime vote for Democrats no matter how little they are doing to help you, because Republicans are worse.”
Well, as the events in Jena have shown, people are tired of waiting for the politicians to lead us to the promised land. The African American blogs and the Latino blogs have rightly taken the rest of the progressive blogosphere to task for failing to address their issues. As well they should. For these are not merely “single issues” that can or should be elided artfully by Democratic leaders or other progressive spokespersons, self-anointed or otherwise.
They are human rights issues. They are American issues. They are my issues. And its time to start telling our so-called leaders, inside or outside the Democratic Party, that it’s no longer acceptable to ignore them in order to appeal to some mythical centrist voters who will magically bring about the renaissance of the Democratic Party. Because if that is what the Democratic party stands for, I want no part of it.