Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jena 6 Defendant’s Plea Bargain Garners Mixed Response From Supporters, Experts And Onlookers...Tha Artivist Reports...

Marcus Jones (left), father of Jena 6 defendant Mychal Bell, Rev. Al Sharpton and Melissa Bell, Mychal Bell’s mother. (AP Photo)

The Jena 6 case and what it represents has become a lightning rod for activism as well as divisiveness...Rarely does such a topic or subject garners such a strong response from everyone…Whether you agree or disagree we all can agree that the Jena 6 case has revealed that it takes time for old wounds to heal and that open and honest dialogue is key if we are as a community going to get to the heart of the problem and find solutions…

For this article we approached some of the brightest, most engaging and opinionated minds around...Each person asked for their insight represents a clear demographic of our society whether it be academic, the media, religious or the community in general…Vanderbilt University Law Professor Carol Swain, Louisiana Civil Rights Activist and Marcus Jones’ Spiritual Advisor Bishop George and noted Civil Rights journalist Gary Younge each weighed in with their worthy insight…Their distinct voices and opinions represent the spectrum of Black America…As the old saying goes we can all agree to disagree but respect is key if you expect reciprocity…

Prof. Carol Swain, Vanderbilt Law School

Renowned Law Prof. Carol Swain thought that the plea bargain was probably the best deal Mychal Bell could have gotten from a legal point of view when you consider his previous juvenile record and participation in the beating of Justin Barker…”I assume that his criminal attorney had access to his juvenile records and that played a part in his plea bargain…He was guilty of being a part of the attack on the white student, maybe the plea bargain will prevent the media from probing into his juvenile record…But had he been tried and evidence come forward, he probably could have gotten a stiffer sentence and it came down to what was best for him…And usually it is better in cases where you are guilty to get a better deal by plea bargaining…”

She also recognizes that the U.S. justice system is biased towards poor people as well as people of color in particular Black Males…”I think the justice system hurts all poor people…If you can’t afford an expensive lawyer, one that’s going to work on your behalf at an hourly wage then you are at a disadvantage regardless of your race…I think it also does affect disproportionately Black men because many of them are poor…”

She also confessed sympathy for Mychal Bell and the media scrutiny that is individually upon him as well as a member of the Jena 6…”I hate to be him because everything he does he’s going to be watched and if you look at what has leaked into the press about his prior record he has not been a choir boy and he may very well end up in trouble again…”

Prof. Swain stated that that type of media attention can also bring out the best and the worst in people in the general public…”There are people that are rooting for him to get on with his life, go to college and be successful, but there are also other people waiting and biding their time to see when he gets into trouble again…I think he’s in a very awkward situation because of the high profile of the case…”

She also offered some words of advice for Mychal Bell and his parents post-plea bargain…”If Mychal Bell has an anger management problem he needs to get help for it…And if his parents can afford to relocate I think that might help them as far as to get a new start and not be constantly reminded by the past…”

However, she does feel that the boys should be punished for their actions and not let off the hook so easily by their Black supporters…”I think that at the end of the day we are all accountable for what we do…The Jena 6 boys did a gang beating on one individual and were sort of celebrated in the community…I think that we should have condemned the attack more harshly then we did because they were involved in doing something that they were not suppose to be doing and separate that from the penalty…”

Prof. Swain also felt that the Black community can show love and support for the boys while at the same time holding them accountable for what they actually did…”The charges they were charged with were severe but at the same time they had no business ganging up and beating one person in the way that they did and that should have been the first thing we as a community condemned to send a signal to other Black young people that this is unacceptable behavior…”

She also noted that there’s an alarming growing trend of violent young Black males running in gangs or packs throughout the nation…”I heard of several cases like that of these young black men traveling in packs and attacking single, lone individuals and that’s not right… There’s no respect of self or other people and we need to be the ones saying that and holding them accountable and not celebrating and defending them because they are not innocent…”

Prof. Swain thought that Mychal Bell in spite of all he’s been through did deserve to serve some time and she hopes that through his incarceration he’s gained some wisdom...”Mychal Bell deserves to serve some time…And I hope he stays out of trouble and I hope he learned his lesson…At the end of the day Mychal Bell was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing…”

