JENA, La. (AP) - Thousands of black-clad, chanting demonstrators gathered in the little Louisiana town for rallies and marches in support of six teenagers initially charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate.
They had been gathering since well before dawn and they broke into chants of ``Free the Jena Six'' when the Reverend Al Sharpton, an event organizer, walked into view at the local courthouse this morning with family members of the jailed teens.
Also on hand was Martin Luther King the Third, son of the slain civil rights leader. Like many of the participants, King said the scene was reminiscent of earlier civil rights struggles.
King at times sounded conciliatory, saying punishment of some sort may be in order for the defendants, but adding ``the justice system isn't applied the same to all crimes and all people.''
It was a similar scene a few blocks away where the NAACP staged a similar gathering at a local park.
Dennis Courtland Hayes, interim president and CEO of the NAACP's national headquarters, compared the outcry over the Jena Six to the controversy that followed racial remarks by radio shock-jock Don Imus.
The Jena Six were charged a few months after the local prosecutor declined to charge three white high school students who hung nooses in a tree on their high school grounds.
Five of the black teens were initially charged with attempted murder, but that charge was reduced to battery for all but one, who has yet to be arraigned; the sixth teen was charged as a juvenile.