Thousands expected at protest rally

Despite the conviction of Mychal Bell being overturned, a rally is still planned for today that is expected bring up to 50,000 participants or more. The rally was originally scheduled around the Sept. 20 sentencing date for Bell.The conviction of Bell was overturned Sept. 14 after months of widespread criticism. The state appeals court tossed out the aggravated battery conviction that could have sent Bell to prison for 15 years. Bell was charged after the beating of a white classmate in Jena.

Bell was 16 at the time of the December beating, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles said that he should not have been tried as an adult on the battery charge.

Bell is one of six black Jena High School students charged in an attack on fellow student Justin Barker, and one of five originally charged as adults with attempted second-degree murder.

While teenagers can be tried as adults in Louisiana for some violent crimes, including attempted murder, aggravated battery is not one of those crimes. Defense lawyers had argued that the aggravated battery case should not have been tried in adult court once the attempted murder charge was reduced.

“The defendant was not tried on an offense which could have subjected him to the jurisdiction of the criminal court,” the three-paragraph ruling said.

The case “remains exclusively in juvenile court,” the Third Circuit ruled.

Shortly after the conviction was overturned, students from GSU voiced their pleasure over the ruling.

“I thought that it was wrong for what they did to them in the first place,” said Krystle Cravens, a sophomore nursing major. “I’m very excited. That’s good news. I was in support of the Jena Six.”

Deshon Beard, a freshman from Jena, was also happy.

“It will give him a chance to go to college and show his talents now,” Beard said. Bell was an all-state football player as a sophomore.

For others, the overturned conviction was symbolic.

“I felt that it’s victorious for African Americans all over the world,” said Andria Warren. “It also sends a message that you can’t do wrong and get away with it.”

Students from several area universities are to be in attendance at a peaceful rally scheduled today in Jena. Many Jena residents are not happy with the march, not because of racism, but because they feel the whole incident was blown out of proportion.

“This isn’t a racist town. It never has been. We didn’t even have fist fights when the schools were integrated,” said a white man who refused to give his name or comment further.

Some businesses in town planned to shut down during the demonstrations. Shirley Martin, whose daughter, Tina Norms, decided to close Cafe Martin on Wednesday, said she doubts it will open Thursday, even though the rally is expected to end by midmorning.

“That sounds fine. Maybe we can get our town back in order for us to work the next day,” she said.