- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

JENA, La. (AP) — Thousands of chanting demonstrators filled the streets of this little Louisiana town yesterday in support of six black teenagers initially charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate.

The crowd broke into chants of “Free the Jena Six” as the Rev. Al Sharpton arrived at the local courthouse with family members of the jailed teens.

Mr. Sharpton told the Associated Press that he and Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters of California, Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas and William J. Jefferson of Louisiana will press the House Judiciary Committee next week to summon the district attorney to explain his actions before Congress.

The six black teens were charged a few months after three white teens were accused of hanging nooses in a tree on their high school grounds. The white teens were suspended from school but weren’t prosecuted. Five of the black teens initially were charged with attempted murder. That charge was reduced to battery for all but one, who has yet to be arraigned; the sixth was charged as a juvenile.

The beating victim, Justin Barker, was knocked unconscious, his face severely swollen and bloodied, though he was able to attend a school function later that night.

Thousands of demonstrators clad in black converged on the local courthouse and a nearby park yesterday morning to protest the disparity in the charged teenagers’ treatment.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to one crowd. Dennis Courtland Hayes, interim president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, also attended.

“People are saying, ‘That’s enough, and we’re not taking it any more,’ ” Mr. Hayes said.

District Attorney Reed Walters stressed on Wednesday that race had nothing to do with the charges in Jena.

Mr. Walters said he didn’t charge the white students accused of hanging the nooses because he could find no Louisiana law under which they could be charged. In the beating case, he said, four of the defendants were of adult age under Louisiana law and the only juvenile charged as an adult, Mychal Bell, had a criminal record.

“It is not and never has been about race,” he said. “It is about finding justice for an innocent victim and holding people accountable for their actions.”

Mychal, 16 at the time of the December attack, is the only one of the “Jena Six” to be tried so far. He was convicted on an aggravated second-degree battery count that could have sent him to prison for 15 years, but the conviction was overturned last week when a state appeals court said he should not have been tried as an adult. Mychal remains jailed while prosecutors prepare an appeal. He has been unable to meet the $90,000 bond.

“We all have family members about the age of these guys. We said it could have been one of them. We wanted to try to do something,” said Angela Merrick, 36, who drove with three friends from Atlanta to protest the treatment of the teens.

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