Prof. Swain noted that the Jena 6 case struck an emotional chord because it hit so close to home…Her brother was a victim of an attack that was eerily similar to the one endured by Justin Barker, however he wasn’t so lucky…”I had a brother that was attacked by five boys mid afternoon, they were boys from the neighborhood and I am sure he knew them…They beat him using their fists, shoes and kicked him and he took a blow to the head…He managed to get home and fell into a coma and died that evening…”

Because of this family tragedy she does admit she has a bias against the defendants in the case…”That sorta of colors my view about whether or not a sneaker can be a deadly weapon, the youngest boy was 14 and there was five of them…All I know is that we got to do something about these conditions…It’s not morally right…”

Prof. Swain believes that Black self-help is the remedy for the moral epidemic the Black community is facing…“I come from the underclass and I have been exposed to a lot…I am very concerned about the choices a lot of my people, Black people, make and some of our problems are our own fault and I do see them as our youth and our problem because I don’t think that society won’t do anything else but put them in jail… “

Bishop George, Louisiana Justice Foundation Activist

Bishop George stated the plea bargain caught many of the grassroots Jena 6 supporters off guard…”Honestly the plea bargain was a surprise to everyone…It was something that occurred in relation to Mychal himself or anybody locked up at some point that they are going to want to be free”…

Bishop George also felt that everything began to feel orchestrated and suspect as if this was preplanned conspiracy…“The plea bargain caused a lot of things to begin to happen such as a suit being filed by the Barker family against Mychal Bell and his parents…The other family members and members of the Jena 6 have been served suits for damages concerning the incident…It was as if everyone was waiting for one of the boys to plead guilty…”

He also noted that the Jena 6 case and the Mychal Bell plea bargain is nothing but a microcosm of what’s going on in the rest of the United States…”This is a process that’s going on all over the United States where young people plea bargain and their plea bargaining their lives away…There seems to be a trend all of a sudden where plea deals are coming up and my experience is when there is a plea somebody gets free and that didn’t happen and hasn’t happen as of yet with Mychal Bell…”

Echoing the sentiments of Marcus Jones, Bishop George also felt that Mychal Bell and his parents were mislead by the conditions of the plea bargain…”His mother is upset because it was the understanding that he was going to be moved from a secured facility to a atmosphere that wasn’t jail like…From what I understand things were misconstrued in Mychal’s mind about what was going to happen and what was not going to happen…”

Bishop George also noted the absurdity of the actual plea bargain as well…”There’s a lot of things concerning the plea that has taken place, even the parents having to pay child support to the state until the young man is 18, this is a first… I asked some people about it in the system they say this has never been done before…This is ludicrous and with the adult trial being thrown out the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, he is being held illegally…”

Bishop George stated the reason why the Jena 6 case occurred in the first place was because of inequities in the LaSalle Parish judicial system when it comes to crime and punishment…"The issue is still about unequal justice… If Mychal Bell is going to receive 18 months for battery then the White perpetrators of the battery committed upon Robert Bailey Jr. need to also receive 18 months…Justin Barker had a weapon on the school campus after those incidents that occurred at the school leading up to the fight…There are a whole lot of discrepancies that are still left out there that are going have to be dealt with…”

He also feels that the La Salle Parish Court System has no respect for the actual law when it chooses to not follow the direct command of a higher court…”I consider it chicanery when the Louisiana State Supreme Court has an ad hoc judge come in and rule that the documents concerning Mychal Bell had to be opened and Judge Maffrey goes right ahead and seal those same records…And now Mychal has to go before the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.. Now that let anyone with common sense know that the court system in LaSalle Parish have a lot to hide because they are insistent on keeping those records shut down…”

Bishop George expressed sympathy for Mychal Bell’s parents…”The poor parents were left with court costs...Marcus Jones’ job, a job he had in Jena, he lost months ago and so the income that would be coming towards to pay for those things in the court will be coming from Melissa and whatever Marcus can come up with…There’s been some mis-information in the media…People are mistaken in alot of ways about the way things are going…”

