Thursday, September 27, 2007

Juvenile Court is No Bargain for Mychal Bell(s)
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A beaming Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III effusively praised Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco for arm twisting La Salle Parish Prosecutor Reed Walters not to challenge an appellate court’s decision overturning the adult court conviction of Jena 6 centerpiece defendant Mychal Bell. But there is really no need for Walters to waste time and money waging a long drawn out time consuming legal war to toss the appellate court ruling on Bell.

If Walters chooses to retry Bell in juvenile court, and given his dogged and hardball pursuit of Bell, there is a good likelihood that he will retry; he still holds a full deck of legal cards. Juvenile courts are and have never been any bargain for a Mychal Bell, and the countless other Mychal Bells nationally that face major felony cases. It’s a broken, flawed, repressive system that emphasizes punishment, and not rehabilitation for teens. Louisiana’s juvenile justice system that Bell will be dumped back into is a textbook example of the towering failures of the system.

Three years before the Sharpton-Blanco meeting on Bell, Blanco sternly vowed to do everything in her power to overhaul Louisiana’s badly broken juvenile justice system. It was long past time for that call. Juvenile courts and facilities in the state are grossly under-funded and understaffed; the teens are warehoused in crowded, cramped, and aging facilities. They have few opportunities to obtain job and skills training, mentoring and counseling and family support programs that could help them stay out of legal harm’s way.

Numerous reports on the workings of the juvenile justice system in other states have also found that the system is often a dumping ground for youth that the society has thrown in the towel on. They are children with mental health problems, minor school-related misconduct and other adolescent problems.

Then there are the courts. The youthful offenders in many cases have shoddy or non-existent legal representation, few appeal rights, and there is no bail. Juvenile offenders are considered child wards of the court, and the judge has the discretion to release them to their parents or keep them locked down indefinitely. Louisiana is hardly an aberration to this sorry pattern.

An American Bar Association study in 2003 found that when Ohio children were arrested or cited on a charge, the offenders waived their right to counsel without an explanation of what rights they were giving up and how waiving those rights could harm them in the future. In some courts, the defense attorneys did not play a significant enough role, the study found. Vigorous representation for children also varied county to county, but investigators found meaningful representation lacking at the arrest or detention hearing stage, little pretrial or trial advocacy, and limited or nonexistent appeals in many jurisdictions.

Studies also have found that many U.S. children age 15 and younger are unable to understand criminal proceedings, hindering their ability to be competent defendants. Bell’s troubles started at about that age. He was remanded to juvenile courts for the four offenses he was charged with before his conviction for beating white teen Justin Barker.

Bell backers railed that his trial in adult court was a farce. His public defender never requested a change of venue, never challenged the all-white jury selection, presented no evidence, and didn't call a single defense witness. But if he had been tried in juvenile court, the likelihood is the outcome would have been exactly the same, or worse. He could have been detained without bail if he was considered a threat to the community. Walters and Judge J.P. Mauffray have repeatedly called Bell a threat. That was a prime reason Mauffray revoked his bail.

The judge has the sole power to make that decision. In La Salle Parish Mauffray wears the dual hat of both a juvenile court as well as a district judge. Bell would have been assigned a public defender, tried by an adult judge (possibly even Mauffray), and if convicted by the adult judge on the serious felony charge of aggravated battery with his prior juvenile offenses could have been ordered held until he’s age 21, in a prison-like juvenile facility. Or he could be shipped off to an adult prison to serve his sentence. Nationally, black and Latino youth make up the majority of those youthful offenders that are convicted in juvenile courts and ordered to serve their sentences in adult prisons.

The towering flaws and abuses that wrack the juvenile court and justice system in Louisiana are no different than those that plague the system in other states. It’s a system that desperately screams for reform. Louisiana governor Blanco knew that reform is desperately needed even as she met with Sharpton on Bell. But those screams have mostly fallen on the tone deaf ears of a public and state legislators determined to be as tough on youthful offenders as adults. Bell and the nation will discover that harsh truth if he’s dumped back in a juvenile court docket.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.


F. Stanley Boyd said...

Dear H,

I am a Canadian blogger and my url is below. I read your work as often as I can. I want merely to introduce myself and let you knw we live over here in and we need to exchange ideas.


Jena 6 Canada and America

Something about the case of the "Jena 6" in Louisiana has sparked a rumbling within the black and white communities of Canada and the United States. What is there about Jena 6 that is different from everyday life in either country.

All of the elements that we have become accustomed to in racial strife in everyday life in Canada and America characterize the case. The eyes of our white and black citizens’ roll and on those faces in both countries are commonly etched that do nothing sentiment: “Here we go again.” We go into high, do-nothing gear and our barriers are up.

