The massive demonstration in Jena on Thursday against the unfair treatment of the black students known as the Jena 6 hasn’t had the effect that perhaps the protesters wanted.
Mychal Bell, the sole member of the group still in custody, will remain so said Judge J.P. Mauffray, Jr. yesterday. Citing Bell’s prior criminal record (a record that most Jena apologists including this one) may not have known about, LaSalle Parish D.A. Reed Walters demanded that Bell remain behind bars:
… Bell was placed on probation until his 18th birthday — Jan. 18, 2008 — after an incident of battery on Dec. 25, 2005. After being placed on probation, he was adjudicated of three other crimes, the two in September and another charge of criminal damage to property that occurred on July 25, 2006. ‘Mr. Bell has proven he doesn’t deserve bail. The state suggests that bail should not be allowed.’ – Reed Walters
In making his ruling, however, Judge Mauffray seemed particularly bent on using Bell’s conviction for his part in the beating of Justin Barker as proof that Bell should remain incarcerated. Mauffrey noted the following:
The seriousness of the offense: ‘It is a serious offense because it is a crime of violence,’ he said.
The weight of the evidence against the defendant: Mauffray said it was ‘pretty weighty’ considering the jury convicted Bell.
The previous criminal record of the defendant: He said a criminal record was obviously present considering that Bell had been adjudicated on three offenses that were committed while he was on probation and then convicted this year in adult court.
The nature and seriousness of the danger to any other person or the community that would be posed by the defendant’s release: Again, Mauffray pointed out that Bell now has either been adjudicated or convicted of five crimes of violence.
Whether the defendant is currently out on bond on a previous felony arrest: He cited Bell’s presence on probation and the fact that there were three other cases — not including the case Bell is currently in jail for — awaiting disposition.
‘Past behavior is the best prediction of future behavior,’ Mauffray concluded.
How much of Mauffray’s reasoning is based on legal precedent and deliberation and how much is based on “community expectation” is open to debate. Mychal Bell’s record certainly doesn’t suggest that he is incapable of a violent attack. But without the facts of his other cases it is difficult to determine whether the judge – whom defense lawyers have unsuccessfully tried to have recused because of his handling of Bell’s trial – has responded to genuine concerns about Mychal Bell as a menace to society or to the attitudes expressed by local whites. And Reed Walters, he of the “I can make your lives disappear with a stroke of my pen” threat – addressed, as numerous white and black witnesses attest, only to black students at Jena High School, has now added a conspiracy charge to Bell’s battery and assault charges. That charge, of course, muddies the water further and also sets the other boys up for the refiling of more serious charges.
But we’re ignoring something here.
If Mychal Bell was such a “menace,” why in the world was he in school in the first place? Wouldn’t multiple adjudications for violent crime have landed him in a juvenile facility?
Maybe. Maybe not. But with Bell, you see, there are mitigating factors.
This gets ugly quickly, so brace yourselves.
In the first place, Bell’s previous acts of violence were against other blacks. So it seems he didn’t get into “real trouble” until he participated in violence against a white person.
In the second place, Bell is a star football player, good enough that LSU has shown interest in him. His second and third offenses, one for battery, the other for property damage (another high school related fight) were adjudicated on September 2 and 3 of 2006. Five days later?
Bell committed two violent crimes while on probation for a Christmas Day battery in 2005, according to testimony. Later that same week, he led the Jena Giants to a shutout victory in a football game against the Buckeye Panthers. Bell was adjudicated — the juvenile equivalent to a conviction — of battery on Sept. 2 and criminal damage to property on Sept. 3, said Cynthia Bradford, LaSalle Parish deputy clerk. A few days later, on Sept. 8, Bell rushed 12 times for 108 yards and scored three touchdowns — one of the best performances of the year for the standout athlete.
And, of course Bell’s football coach knew nothing – nothing! – about his behavior:
That’s the first I’ve heard of these. And in a small town like this, you would think I would have heard about it – Jena High football coach Marc Fowler on the September incidents.
Yeah, this reeks of “special rules” for a star athlete. And of one set of rules for black-on-black crime and another set of rules for black-on-white (or white-on-black) crime.
It is important to remember that the incident with Justin Barker occurred after football season was over – when Jena’s boosters no longer needed his services for a successful football season.
It also brings more about Jena – and American society – into focus. It raises questions about whether blacks can get justice that is truly blind to issues of color. It raises questions about whether athletes get preferential treatment.
And it makes one wonder if Bell will be sacrificed to make a point to other black athletes in his town/parish/state/country – you’re only safe as long as you can – and will – play ball and keep the right people happy….
Somewhere Jackie Robinson is weeping….