Butterfly Cauldron

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Some things go too far

This story about Mychal Bell, one of the Jena Six, just makes me sad.

Regardless of how you feel about Bell's involvement in the original incident, the man tried to kill himself. According to the news report, he'd been getting his life back on track. He'd been studying, working out even though he could not play high school ball because he still hoped to be able to play college ball next year. Moving him to Monroe and placing him in foster care seems to have been good for him. And yet, he developed a depression deep enough to make him feel like his life was not worth living.

Now, maybe he was trying to shoplift. So what? Yes, it's wrong. Yes, it's a crime. And yes, if he's guilty, there needs to be punishment. But the fact is, if he had not been involved in the Jena case, his name would never have been more than a single line in the local paper's police blotter. He'd probably end up having to pay a fine, do some probation. It wouldn't be the end of the world and it certainly wouldn't be the end of his football career.

How long will he be punished for the Jena incident? He pleaded to a lesser charge in that case, he did his time and was working to get his life back on track. So how long will it be before we let him move on? Bell was 16 when Jena happened. Everyone is stupid at 16. Some of us are more stupid than others, but we all do things that we shouldn't, things we look back on later and wonder how the hell we ever did. The fact is, no one died in the Jena case. No one was even seriously injured. (And if you're going to say that Barker was, just stop. If you're well enough to attend a party later the same day, you're not seriously injured. Bruised and hurting? Sure. I'll give ya that. But bruises and aches are not serious. I've gotten worse injuries fighting with my brother and he probably WAS trying to kill me.)

How long is this man going to have to pay for being a stupid 16-year-old? How long is he going to be followed by the media? (And believe me, he's being followed. No one is stalking him or anything, but you can be damned sure that ever few months some Editor goes to a reporter and says "Check on Mychal Bell. See what he's up to." Why? Because he made a stupid, dumb mistake that will haunt him for the rest of his life. And if all the reporter finds is that he's now attending college somewhere, the Editor will make them write a story starting with: "Mychal Bell, the only member of the Jena Six to stand trial and be convincted of attempted murder, enrolled at the University of Blahblahblah. . .")

When this man dies, hopefully many many years from now after a well-lived life, his involvement in the Jena Six will be mentioned in his obit. Despite the fact that he may end up being a world-class surgeon that saves lives, despite the fact that he may become a great civil rights leader, despite the fact that he may just become a decent mechanic, whatever the hell he does with his life, the Jena Six thing will haunt him forever.

Listen. The man did his time. He paid for his crime. He's clearly still dealing with the fallout from that. Let it go. Let him be. For gods sake, stop hounding the man until he feels his only option is death.

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posted by Zan at 8:18 AM


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