September 18, 2007

Jena Six Case Shows Black Teens Get Short End of Stick

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, via Alternet:

Four years before an indifferent, drowsy press and public finally fumed at the news that a prosecutor and judge tossed the book at six black teens in a small Louisiana town for beating up a white teen following a racially charged incident, a Louisiana legislative investigating team sternly warned that the state's juvenile justice system was horribly mangled.

Though alternative sentencing programs are far more cost effective than jailing, they are scarce and under-funded, and Louisiana officials have resisted calls to increase funding and resources to boost these programs.


Nationally, blacks make up 40 percent of youths tried in adult courts and nearly 60 percent of those sentenced to state prisons.

In Jena, the prosecutor, mostly because of the public furor over the case, reduced charges against two of the youth. But that's an exception. Prosecutors nearly always push for hard time for offenders. This is infuriatingly apparent in Jena. One of the defendants, a star football player, was convicted on a reduced battery charge. Yet, he still could get a 15-year prison sentence.


The legislators read and watch the same relentless stream of newspaper and television reports of drive-by shootings, drug shootouts, and gang wars, most of them involving young blacks.


They are convinced that teen violence has spawned a new class of youthful "super predators" and that the juvenile justice system is far too easy on them.

The notion that juveniles are running wild though is a myth.

According to recent FBI crime figures, the rates for murder and assault among teenagers have plummeted since 1993, even among black teens.


This article effectively destroys any good reason to lock up any of the Jena Six for any extended amount of time. To say that the judge and/or prosecutor needs to "throw the book at them" because youths, especially black ones, are out of control "these days" is competely unfounded by real statistics. It seems like most people who are for throwing the book at them base it simply on their belief that, "If white kids had done the same to a black kid, they'd have been hung by the NAACP and ACLU by now!" which may be true, figuratively, but it doesn't matter because that's not what happened. The small town and random white asshole resentment of the Jena Six is pure racism.

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