NO BAIL SET FOR 'JENA 6' TEEN
JENA, La. - A relative of one of the Jena Six says a judge has denied bail for Mychal Bell, the only one of the teens who is jailed in the beating of a white classmate.
Attorneys would not comment because juvenile court proceedings are secret. But the father of one of Bell's co-defendants said Bell's bail request was rejected. Bell's mother left the courthouse in tears and refused to comment.
JENA, La. (AP) — It had many of the signs of the early civil rights protests — militant slogans, upraised clenched fists and multitudes of police — but none of the hate and fear-drenched campaigns in Selma, Little Rock and Montgomery.
Thousands of protesters descended on this tiny central Louisiana town Thursday, rallying against what they see as a double standard of justice for blacks and whites.
But unlike the protests that became landmarks for civil rights when fire hoses and police dogs greeted demonstrators, the rally to support six black teenagers charged in a school fight had a festive yet laid-back air.
"It was a great day," said Denise Broussard of Lafayette. "I really felt a sense of purpose and commitment, but it was also a lot of fun. I met great people and made some good friends."
The march for the so-called Jena Six, a group of black teens initially charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate, was one of the biggest civil rights demonstrations in years.
Hours later, police in nearby Alexandria said they arrested two whites after officers noticed a pair of nooses dangling from the rear of the driver's pickup truck.
The driver, identified as 18-year-old Jeremiah Munsen of Colfax, was charged with inciting a riot, driving while intoxicated and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, authorities said. A city attorney will decide whether charges against the 16-year-old passenger from Dry Prong are warranted, said Alexandria Police Sgt. Clifford Gatlin.
"I wish we had a charge in Louisiana for aggravated ignorance, because this is a classic case," Gatlin said.
In Jena on Friday, the state district court scheduled a session to decide whether a judge who has been hearing the case of Mychal Bell, one of the six youths, should be made to step aside from a bond hearing.
Bell, now 17, is the only one of the six black defendants to be tried. He was convicted of aggravated second-degree battery, but his conviction was tossed out last week by a state appeals court that said Bell could not be tried as an adult on that charge.
Bell had been arrested on juvenile charges including battery and criminal damage to property, and was on probation at the time the white student, Justin Barker, was beaten. He remained in jail pending an appeal by prosecutors. An appellate court on Thursday ordered a hearing to be held within three days on his request for release. The other defendants are free on bond.
The case dates to August 2006, when a black Jena High School student asked the principal whether blacks could sit under a shade tree that was a frequent gathering place for whites. He was told yes. But nooses appeared in the tree the next day. Three white students were suspended but not criminally prosecuted. LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters said this week he could find no state law covering the act.
The incident was followed by fights between blacks and whites, and in December a white student, was knocked unconscious on school grounds. According to court testimony, his face was swollen and bloodied, but he was able to attend a school function that night.
Six black teens were arrested. Five were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder — charges that have since been reduced for four of them. The sixth was booked as a juvenile on sealed charges.
On Thursday, old-guard lions like the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton joined scores of college students bused in from across the nation who said they wanted to make a stand for racial equality just as their parents did in the 1950s and '60s.
But while those early protesters dodged police batons and were insulted by the white population, demonstrators on Thursday petted police horses, chatted with officers and posed by the Jena Police Department sign.
"It was a big event for us," said Donna Clark, who traveled from Atlanta with her husband and four young daughters. "We got matching T-shirts and drove all night. It's exciting and I think the girls can say later they were part of history."
People began gathering before dawn; state police put attendance between 15,000 and 20,000, though organizers said the crowd was much larger.
Law enforcement officials said the biggest problem was the heat.
"It's been a very peaceful and happy crowd," said Sgt. Julie Lewis of the Louisiana State Police. "Really these are very, very nice people. They are welcome in Louisiana any time."
The only strident note came at the end of the rally when a group of Black Panthers took the microphone and led the crowd in chants.
"We're nonviolent when people are nonviolent with us," one speaker said. "We're not nonviolent with people that are violent with us."
Jena residents, resentful of the massive protest in their little town and the racist label stamped upon them, were scarce during the demonstrations. Businesses closed, and so did the library, schools, city offices and the courthouse.
"I don't mind them demonstrating," said resident Ricky Coleman, 46, who is white. "I believe in people standing up for what they think is right. But this isn't a racist town. It's a small place and we all get along."
In Washington, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said he would hold hearings on the case, though he did not set a date or say if the prosecutor would be called to testify.
Walters, the district attorney, has usually declined to discuss the case publicly. But on the eve of the demonstrations, he denied the charges against the teens were race-related and lamented that Barker, the victim of the beating, has been reduced to "a footnote" while protesters generate sympathy for his alleged attackers.
President Bush said he understood the emotions and the FBI was monitoring the situation.
"The events in Louisiana have saddened me," the president told reporters at the White House. "All of us in America want there to be, you know, fairness when it comes to justice."
Associated Press writers Errin Haines in Atlanta and Michael Kunzelman in Jena contributed to this report.