Jena Six defendant Mychal Bell is back in jail. Yes, you read that line correctly.
On Thursday LaSalle Parish Judge J.P. Mauffray, acting in his capacity as a juvenile court judge, sentenced Bell to eighteen months at the Renaissance Home for Youth, a secure facility in nearby Alexandria. Bell’s involvement in the Jena Six fight, Mauffray ruled, violated the terms of his probation stemming from prior offenses. (Bell had been charged with two counts of simple battery and two counts of criminal destruction of property in a pair of cases that preceded the fight.) No bail has been set; Bell’s attorneys are planning to appeal. Bell is still scheduled to appear in court on December 6, when he will be retried as a juvenile for his role in the gang-up on Justin Barker.
Mauffray and District Attorney Reed Walters have taken some hits lately, to be sure. One month ago the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Bell’s conviction for aggravated second-degree battery in the Jena Six case, and two weeks ago Bell was let out on bail. And let’s not forget that thousands of protesters recently stopped by the LaSalle Parish courthouse to pay them an unfriendly visit.
But yesterday’s ruling sends a clear message that they’re not going down without a fight of their own. After more than a month in a crouch position they have now hit back with another attempt to keep Bell in jail for as long as they can. Why they saw fit only now to adjudicate Bell on charges that preceded the Jena Six fight is a mystery to me, since details on Bell’s record and juvenile proceedings are not readily available. My best guess, given the way his case has played out to date, is that the earlier charges weren’t that serious. (Hell, even Mauffray let him off!) And it wasn’t necessary during the Jena Six trial to paint Bell as a probation violator, since the case was already a lock for Walters. Which means that Bell’s record didn’t “become” serious until the prosecution needed a stronger case.
Walters and Mauffray will not relent until someone forces them to; that is beyond doubt by now. The national uproar over their handling of the Jena Six has only strengthened their resolve to punish Bell–and, one assumes, the others–as fully as possible. Forget rehabilitation; Bell’s is a juvenile case in name only. Forget probation, forget community programming, treatment, time served, house arrest. And while we’re at it, let’s forget equality under the law, disproportionate minority confinement, all-white juries, nooses and any and all mitigating factors, too. In Jena, as these guys see it, they are the law, and they intend to mete out justice as they define it, civil rights and media glare be damned.
Governor Kathleen Blanco has already intervened on Bell’s behalf: on September 26, after meeting with Blanco, Walters agreed not to challenge the appellate ruling and to try Bell in juvenile court. Now that Walters, with Mauffray’s help, has overcharged Bell through different means, it’s time for Blanco to step in once again. This can’t go on.