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This Day & Age: Thousands March in Louisiana for the Jena 6

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The only one of the accused 6 to not post bail, Mychal Bell, is expected to receive his sentencing today in Jena, Louisiana.

Local officials tried to impede the traveling march from entering the small town of Jena (population: 2,971) by limiting 5 buses to enter the city limits per 12 minutes.

Most locals have fled the city, businesses have closed down.

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While the arrest stems from the fact that 6 black teens beat a white teammate unconscious -- a charge of attempted murder -- the controversy centers around the fact that these teens may receive excessive jail time; what many are worried will be a punishment that does not fit the crime given the racial context and circumstances surrounding the incident. A charge of attempted murder is easier to prescribe to these boys if past hate crimes are neglected. We're talking about up to 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors and city officials insist that this entire case has nothing to do with race. How can this be close to the truth when the white victim is believed to have been one of three football players at the high school who hung nooses from a schoolyard tree as a statement to others? Donald Washington, Western Louisiana D.A., insists that race was not an issue because 3 months had passed between the hanging of the nooses and the beating last December.

According to the mothers of the accused teens, there is no question that a cloud of racial tension hung in that locker room. In November, less than a month before the beating, a white teen who graduated from the same school pulled a shotgun on 3 black teens as they were leaving a convenience store -- after wrestling the gun away from the boy, one of them was charged for theft of a firearm for running away with it (were they supposed to hand it back to him?). The boy who pulled the shotgun on them got off clean; no charge. As you can see, Jena is a special town -- one living in a bubble...did the civil rights movement forget to make a stop here as it was passing through Louisiana?

In a town of less than 3,000 people, nooses hanging from trees are not something you forget after 3 months. It takes time to properly tie a noose. It takes time to drive to school with these nooses in the back of your truck. It takes time to walk up to a tree and hang them there. It isn't simply a racial slur muttered in a football locker room. It's a statement; a threat.

Oh, and what happened to that tree by the way? The paranoid townspeople chopped it down.

AP Photo

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