Lawmakers Seek Jena 6 Teen's Release
Tuesday, September 25, 2007; 9:21 PM
WASHINGTON -- A lawmaker said Tuesday he will press the government for the release of a black teenager held in the "Jena 6" case that spurred one of the biggest civil-rights demonstrations in years. Other activists said they planned more protests if the teen is not immediately pardoned.
"Our first responsibility is to get young Mychal Bell out of prison," said Rep. John Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who said he will pressure the Justice Department to take a hard look at "the miscarriages of justice that have occurred in Jena, Louisiana."
Conyers spoke after he and several other black lawmakers met with Bell's parents.
Bell, now 17, was one of six teens arrested after a December attack on a white student, in the culmination of several fights between blacks and whites. Five of the six teens initially were charged with attempted second-degree murder, though charges for four of them have been reduced. One teen hasn't been arraigned, and the case of the sixth, handled as a juvenile, is sealed.
A state appeals court recently set aside the aggravated second-degree battery conviction against Bell, the only teen to be tried so far, saying he could not be tried as an adult.
Bell remains in jail pending a possible appeal by prosecutors, a situation that activist Rev. Al Sharpton hopes will be addressed in a scheduled meeting Wednesday with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
More than 20,000 people converged on the small town of Jena last week to protest the case, and Sharpton said those non-violent protests may increase if Bell is not released quickly.
"We started with a mass demonstration, and then next step would be non-violent civil disobedience," Sharpton said.
"We are not fighting for black kids that beat up white kids. We're talking about the disparity in how the law works," the New York-based activist said, adding that he still expects the local county prosecutor who brought the charges to be called to testify before Congress.