Last month Mychal Bell graduated from Southern University in Baton Rouge with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. He was a member of the Southern University football team.
In 2006, Bell was charged with attempted murder after the beating of a White high school student in Jena, Louisiana, following weeks of racial tension in the predominantly White town. Three nooses had been hung in a tree outside the high school in the days before the incident took place.
Five other African American teenagers were charged with lesser offenses in the attack and pleaded no contest. The so-called “Jena Six” received a great deal of media attention and were the subject of mass protests. Many in the community believed the charges were excessive and racially motivated. The protestors noted that White students in Jena who had been involved in fighting incidents with Black youth had not been charged with similar offenses.
At trial, the charges against Bell were reduced to aggravated battery and conspiracy. He was convicted by an all-white jury. Bell’s conviction was later overturned as a judge ruled he should have been tried as a juvenile. Bell subsequently pleased guilty to a lesser charge of simple battery. Two years later, it was widely reported that he attempted suicide.