House panel discusses Jena 6

Oct. 16, 2007 at 7:28 PM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Voices and emotions rose Tuesday during a U.S. House hearing on the Jena 6 and federal intervention in hate crimes and race-related violence.

Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., called the matter "very timely and important" because "this is about democracy now and how do we improve it."

Tensions have been percolating in Jena, La., for more than a year when a black student sat under a tree known as a gathering place for white students. Days later nooses were hung from the tree. White students who hung them were suspended but not prosecuted. Black students, the Jena 6, beat up a white student and initially were charged with attempted murder as adults, but those charges were vacated on appeal. One student has been jailed as an adult, then when his sentence was reversed, as a juvenile.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, asked Donald Washington, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, why he didn't consult with local district attorneys in this matter.

"I am ... literally outraged," Lee said.

Washington said he was offended, but "there are only certain things" a U.S. attorney can do regarding a state investigation.

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