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New Yorkers by the Thousand Join Jena Protest

September 20, 2007

New York, NY - Racial tensions have the nation watching the town of Jena, Louisiana, where as many as one thousand New Yorkers have traveled to join a protest. Last year, nooses -- a racially charged symbol -- were hung from a tree. This troubled black students in Jena, and was followed by a series of hostile actions and assaults. No arrests were made until the black students retaliated.

Among the New Yorkers joining the protest is Ted Shaw with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He says the case is important because it shows young black men are far more likely to face serious charges, even for minor transgressions.

"It's symptomatic of the much wider problem of the manner in which the criminal justice system treats young black men by chewing them up and destroying their lives."

The Louisiana Supreme Court has already determined that prosecutors went too far when they tried one of the black students as an adult. The student faces up to 22 years in prison, while the other black students await trial on attempted murder charges. The local prosecutor has not decided whether to appeal that decision.

Apostle Laborn Blaize with the Gifted Life Ministry in Harlem says members of his congregation wanted to go to Jena to protest what they see as injustice. He says if arrests are appropriate for fighting at school, then all the students who were fighting should be under arrest.

"You can't arrest just three individuals and punish them while allowing the other three students to go without punishment. If we're going have justice we must have justice for all."

Shaw notes that the white students involved in the incidents are already back in class. One of the reasons he is in Jena is to see that the expelled and jailed black students get back to class as well.

"It's my hope that these young man have the capacity to pick up their lives and continue to pursue their education; that they aren't diverted into a criminal justice system that is all too ready to chew them up. That's the important issue here."

Michael Clifford/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NY