Felony charges were filed today against four teenage boys over a brawl at a high school football game that led to expulsions and brought Jesse L. Jackson to town.
Jackson, whose protests led officials to close Decatur's three public high schools for safety reasons for a second day on Tuesday, called the charges "attacks on these students" and said they will "only make matters worse."
While the expelled students are all black, Jackson has said fairness is more at issue than race.
The four boys were all charged with mob action, a felony. One was also charged with felony aggravated battery and resisting a police officer, a misdemeanor.
Two of those charged with mob action were among six high school students expelled after the Sept. 17 fracas in the bleachers at Eisenhower High School, which Jackson has characterized as a simple fistfight, but school officials called a melee.
Another boy withdrew from school before he could be expelled and the fourth boy was not a student at the time of the fight, school officials said.
School officials showed reporters about a minute of a videotape made by a spectator at the game between Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools. A boy can be seen punching and kicking someone while someone else climbs into the stands from the track to join the melee.
Fans in the stands scatter, and some cover small children. After less than a minute, the scene calms. Police said the tape catches only the last third of the fight.
Ed Boehm, the principal at MacArthur High School, said his school received seven injury reports after the fight, mostly for bruises and abrasions. The fight occurred on the MacArthur side of the field.
An attorney for six students involved in the fight asked a federal judge to order the district to immediately reinstate them. A lawsuit said their exclusion from school was a "gross injustice and has caused irreparable harm."
Jackson, who brought thousands of protesters to this central Illinois town Sunday, held another protest rally tonight and said he would lead another on Sunday.
It was not clear why State's Attorney Larry Fichter waited nearly two months to file charges and whether the other expelled students would be charged. He did not return numerous phone messages seeking comment.
On Monday, Jackson met for seven hours with school officials and Gov. George Ryan (R), and school board members held an emergency meeting to try to resolve the situation.
The expelled students, who attended Eisenhower or one of Decatur's other public high schools, were offered the chance to attend alternative school after the meeting with Ryan. Jackson has rejected that proposal.