Sharpton: Congress Should Grill Jena DA

The Associated Press
Thursday, September 20, 2007; 4:28 PM

JENA, La. -- Thousands of chanting demonstrators filled the streets of this little Louisiana town Thursday 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.

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

This could be the beginning of a 21st century's civil rights movement challenge disparities in the justice system, he said, and he said he planned a November march in Washington.

"What we need is federal intervention to protect people from Southern injustice," Sharpton told the AP. "Our fathers in the 1960's had to penetrate the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, we have to do the same thing."

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 were initially 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 badly swollen and bloodied, though he was able to attend a school function later that night.

President Bush, asked about the Jena case during a news conference, said he understood the emotions and the FBI was monitoring the situation.

"The events in Louisiana have saddened me," the president said. "All of us in America want there to be, you know, fairness when it comes to justice."

Thousands of demonstrators clad in black converged on the local courthouse and a nearby park Thursday morning to protest the disparity in the charged teenagers' treatment. Thousands more marched along city streets in what at times took on the atmosphere of a giant festival _ with people setting up tables of food and some dancing to the beat of a drum.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to one crowd. Dennis Courtland Hayes, interim president and CEO of the NAACP, was also there.

"People are saying, `That's enough, and we're not taking it any more,'" Hayes said.

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