"Oh, dear," you could almost hear many of his supporters mumble. "That's really a shame."
But there was little outrage in the response.
See, for more than a few, this new arrest put a different spin on Mychal's railroading and the infamous schoolyard brawl.
"Gosh," they seemed to sigh. "He's been in trouble before. Maybe..." and their voices trail off.
I was busy myself and didn't have time to check into the situation at that moment, but I know better than to assume the new arrest meant much except that the Prosecutor (remember him?) and the Judge (remember him?) were really pissed off when Rev. Al Sharpton et al met with the Governor and got Mychal released a couple of weeks ago. Still, I felt a little forlorn and wondered how I would approach what needed to be written about this. Until Friday, that is.
On Friday, eight guards and a nurse were acquitted in Panama City, Florida, of manslaughter or any other charges in the death of Martin Lee Anderson, a fourteen-year-old African-American kid with no previous criminal record who had been sent to a juvenile "boot camp" after his conviction for the heinous crime of "stealing" his grandmother's car and going on school property while he was suspended. On the day he arrived at the "camp," Anderson was forced to run laps until he collapsed. Then, the eight guards were filmed punching him, kicking him, dragging him around the yard, covering his mouth with their hands and forcing him to inhale ammonia capsules up his nose until he suffocated. During the trial, they testified that these were all approved procedures used to deal with youth who "feigned" illness. And the whole process was perpetrated under the watchful eye of a nurse, who apparently got her training at Dachau.
The all-White jury in the home town of the guards only needed ninety minutes to determine that no crime at all had been committed by these grown men who from where I sit killed a fourteen-year-old boy without a backward look. The physician who originally ruled that Anderson died because of a latent Sickle Cell trait (in spite of the film) and whose determination was ultimately over-ridden by that of a real doctor, went out to celebrate with the guards after the verdict was read.
Special Investigator Mark Ober from Tampa was quoted as saying that he was "disappointed," but that, because the "boot camp" was subsequently closed and "reforms" were implemented in the juvenile justice system, "Martin Lee Anderson did not die in vain." I would suggest to Mr. Ober that Martin did not die in vain; he died in FACT. And therein, as I am wont to say, lies the rub.
Mychal Bell's previous convictions covered four charges. The first two were simple battery ("non-concensual, insulting or harmful contact, regardless of harm done," most often prosecuted as a misdemeanor). I've seen simple battery charges result from as little as a push or tripping another kid as a joke. The other two charges had to do with destruction of property, which I've seen result from as little as kicking a door on the way out of a classroom or breaking a pencil that belongs to someone else. I'm not saying that Bell's charges were that minor, but they could have been and it would have read the same way. And as far as his "violation of probation" is concerned, my guess is that it's not difficult for an African-American boy in Jena, Louisiana, to wind up on probation for doing little more than having skin. And once they're on probation, it's a short trip to the big house, as Mychal Bell has already seen -- twice.
Coming from the man who wrote a commentary for the New York Times claiming that only Jesus kept the rabid Black people from tearing Jena apart, Prosecutor Reed Walters' claim that this newest legal assault on Bell, resulting in a sentence of eighteen months in addition to the nine he's already done for no reason, is "unrelated" to the earlier issue is ludicrous.
So what we have here is two cases. In one, eight trained professionals caused a fourteen-year-old boy to suffocate and they didn't even get a spanking. While in the other, a seventeen-year-old boy whose life has been threatened by everybody from the Prosecutor on down over the past year and who was -- according to the courts -- unjustly incarcerated for nine months in an adult jail already this year is doing eighteen more months for simple battery and destruction of something as yet unnamed. In the first case, the boy who died was Black. In the second case, the boy who was convicted was Black.
Do. You. Get. It?