Friday, October 12, 2007

Business as Usual

Mychal Bell has been sentenced and returned to custody on charges stemming from offenses that occurred prior to the Justin Barker matter:

NEW ORLEANS -- A black teenager whose prosecution in the beating of a white classmate drew thousands to Louisiana for a civil rights demonstration is back in jail, but a prosecutor said Friday the sentence has nothing to do with the racially charged case.

Mychal Bell, 17, was unexpectedly sent back to prison on Thursday after going to juvenile court in central Louisiana's LaSalle Parish for what he expected to be a routine hearing, Carol Powell Lexing, one of his attorneys said.

Instead, state District Judge J.P. Mauffrey Jr. decided Bell had violated probation and sentenced him to 18 months in jail on two counts of simple battery and two counts of criminal destruction of property, Lexing said.

Some of you know that I used to be a probation officer. Long ago. It was a period of short duration, but I was there long enough to understand and become sickened by the racist workings of the criminal injustice system--and that is in California, where whites settle themselves comfortably into a wide-eyed "Who, us? We're not racists!" attitude and even get a little huffy when you try to explain that even if a white person intends no racism, there may be a little stain lurking, and that the white person certainly is privileged in this land of ours. I served in both the adult and juvenile courts.

With that background knowledge, I can tell you a couple of things about what is happening with Mychal Bell, even not knowing him or the particulars of his case:
1. "simple battery" could be as insignificant as a shoving match
2. apply the same reasoning to "criminal destruction of property"
3. 18 months seems an excessive sentence
4. what is absolutely criminal is that no one seems to have explained what is going on to his parents:

“He’s locked up again,” Marcus Jones said of his 17-year-old son. “No bail has been set or nothing. He’s a young man who’s been thrown in jail again and again, and he just has to take it.”

There's no bail once a defendant has been sentenced; bail is only an alternative to remaining in custody before the trial and final disposition of a criminal offense.

It's not clear from this whether Bell is in jail or whether he is housed at a juvenile detention center. For his sake, I hope the latter.

I don't know the nature of the original offense that resulted in Mychal Bell receiving probation. I don't know the nature of the probation violations. There are some people who are simply always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he may be one of those. It's almost impossible to obtain the facts, as juvenile court records are not available to the public.

I do very much suspect that the D.A. and judge are highly motivated to place Mychal Bell in custody, and this may have been the perfect opportunity. The protesters have all gone home. Even bloggers who once called for justice for the Jena 6 are now re-thinking their earlier stance and repenting of their fervor. (Not me. I adhere to the "Enough is enough" doctrine. IT DOES NOT MATTER WHETHER THESE YOUNG MEN WERE ANGELS OR NOT. WHAT MATTERS IS THE DISPROPORTIONATE SENTENCING BETWEEN WHITE AND BLACK DEFENDANTS IN THIS COUNTRY.)

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