WASHINGTON (AP) — Civil rights activist Al Sharpton says Congress should expand hate crime laws to deal more forcefully with noose-hanging incidents like the one in the Jena Six case in order to squelch what he called a sharp rise in racism. Sharpton, a New York-based reverend, was to testify Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee about the case of six black teenagers in the small Louisiana town of Jena charged with the beating of a white student. The incident happened after nooses were hung from a tree on a high school campus there — a symbol of the violence of the segregation era.
Since the Jena case began attracting national attention, there have been a number of other nooses found in high-profile incidents around the country — in a black Coast Guard cadet’s bag, on a Maryland college campus, and, last week, on the office door of a black professor at Columbia University in New York.
“Nooses, the ‘n’ word, a Klansman’s hood, and the burning cross are the clearest symbols of hate for black America,” Sharpton said in remarks prepared for delivery to the committee. Last week, one of the Jena Six, Mychal Bell, was sentenced to 18 months in jail after a judge determined he violated the terms of his probation for a previous conviction.
Racial tensions began rising in Jena in August 2006 after a black student sat under a tree known as a gathering spot for white students. Three white students later hung nooses from the tree. They were suspended but not prosecuted. More than 20,000 demonstrators gathered recently in Jena to protest what they perceive as differences in how black and white suspects are treated.