October 18, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 10
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Jena Six teen back in jail on probation violation

NEW ORLEANS — A judge decided the fight that thrust a Louisiana teenager into the center of a U.S. civil rights controversy violated his probation for a previous conviction and ordered the boy back to jail, the teen’s attorney said.

Mychal Bell, who along with five other black teenagers is accused of beating a white classmate, had gone to juvenile court in Jena, La., last Thursday expecting another routine hearing, said Carol Powell Lexing, one of his attorneys.

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

“We are definitely going to appeal this,” she said. “We’ll continue to fight.”

The charges against Bell and the five others led to widespread protests, including a 20,000-strong march on the small Louisiana town.

Bell had been hit with those charges before the Dec. 4 attack on classmate Justin Barker. Details on the previous charges, which were handled in juvenile court, were unclear.

“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.”

After the attack on Barker — which left him unconscious and bleeding — Bell and four of the defendants were charged as adults with attempted second-degree murder.

The charges against Bell, who was 16 at the time of the attack, were reduced and he was convicted of battery. An appeals court threw out the conviction, saying Bell should not have been tried as an adult.

Racial tensions began rising in August 2006 in Jena after a black student sat under a tree known as a gathering spot for white students. Three white students later hung nooses from the tree — an act that brought back memories of the lynchings in the Old South.

Bell’s parents were ordered to pay all court costs and witness costs.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Jones said. “I don’t know how we’re going to pay for any of this. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this.”

U.N. force to remain in Haiti

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Monday to extend the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti for a year, noting significant improvements in security in recent months but saying the situation remains fragile.

The U.N. force of more than 7,000 troops and 2,000 international police replaced a U.S.-led force deployed after an uprising toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

More than 400 died in clashes involving pro- and anti-Aristide street gangs, police, peacekeepers and ex-soldiers who helped oust Aristide.

Haiti experienced relative calm after President René Préval’s election in February 2006, but violence flared several months later. A U.N. crackdown on gangs launched late last year has led to a sharp reduction in shootings, but many people still live in squalor and are in desperate need of jobs, hospitals and schools.

In Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, some political leaders and residents of the country’s largest slum seemed to welcome the extension.

“Last year we couldn’t have sat here playing dominoes” because it was so dangerous, 27-year-old construction worker Jean-Baptiste Venel said in the seaside slum of Cité Soleil. “If the U.N. is here for another year, it’s a good thing for the country and Cité Soleil.”

Residents say that Cité Soleil — where people live in rows of bullet-scarred hovels with no electricity or running water — is currently safer than it has been since Aristide’s departure.

In its resolution, the Security Council acknowledged significant improvements in the country’s security situation, but noted it remains “fragile,” in part because of continuing drugs and arms trafficking.

The resolution urged the U.N. team and all humanitarian and development organizations in Haiti to complement security operations by undertaking activities to improve living conditions in the country.

Preliminary settlement reached in Fla. voting case

MIAMI — Elections supervisors in five Florida counties have agreed to a preliminary settlement as part of a federal court challenge to a state law that prohibits people from registering to vote in some cases.

Under the law, changes cannot be made to correct errors or omissions on voter registration applications once supervisors close their books 29 days before an election.

Thousands of people who submitted applications on or shortly before the deadline in the past have been denied the right to vote if, for instance, they failed to check off boxes asking if they are U.S. citizens, convicted felons or never have been adjudicated mentally incapacitated.

In the settlement reached last Oct. 5, supervisors in Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Duval and Palm Beach counties agreed to give people a grace period to correct their applications after the deadline if the law is struck down or changed. The agreement by the Miami-Dade supervisor, who is appointed rather than elected, was subject to approval by county commissioners.

The suit against the state is scheduled for a February trial in U.S. District Court here, but the settlement with the supervisors is an important first step, said Elizabeth Westfall, senior attorney for the Advancement Project, a Washington-based civil rights organization.

Plaintiffs in the case include the AFL-CIO and other unions.

The organization also is representing the NAACP and other groups in a separate case against the state pending in federal court in Tallahassee. That suit is challenging another election law, which prevents people from registering if the driver license or partial Social Security numbers on their voter forms fail to match those in state databases.

The plaintiffs allege the databases have numerous errors.

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