Thursday, September 20, 2007

Civil Rights Leaders Failed Jena 6 Defendant Mychal Bell
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

One very conspicuous person missing from the cast of thousands in Jena was Mychal Bell. The seventeen year old more than any other of the Jena 6 teens fueled the furor over the case. Bell has languished in jail since last December. He’s stayed there in part because of the heavy duty charges against him. The DA claims that several other scrapes with the law helped keep him there. But he’s there in bigger part because his family couldn’t raise the portion of the $90,000 bond the courts slapped on Bell. For a working class, black family, in a low wage small Southern town, this seems like a King’s ransom. But as bail goes in felony conviction cases, this is not exorbitant. So why didn’t civil rights leaders, the black celebrities, and the marchers that made Bell a cause celebre and eagerly mugged for the TV cameras pony up the cash to get him out?

The painful answer to that is that civil rights leaders let Bell down. They filled the air with harsh rhetoric about a new civil rights movement, hawked and wore black T-shirts with slogans like "Enough is enough" and "Free the Jena 6," and saber rattled the DA with talk about hauling him before a Congressional committee. Instead, they should have filled baskets with checks to spring Bell. British rocker/actor David Bowie pointed to this shameful failure when he did more than shout and fist wave. He put up $10,000 for the Jena Defense legal Fund. Any one of the legion of high profile, millionaire black entertainers and athletes that routinely shell out big bucks for dinners, soirees, and celebrity bashes could have easily written a check for $10, 000. But the Jena 6 cause is not a social event or a respected and safe charity. These are the kind of feel-good, safe and respectable conscience salvers that athletes and entertainers are comfortable giving too. The Jena 6 case is edgy, controversial, and squarely finger points the deep and troubling racial bias in the criminal justice system, it also makes some squirm at the uncomfortable thought of siding with black male teens. They have been relentlessly tagged as crime prone and deviant.

The reluctance of the black endowed to fork over Bell’s bail makes makes some sense given what they typically give too. The parsimony of the civil rights groups and leaders, as well as the chanting marchers, doesn’t make sense. But this is hardly the first time civil rights leaders and activists have been knocked for not putting their money where their protest is. During the heyday of the 1960s civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., logged more hours begging, cajoling, and pleading with wealthy white Hollywood celebs, foundation heads, and corporate executives to bankroll SCLC than in the streets. Without their backing SCLC would have been out of business.

The NAACP found itself on the financial rocks in the 1980s when the nickels and dimes that it relied on for decades from working class blacks dried up. To keep the doors open, it had to hustle dollars from major corporations through pricey dinners and banquets. The organization in turn was rapped by black activists for retreating from cutting edge social activism. Yet, if their corporate benefactors hadn’t filled the NAACP’s coffers it would have sunk.

The reluctance and refusal of activists that shouted until they were hoarse for “freedom for the Jena 6” to back up the call with cash for Bell is only part of the reason why Bell sat in a jail cell during the march. There’s the deep suspicion that funds raised for a political cause often get lost on the way to helping the cause. That’s a charitable way of saying that more than once large sums have been raised for a cause, and the cause turned out to be a fatter bank account for those who hustled the money. The Jena 6 case is no exception. One well-known national civil rights organization touched off howls of protests when it announced on its website that it was raising money for the teen’s legal defense. The problem was that it asked that the money be sent to it. It backpedaled fast after the outcry and quickly announced that the funds should go directly to the address of the Jena 6 Legal Fund in Louisiana.

The disgust at the injustice within the injustice of Bell still having to scratch and claw for bond money even as thousands screamed for his release prompted several civil rights groups in Los Angeles to immediately write checks for his release and his legal expenses. They didn’t stop there. They challenged the national civil rights organizations and leaders to match their donations. Their challenge was more than a grab for money for Bell. It sent a message that shouting about injustice rings hollow if it’s not matched by a willingness to make a financial sacrifice to combat that injustice.

The Reverend Al Sharpton said that he was practically moved to tears at the sight of Bell in shackles and a prison jump suit. It’s not tears that will get him out of that suit, it’s dollars. The shame is that many of those who demand his freedom didn’t put up a nickel to see that he got it.

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.


Anonymous said...

One simple little comment. How did you verify the facts that you are reporting. Bell was finally raised for this young man, however the DA and the Judge refuse to release him. Even after the charges wer over turned. The DA & the JUDGE refused to show up for a hearing to set bail in the new charges that they plan to file. Yesterday, the Appeals court order the JUDGE to set a hearing for bail within 72 hours, which they had on intention on doing. They believe that they have the right to keep this boy in jail indefinitely no matter WHAT!

Shirt and Tie said...

Well said Earl!. I could not have said better. I do believe in innocent until proven guilty, but it seems that even powerful Black civil right activists and their supporters do not want this teen on the street. I don't know the hard facts about the case, but it seems if the Jena 6 defendants kicked and stomped somebody, the case is pretty cut and dry. I'll have to read up more on the charges. What's the civil rights issue...that he is teen and stomped the victim? Or, he is a teen and did not stomp him enough, in the eyes of civil rights activists, to go to jail? Seems like this young guy is going to spend some time incarcerated. Just being honest. The moral of the story to parents...train your kids.

Anonymous said...

Excellent Post here:

Alfreda Moore said...