However, he also expressed optimism about the outcome of the case…”The ball is where it is, but the ball is not dropped, there are going to be a pursuit of issues that are still outstanding…There are a lot of things that are still on the burner being dealt with concerning the case of Mychal Bell…”

Bishop George felt that the plea bargain was not a win/win for Mychal Bell…”I don’t think that there was anything that could be gained or garnered by Mychal admitting that he had a part in what occurred with Justin Barker… “

He also felt like Marcus Jones that the court of public opinion was in Mychal Bell’s favor and that the plea came as a shock and let down to many passionate supporters…”When you have upwards of 70,000 people come to a town to stand for justice and fight against unequal justice and get down to the wire and things are looking the way they are looking and you find a plea is made...That is something that everybody is trying to get their heads wrapped around…”

Bishop George also noted a coalition of the willing, a collection of civil rights organizations who made themselves the designated spearheads of the Jena 6 movement getting together just two weeks before the plea bargain to discuss the nuts and bolts of the Mychal Bell case...”There were some groups that entered into the Jena 6 case, Southern Poverty Law Center; Color of Change and Friends of Justice...These groups from the onset had been looking at trying to find some way to diffuse the entire situation”…The meeting took place in Alexandria, La...

He also noted key players in the Jena 6 case were present including Attorney Darrell Hickman (Bryant Ray Purvis’ attorney) and Mychal Bell’s Attorney Lewis Scott and the parents of the Jena 6 defendants…

The purpose of the meeting was to try to come up with some type of agreement among all the attorneys on how to help Mychal Bell’s parents with the money situation...As a court order they have to pay the monthly incarceration fees of their son…”This thing about a plea has been on the table for a period of time and they were trying to get all the parents to agree...The only two parents that weren’t in agreement were Marcus and Melissa…And some point the lawyers were persuaded that this was the appropriate way to go…”

According to Bishop George the plea bargain deal had unforeseen repercussions “and now what has happened with the suit lingering around, you are not going to get any of the young men to say yeah we had a part in that because that is an automatic payout if the suit is won by the Barkers...”

Bishop George feels that for the Jena 6 to get true justice and exoneration that the U.S. Federal Court must step in…“It’s a precarious situation that‘s going to have be settled in Federal Court…It’s can’t be settled in state court…Somebody’s going to have to have the unction and the junction to file something in the federal system and that’s going to change the whole parameters of this thing…Because there’s malfeasance that has occurred so it has to be dealt with in this manner…”

Gary Younge, Civil Rights Journalist of The Guardian and The Nation

Award winning journalist Gary Younge also feels sympathy for Mychal Bell and his legal woes…”Well I can understand why he did it, my guess is that his counsel thought that was the best deal he was going to get… In a way I hope for Mychal Bell and the others that they get out of the criminal justice system as soon as they possibly can… If this was the quickest way they can do it then so be it…”

Younge also expressed genuine concern for the individual well being of Mychal Bell and his co-defendants and that this human element of the story shouldn’t be lost in the hustle and bustle sensationalism of the historic civil rights case…”I feel like you don’t want to grandstand with a young person’s future…It would be great if we could move on to other stuff while keeping an eye on the actual individuals involved...The fate of the individuals involved is important…”

He also feels that the Jena 6 case only further illustrates the institutional racism that is prevalent throughout the U.S….He also reasoned that the public must become vigilante in searching for the inequities in the U.S. judicial system and beyond…”What I also think needs to happen now is to take the light which is dimmed significantly but it was shown on Jena 6 and shine it elsewhere on the country where it’s happening all the time…”

He also said that 21st Century racism is more sophisticated and stealth or invisible and that nooses from the Jena 6 story was a throwback to a different era…”If it wasn’t for the nooses no one would have noticed Jena…It took some medieval Jim Crow acting out for people to sit up and listen…White people now don’t have to act out with nooses, crosses and stuff in order to be racist, but in order to catch the media’s attention they have to…”

