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'Jena Six' Outcry Spreads to Capitol Hill - Part II


We're going to turn now to Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Democrat of Michigan and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Congresswoman, welcome. Thanks so much for speaking with us.


Representative CAROLYN CHEEKS KILPATRICK (Democrat, Michigan; Chair, Congressional Black Caucus): Thank you.

MARTIN: What exactly can the Congressional Black Caucus or any member of Congress do in this case? Is the Judiciary Committee, which is headed by a CBC member…

Rep. KILPATRICK: (unintelligible)…

MARTIN: …going to hold to hearings?

Rep. KILPATRICK: …what is happening with the Jena Six, a schoolhouse brawl, black kids charged, white kids not. One gentleman tried as an adult at 16. Appeals court has thrown that case out. He still languishes in jail - 10 months. He should be let go. The judge, who is the judge in the adult court and the juvenile court, ruled less than 24 hours after many people came to Jena to say let's have justice, equal justice here. It's a travesty of justice. We were with the parents here yesterday, as well as judiciary chairmen and other members of Congress, seeing exactly what we can do. There is a dossier of mishandling of this case in general, racism, of injustice throughout this process before the trial, after the trial, and, yes, even after the demonstrations last week.


MARTIN: I'm sorry, Congresswoman, but what exactly…

Rep. KILPATRICK: There are concerns about the young man who was incarcerated - his safety, his livelihood. And we want the appeals court to rule, and the attorneys are ruling on that. We in Congress are looking to the Justice Department. We're also talking to the governor. We want the governor to step in, put the young man on house arrest, remove him from a 10-month confinement that's unjust from the beginning. His constitutional rights have been violated.

And we, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus - 43 members from 21 states, representing over 40 million Americans - believe that a total injustice has been happening. And we must bring it to conclusion by, first, bringing the young man home and then working within the judicial system to make sure that we don't have Jenas all over that we must confront from time to time.

MARTIN: Is the Judiciary Committee, which is headed by a CBC member, planning hearings? Have you formally requested the Justice Department review?

Rep. KILPATRICK: (unintelligible) having hearings. We're also making comment as well as building a file that we might take to the Justice Department. We're also taking to the FBI and others to look into this - what's happening here in Jena. It's unfortunate. And rather than working with the people of America who demonstrated, not just in Jena, quietly, peacefully, but all over this country last Thursday, this judge has taken a reactionary position. And we're told by the parents that their son's life is in jeopardy. God forbid, something happened to that young man. So we're working on the inside here in Congress through the judiciary chairman, John Conyers, and the procedures that we have available to us, building the case.

But first, let the young man out. He's being held unconstitutionally - no charge, no bail - been there 10 months for a schoolhouse brawl. Black kids charged, white kids not. Bell was attacked two days before that incident.

There's so much going on in this case, and the whole incendiary nature of it and framing it at white supremacist, that's unfortunate, but it's reality in America. The way to bring this to conclusion is first, free Mychal Bell today, and we call on the governor to do that today. Bring him home and supervise whatever capacity she has. She has some options that we want her to act, as we work through the Judiciary Committee, through the Justice Department and through the people of America.

MARTIN: Reed Walters is the district attorney of La Salle Parish, who prosecuted Mychal Bell and brought charges against the other five students, and he has an op-ed in the New York Times this morning where he says that he feels that this case is just very much misunderstood. He said there was no hate crime statue under which he could charge the students who placed the nooses in the tree. And he also says that he feels that protesters are understating the seriousness of the assault on Justin Barker. And I just like to know what you…

Rep. KILPATRICK: Let me just comment on what has happened. The children, which most of them are 16 at that time and some 17, were overcharged initially. it should have been handled by the school. You just mentioned the district attorney, who's also the counsel for the school board, who's also friends to the judge - one judge, one prosecutor in that small town, in charge of the whole process.

It's demeaning, it's unfortunate, and it's criminal what's happening in the Jena Six case. And for him to write anything about over - you know, what the people did - the people of America and young people, they're not going to stand for this. We want justice in our country. We fought too long for this to be equals, for justice for everyone. We open up the House of Representatives with the pledge of allegiance every day. It ends with liberty and justice for all, and that's all of the people of America. Not a small town can take that and trample over someone's constitutional rights. It's outrageous, and we won't stand for it.

MARTIN: If I may, Congresswoman, we have just about a minute left. You're starting the 37th Annual Legislative Conference today, the Congressional Black Caucus is doing. So it's quite a tradition here in Washington. Is this case a prominent part of your discussions this weekend?

Rep. KILPATRICK: Very much a part of the (unintelligible), very much. We'll be - have forums and workshops all week long, mobilizing and talking to people and getting the facts and information. It's not a hard, complicated case to understand, and Congressman John Conyers will be hosting a forum, and we'll be hearing from some of the parents as well as some of the other legal experts who (unintelligible) some of the options will be.

MARTIN: All right.

Rep. KILPATRICK: So, you know, we invite you to join us in Washington, D.C., at the Washington Convention Center from Wednesday to Saturday, the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative weekend.

MARTIN: All right. Thank you so much. Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, a Democrat of Michigan, is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. The caucus's 37th Annual Legislative Conference starts today. She joins us by phone from her office, and we thank her again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.