The NAACP has declared a “state of emergency” in the criminal justice system’s brutal mistreatment of Black youth across the nation. The declaration cites the zealous over-prosecution of the Jena Six teenagers in Louisiana, the killing by guards of Martin Lee Anderson, 14, at a Florida boot camp last year and the Oct. 4 beating and pepper-spraying of Shelwanda Riley, 15, for curfew violation in Fort Pierce, Fla.

“The NAACP denounces overly aggressive handling of Black youth by law enforcement entities, a blatant disregard toward investigating hate crimes and racially discriminatory utilization of prosecutorial discretion,” Dennis Courtland Hayes, the NAACP’s interim president and CEO, said in a statement Oct. 23. “Violence and intimidation of our young people is not acceptable; it’s against the law and must end now.”

Hayes declared the emergency on the eve of a Nov. 7 hearing for four of the Jena Six teenagers at the LaSalle Parish Courthouse in Jena, La. They are Theodore Shaw, Robert Bailey, Bryan Purvis and Mychal Bell. All were charged with “aggravated battery” for a fistfight that erupted after a Black youth sat under a so-called “white tree” on their high school lawn. The next day, three lynch nooses were hanging from the tree, widely considered a hate crime but dismissed by the school superintendent as a “prank.”

Judge J.P. Mauffray, who has presided over the Jena Six case from the beginning, revoked Bell’s $90,000 bail and threw him back in jail last month for a parole violation related to a previous conviction. An appeals court had overturned Bell’s more recent conviction, saying he was improperly tried as an adult. The prosecutor, Reed Walters, promised he would not retry Bell as a juvenile. The judge’s latest action was denounced by many as an act of revenge in response to the huge outpouring of support for the six youths.

Along with other groups, the Louisiana NAACP and NAACP chapters throughout the South filled hundreds of buses that brought an estimated 50,000 protesters to Jena Sept. 20 demanding “Justice for the Jena Six.”

Alan Bean, director of Dallas-based Friends of Justice, said he will be in the LaSalle Parish courtroom for the Nov. 7 hearing. “These youths are in jeopardy. They are facing a very hostile court,” Bean said. He decried the media focus on the back-and-forth between the white and African American students at the school. “We need to focus on the complicity of the adults, their completely inept handling of the noose-hanging incident,” he said. “Their treating it as a prank set up a very poisonous atmosphere. We need to take the emphasis off the kids and put the spotlight on Reed Walters and the other adults who have been driving this from the beginning.”

The National Lawyers Guild has called for disbarring Walters and Judge Mauffray for flagrant abuse of their offices and trampling on the constitutional rights of the Jena Six.

The NAACP declaration calls for “immediate action by local and state authorities as well as the U.S. Justice Department” to halt the mistreatment symbolized by the beating death of Anderson, the assault on Riley, the Jena Six “and countless other recent dehumanizing attacks” on African American youth by law enforcement officers.

The Florida NAACP staged a march in Tallahassee Oct. 23 demanding justice for young Anderson, who died while in custody at the Bay County Boot Camp last year. “To add insult to injury,” the statement says, “on Oct. 12, an all-white jury acquitted deputies and a nurse who participated in the videotaped violent abuse of Anderson that resulted in his death hours later.”

Other incidents cited by the NAACP include the following:

• In Inglewood, Calif., a July 2006 videotape showed police officers slamming Donovan Jackson-Chavis to the ground, tossing him in the air, bouncing him on the hood of a squad car and choking him for failing to drop a bag of potato chips.

• In Cincinnati, April 7, 2001, Timothy Thomas was fatally shot by a cop during a foot chase. He was unarmed and was holding up his pants as he ran. He was wanted on traffic violations. The officer was cleared in the shooting.

• In July 2003, Marcus Dixon, a straight-A student with a scholarship to Vanderbilt University, was charged with rape and held in prison for over a year for engaging in consensual sex with a white classmate. His 10-year conviction was overturned once jurors learned that the Georgia prosecutor withheld evidence from them.

A report titled “And Justice For Some,” using U.S. Justice Department data, reveals that while minority youth are one-third the adolescent population, they constitute two-thirds of the more than 100,000 young people confined in local and state detention facilities.

“When white youth and minority youth were charged with the same offenses, African American youth … were six times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth with the same background,” the NAACP declaration charges.