He offered two examples of how racism has “evolved” and how the media has played a part in that evolution…”If someone came up to your house called you a nigger and burned a cross on the lawn that would make the news but if you worked in a big company and they say we’re firing three hundred people and two hundred are black then that won’t make the news…Somehow it has to be these dramatic and undeniable expressions of racism that makes the grade and that is not how racism works…”

“You have to be a very stupid white person to run around with nooses and crosses because you don’t have to do that to get what you want or to keep the stuff that you stole…”

Gary Younge also warned that if we don’t pay attention to the details that we may miss the big picture on the significance of the Jena 6 saga…“Jena was a symbol of a bigger problem and unless it’s regarded as a bigger problem then the general lesson has been lost…”

Special Jena 6 Post-Plea Bargain Show On W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio
To listen to the entire Prof. Carol Swain interview as well as others on this case please visit the following link on-line:

To Hear The Entire Bishop George Interview Please Click On The Following Link:

(Ron Herd II also known as R2C2H2 Tha Artivist hosts the internet radio show “Tha Artivist Presents...W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio” at . His Website is He is also the author of James Reese Europe: Jazz Lieutenant

More Jena 6 On W.E. A.L.L. B.E.:



Anonymous said...

From Professor Swain's comments, you would think Justin Barker had not been the one responsible for getting Robert Bailey Jr. jumped, not the one who was carrying a loaded rifle in his truck, not the one calling these dudes niggers, and just some innocent white guy walking by. See, this is what I mean about people not knowing all the details before they comment on a case. Regardless of his past record, that doesn't mean he's guilty of everything or has anger management issues. Every time someone gets into a fight, they're accused of having anger management issues. *shaking my head*

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm listening to this radio interview, and this is what I don't care for in Prof. Swain's comments. She brings up several times when INNOCENT people were jumped for no reason, including her brother. This is NOT the case for the Jena 6. She said she didn't follow the trial, but she made an erroneous claim about how Bell deserved to serve some time. Okay, so should Justin Barker have received time for jumping Robert Bailey Jr.? And when did the Jena 6 become a gang? I don't respect her opinion nor do I agree with a thing she's saying. Justin Barker was calling these boys out of their names with racial slurs, responsible for Bailey Jr. being jumped along with his sister, AND then she went from saying she didn't follow the case to "I followed the whole saga." If I were one of these dudes, I'd be under extreme stress from cops telling me to get back to my side of town after being beaten up, being harassed by the lawyer, the faculty, and then being threatened with nooses.

On top of that, she says she has trouble believing people don't have a right to vote. Hel-lo. Did she sleep through the whole issue in Florida with Bush? If the police and government do not want someone to vote, they will find all kinds of paperwork and tedious ways to make them ineligible from changing the location for people to vote, not letting people with past records vote (something I'm dead set against), and a massive amount of other reasons why people who were registered were turned away. And then she had that stupid comment about mothers driving fancy cars with the defense money.

If it's not morally right for a group of people to jump one person, it works the same way with the others. A schoolyard fight is a schoolyard fight, not jail time. I've heard of many people being jumped into gangs or beaten up just for conflict, but this fight had a lot of history behind it, and it wasn't over some damsel in distress who just ran into Bell's fist. I wish I'd have been home to call in! Ugh. NEXT!

Later Post:

And then she got on an interview for the Jena 6 and said she wanted people to move on from the case. I'll be damned! I'm not moving on from a thing. I'm sitting tight and want to see this case completely follow through. I'm not surprised that they're investigating Al Sharpton. The government tends to do that for anyone who opposes their views. No surprise there. Why in the world is this lady on the show? I'm glad somebody "is desperately trying to get [her] on the phone." She didn't make much sense anyway, and she knew it. That's why she got off the phone!

I wish I'd have been home to call in during this interview. She was rude, unprofessional, and kept zoning out.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm so impressed with Professor Swain. She seems very level-headed, empathetic, and truly compassionate about improving our society and the black community. I've rarely done this, but I disagree with nothing she said. I wish I could knock on her door and talk to her for awhile. Looks like accountability is very important to her, which has seemed to be lost in the whole Jena 6 dilemma.