Racial discrimination and the legal system: the recent lessons of Louisiana.

Author:Quigley, Bill
 
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Racial discrimination is widespread in the legal system of the United States. A recent example from Louisiana will help underscore the statistics that follow.

Jena, Louisiana, with a population of 2,900, is a still mostly segregated section of the rural south in the United States. It is mostly poor and nearly 90 per cent white. The elected District Attorney is white, all the judges are white, all heads of law enforcement are white. African Americans have but one seat on the nine-member school board and one other on the local ten-person governing body. There are two black teachers and one black police officer in Jena.

Recently a young black student, who was 16 years old at the time he was arrested, was convicted of two felonies by an all-white jury after an interracial fight at a local high school. The all-white jury heard only white witnesses called by the white prosecutor to testify in a courtroom overseen by a white judge. The victim, who is also white and had been making racial taunts, was hit by black students and was taken to a local hospital and released to attend a social function. The all-white jury, prosecutor and supporters of the white victim were all seated on one side of the courtroom. The African-American defendant and his supporters were on the other. The jury quickly convicted Mychal Bell, now 17, of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery; he faces up to 22 years in prison. Five other black youths await similar trials on second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy charges.

The fight was the culmination of a series of racial incidents that started when whites responded to black students sitting under the "white tree" at the Jena High School by hanging three nooses from the tree. It was called the "white tree" because only white kids, who make up 80 per cent of the school, sat under it. Early in the fall of 2006, several African American students decided to exercise their right to sit under the "white tree". The next morning, as they arrived at school, three nooses were hanging from the tree. The message was clear: "Those nooses meant the Ku Klux Klan, they meant 'Niggers, we're going to kill you, we're going to hang you till you die'," said Casteptla Bailey, a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leader and mother of one of the students.

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Black students and families protested this hate crime. The school principal recommended that the three white...

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