This is soo typical of people who do not have ALL of the facts. And it is VERY divisive. I am a family member of 3 of they young men. The FACTS are
1) Bail has been raised...the DA & JUDGE refuse to release him on bail even after the charges had been dropped. Even refused to set a hearing for bail. YESTERDAY DURING THE PROTEST the appeals court called and demanded that a hearing be set within 72 hous.
PLEASE RESEARCH the previous charges against this boy.
2) the Charghes levied against the children are EXCESSIVE. They should not be put in prison for 20+ years for a fight.
3) Leading up to this incident there was a black child beaten up by a group of white kids. NO CHARGES were filed.
4) A white boy pulled a gun on a group of black boys who wrestled the gun away and when the police arrived the boy holding the gun (black) was charged with theft. The white boy NO CHARGES.
5)THE protest was about JUSTICE/EQUAL adminsitration of the law for all. NO one said that these boys were innocent. But a year in jail is enough for the crime committed.

I am so SICK & TIRED of black people jumping on the opposite side of every issue that is important to us just for what seems to me to be "the sake of controversy". Say what you want about AL SHARPTON and the other. THEY WERE THERE TO SUPPORT SOMETHING....WHERE WERE YOU?!?!?

Bronze Trinity said...

Rightfully said Ms. Moore. I am also sick of the exact same thing. I am noticing a lot of anti-activism sentiment around that basically boils down to "If you can't be sure you have the perfect solution then don't do anything at all" and "You shouldn't be upset about this unless you are also upset about situation B, C, and D". Its just a call to not act and to accept the status quo. I also think that some people just like to point out what they think other people are doing wrong instead of what they are doing right. That kind of stance really weighs hard on the shoulders of activists. Thats why they burn out because there is always someone saying what they are doing is wrong. Then they stop being activists and stop fighting for change. But thats exactly what some people want though.

I agree Ms. Moore, if you could have done it better then why didn't you help everyone else. Its easy to say someone failed after they put in the effort to try. But could you have been as effective with whatever solution you didn't offer to help?

Anonymous said...

BRAVO to Moore and Trinity, they stole my thunder.
Before I could get this out, they expressed my concerns.
My comments would have been simply this......

WHY WEREN'T YOU THERE TO PASS THE HAT AROUND?? To start the ball to rolling with your ten dollars and ten cents??
IF you had been there, then you would have a justified diatribe.
You are always against everything but you never let your presence be known at these rallies and fact-finding exercises. You just criticise from your lofty perch.

Joseph LeSieur said...

Brother, You See! So many people are unknowledge-able about the Mychal Bell case. If you are a true journalist, you must check your facts, do the research, maybe you should COME to Jena. Go to the Courthouse. Interview the principle people in the courthouse. The D.A., the Judge, the Sheriff and THE WHITE MAN that's running things in Jena. Mychal Never Could Be Bonded! Don't believe me though, check it out for yourself. Or do you have the time. Better still, dig the up all the truth. This wasn't ever going to quietly go away. The controllers, in this place, were waiting for the opportunity to rid themselves of the misery caused by the boys. [Jena's Six] They were star players on the football team. Every student was dealing with the fact that these boys were the tops at Jena High, and every girl knew it! White & Black. That's where the story begins and ends.

So, when you mention the bail money, you don't know what you're talking about. These tricky folks, first tried Mychal as an adult, and held him with a probation hold, so that he couldn't bail. If money could get Mychal Bell out, he would have been out. The judge said his release could be a danger to the community.It Mychal Bell were released, the judge is saying, something could happen to him, and then we would have a sho'nuff problem them. So, then the system is doing Mychal a favor? Is, there holding him in that cell keeping him alive. This Bush Country. President George W. Bush should come to Jena and tell his friends to STAND DOWN!

You should consider also, the purposeful destrutive elements perpertrated by the ACLU, Friends of Justice, Color of Change, Jordan Flaherty & Left Turn. They participated in the ply-ing of the parents with all sorts of base controls. Now that the parents are almosst exhausted, to the point of no return, the attacks on the mental persons, continues by the extremist groups, threatening at the behest of God knows who; only to manipulate them further in to plantation paternalistic control.

Anonymous said...

To ALFREDA MOORE - To make a point on just one of your "issues" about the white boy pulling a gun on a group of black boys...a (singular; meaning one) white boy pulling a gun on a group (plural; meaning more than one) of black boys

Do you think maybe he was afraid being one against a group? Think about what you say.

To EARL - Good Point as all of your points I have read seem to be.

To OTHERS complaining about the "facts" - From what I have read from the many different websites, pro and con Jena 6, the facts of the case have been confused and distorted and made to fit the particular writes/speakers personal agenda. I have read so many different wrongs done against the Jena 6 but what about the wrongs against the one boy attacked by a group of boys. 6 on 1??? what kind of fight is that? Leave the race out...that is not a fair fight. When 6 seek out 1 boy and jump on him that is pre-meditated; and with 6 on 1 that is excessive force...what was the intent of those 6 young men? to beat him up, to teach him a lesson, to kill him? Why didn't they just report the nooses to the authorities and let them handle it instead of ganging up on one boy. What if the tables were turned and the 1 boy jumped on was black and the "Jena 6" were white...then it would be a racist hate how is there any justice at all for the 1 boy attacked? The DA is just doing his job.

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