Amnesty and American Injustice

The case of the Jena Six has been more than a national story for a while now–the quality of the coverage in the British daily press, in fact, far surpasses that of the major US papers. So it doesn’t surprise me to learn that Amnesty International has submitted a letter to the Civil Rights Division of the US Justice Department calling the case discriminatory and raising concern about Mychal Bell’s unfair treatment as a defendant. “This case in Louisiana appears to be a disturbing throwback,” the letter states. “It is vital that the State Department takes seriously the need for an urgent review of the case.”

Unfortunately, this letter may head straight to the trash heap, since the Civil Rights Division is itself a shambles right now. During the tenure of resigned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, many of the division’s top lawyers absconded in protest as it became clear that their mandate was being altered to suit President Bush’s political agenda. The department’s biggest push under Gonzales was a Rove-inspired campaign to prosecute “voter fraud” cases targeting largely African-American (read: Democratic) Congressional Districts. In the past five years the number of prosecutions of racial and sexual discrimination cases has dropped precipitately, and morale has sunk to a historic low. Amazingly, several staffers recently complained of racial discrimination within the Civil Rights Division!

When it comes to Amnesty’s letter, which is intended primarily as a public statement, the fact that the department is in meltdown and unlikely to respond is irrelevant. But it is another reminder that racial injustice is not unique to Jena–or even the South. It is a national scandal, and the world is watching.

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