The decision by the Louisiana Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction of Mychal Bell, one of the "Jena 6," confirms the long-held belief by Alpha Kappa Alpha's international president Barbara A. McKinzie that the charges levied against the young man were motivated by "prosecutorial overzealousness." She said that the dramatic turn of events should strengthen the resolve to demand "justice in Jena." The decision by the Louisiana Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction of Mychal Bell, one of the "Jena 6," confirms the long-held belief by Alpha Kappa Alpha's international president Barbara A. McKinzie that the charges levied against the young man were motivated by "prosecutorial overzealousness." She said that the dramatic turn of events should strengthen the resolve to demand "justice in Jena."
To that end, McKinzie urged Alpha Kappa Alpha's 200,000 members – and all fair-minded citizens – to fire off letters to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and Attorney General Charles Foti and demand that they wield their constitutional power to call for a new trial. McKinzie said that on behalf of the membership, she is sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking that federal officials intervene and investigate this issue to make sure that the Constitutional rights of these young men are protected.
McKinzie cautioned those hailing the decision to "stop celebrating," since the fates of the six young men still hang in the balance.
"Driven by a racist dynamic in the city of Jena, Louisiana, the district attorney who levied the charges is guilty of prosecutorial overreach," declared McKinzie. "Because lives are at stake, we demand that the governor, the attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice launch an immediate investigation and right this judicial abuse of discretion. These boys are entitled to their constitutional right to fairness. Right now, the scales of justice are heavily tilted against the young men."
McKinzie said the meting out of punishment that is disproportionate to the "crime" has marked the entire Jena 6 saga. She noted that the decision to lower the punishment against the white youth who hung nooses on a tree in an apparent protest of a Black youth sitting under the "whites-only" tree set the tone of unfairness that has marked the entire series of events surrounding this case.
"Levying a light punishment against these whites and dismissing it as a 'prank' while imposing harsher charges against the Black students illustrates an unfair mindset of which school authorities and prosecutors are guilty," McKinzie said. "An investigation will, hopefully, expose this imbalance and will result in a reexamination of this matter and a dismissal of all charges."
She also took the occasion to place culpability on school authorities, the district attorney and parents for relinquishing their responsibilities and allowing this matter to escalate to a "national disgrace."
"The Jena 6 case illustrates misplaced values, erosion of morals and relinquishment of parental responsibility. Because these principles lie at the core of Alpha Kappa Alpha's platform, we must address these issues if we are to engage in an honest dialogue and learn the lessons that this case presents."
McKinzie said that lost in the furor swirling around this case is the fact that the incident for which the students were eventually charged happened prior to the football championships.
"Some of the students charged were members of the winning team and were allowed to play so they could be used for their athletic prowess," she noted. "Once the championship was secured and the trophy hoisted, the boys were no longer of use to the school. That's when the prosecutors descended upon them and the charges were levied."
McKinzie said that the "glorification of athletics" outweighed the alleged crime and minimized the incident until the boys had been used for the school's athletic gain.
"If the charges had been that severe, the LaSalle Paris district attorney would have arrested the youth prior to the game rather than waiting until