Why have protests taken so long? What has driven thousands of black and white civil rights marchers to protest in Jena? Why have black and white Canadians shown a willingness to sign petitions of protest against this injustice? Why does this racial injustice tug so at our heart strings? Some suggest that it is perhaps because it is less about what happened and more about the fact that it happened to our children, both black and white.
The story of the Jena 6 is a long, unreported one, a year in the making story, and full of stunning details. The basic points are these: In the predominantly white town of Jena, La., black students asked the vice principle of Jena High School if they could sit under the “white tree” where predominantly white students only assembled. Following this, last September, after black students sat under the schoolyard tree, white students hung three nooses in it. These students, despite the seriousness of their actions, were suspended for just three days. After black students protested peacefully, the La Salle Parish district attorney threatened them during a meeting, saying, "I can make your life go away with a stroke of a pen." Imagine if you can, this being said to black gangs in the hang-gun culture of Toronto, Ontario Canada, or in the projects of southern LA in California. Would it have happened at all, or would it not have gone unnoticed? Who needs a judgment check?
As if things were not out of control enough at this point, there were two beatings of black students by white students. Later a fight ensued and a white student, using racial provocation, was beaten by a black student. The white student was treated in hospital; he had a slight concussion and multiple bruises. In spite of his injuries that same white student was well enough to attend a school function later that same night. Six black teenagers between 15 and 17 were arrested. Five black students were charged as adults with attempted murder and conspiracy. The sixth student was charged as a juvenile.
Up to this point there is very little difference between the Jena High School racial discord and those that have occurred in Cole Harbor High School in Nova Scotia Canada’s Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).
Frankly, many in mainstream black Canada and America think that white Canadians and Americans are anxious to use disproportionate influence and power to bring groundless and excessive charges against defenseless and often innocent blacks to assure that the accused is put away for a very long time. This activity is referred to as the “New Jim Crow Laws,” at work commonly in Canada and America.
Some in mainstream white Canada and America seem to think that charges of racism vindicated and satisfy blacks since white Canadians and Americans live in denial about racism and racial inequality before the law and in society. Now, how narcissistic can black people allow white Canadians and Americans to get before they are forced to acknowledge the realities of interdependent life?
I cannot be convinced that black Canadians and Americans wish only to dominate the moral high ground by these accusations of racism. Enjoyment of moral certitude founded on proven cases of racism and racial inequality must never preclude black Canadians and Americans from challenging and preventing the exercise of legal power which enables white Canada and America to trash the life chances of thousands of our young, black students in Canada and America.
White Americans, trying to adapt the so-called “New Jim Crow Law, appear to be willing to go that far. Are white Canadians prepared to do what their American cousins seem poised or prepared to do?
The trash and burn approach, the use of old fashioned terror to get their own way when all else fails and the abuse of our laws without the presumption of innocence seem all to be failing as new federal pressures are being brought on local justice in Jena by a proposed House Judiciary Committee’s investigation.
That said where do we stand in Canada’s HRM? How do we deal this problem where the justice system appears to be high jacked and run as the domain of the privileged whites who assume that they have provided the mechanisms that achieve racial justice for all?
F. Stanley Boyd
Freelance journalist

john said...

I have gone through his new book that is The Latino Challenge to Black America.The conversation betwween the African- Americans and Hispanics was good. I am waiting for the Middle passage press and hispanic economics new york in english.


Louisiana Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Anonymous said...

tibia money tibia gold tibia item runescape accounts buy runescape accounts runescape money runescape gold runescape gp runescape power leveling runescape powerleveling cheap rs2 powerleveling runescape equipment buy rs equipment runescape runes cheap rs2 runes runescape logs cheap rs2 logs runescape items buy runescape items runescape quest point rs2 quest point cheap runescape questpoint runescape gold runescape items runescape power leveling runescape money runescape gold buy runescape gold buy runescape money runescape items runescape accounts runescape gp runescape accounts runescape money runescape power leveling runescape powerleveling tibia gold dofus kamas buy dofus kamas wow power leveling wow powerleveling runescape questpoint rs2 questpoint Warcraft PowerLeveling Warcraft Power Leveling World of Warcraft PowerLeveling World of Warcraft Power Leveling Hellgate money Hellgate gold buy runescape logs buy rs2 items cheap runescape items Hellgate London gold Guild Wars Gold buy Guild Wars Gold runescape items rs2 accounts cheap rs2 equipments lotro gold buy lotro gold buy runescape money buy runescape gold buy runescape runes lotro gold buy lotro gold runescape money runescape gold cheap rs2 powerleveling eve isk eve online isk buy runescape power leveling rs2 power leveling tibia gold tibia item runescape accounts Fiesta Silver Fiesta Gold SilkRoad Gold buy SilkRoad Gold Scions of Fate Gold Hellgate Palladium Hellgate London Palladium SOF Gold Age Of Conan Gold AOC Gold ArchLord gold tibia money tibia gold runescape accounts runescape gold cheap rs2 powerleveling buy ArchLord gold DDO Plat Dungeons and Dragons Online Plat