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By Adelle M. Banks and Katy Reckdahl
(RNS) Top leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church have joined protests of the prosecution of six black teenagers in Jena, La., who have been charged with the alleged beating of a white schoolmate.
“We in no way condone fighting … and would expect local school officials to equitably handle this per their administrative guidelines with suspension, etc.,” reads a letter signed by more than 150 bishops, general officers, pastors and members of the historically black denomination in a letter to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
“The handling of this incident is not only an injustice to the six young men but deja vu of days we thought have gone by–days when the lives of black persons were considered as chattel.”
The AME Church’s Council of Bishops voted in August to take action on the issue involving the “Jena Six,” said Jackie Dupont-Walker, social action officer for the 2.5-million member denomination. The various leaders signed petitions during a convocation Sept. 6-8 in Orlando, Fla.
Some also intend to join a protest in Jena on Sept. 20, the date one of the teenagers is scheduled to be sentenced.
The leaders also sent a letter to District Attorney J. Reed Walters of Jena.
“We are writing to ask you to remember your oath of office and pledge as an official sworn to insure justice in this land for all people,” they wrote.
Relatives of the six black teenagers charged in the alleged incident– and facing possible sentences of more than 22 years — spent the weekend of Sept. 8 in New Orleans, speaking at fundraisers, forums and local churches. The students and their families said the alleged attack on the white student was really a lunchtime fight that came after three months of race-related incidents. They said the tensions began last September after white students hung nooses on a tree in the yard of Jena High School and were given short suspensions.

Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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