By Joel Hall
Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN), one of the nation's preeminent civil rights organizations, with local chapters around the country, recently opened a chapter in Clayton County.
The Clayton County Chapter of NAN was established late last month with its first meeting taking place on Feb. 9. Local members are hoping the organization will provide a vehicle with which to educate people of their rights, as well as a tool to battle police brutality, racial profiling, and unfairness in the justice system.
"With the complaints that we have been given through our office in Atlanta, we felt that we needed to open a branch in Clayton County," said Miran Belyue, interim president of the Clayton County chapter of NAN, which monitors Clayton, Henry and Fayette counties. "The community themselves wanted it."
Belyue said NAN's Atlanta office has received several complaints from concerned parents about the Clayton County school accreditation issue. He said he has also received "a wealth of complaints as far as police misconduct and unfairness in the justice system" in the Southern Crescent.
One case the local chapter of NAN is trying to appeal is the case of Bevon Williams, a former student at Fayette County High School.
On Nov. 1, 2007, Williams was involved in a gang-related fight with one other student in a bathroom during fourth period lunch. On Feb. 15, he was sentenced to two years at a youth development center.
According to sentencing documents, Williams was a "good student" with no previous criminal record. It adds that Williams became a member of the Crips [gang] after being intimidated by Crips members at a local skating ring.
The document further states that Williams "was fighting to regain his rank in the Crips gang after his flag [bandana] was ripped by a female student."
Belyue said that Williams was a "straight-A student" and believes his punishment was harsher than necessary.
"We never condone violence, but to be given two years for a school yard fight ... that's another example of the unequal justice being displayed around the country," said Belyue.
State Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro) was present during the chapter's installment last month and welcomed it to the county.
"I'm all for it ... I think it is an excellent idea," said Davenport. "We need all the civil rights and human rights organizations we can get in Clayton County.
"Reverend Sharpton is an international leader, really," Davenport continued. "He has shown that he has been out in front of the issues. I think he will really look at Clayton County as a whole."
"They are local people who have a voice," said Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell. "As long as they are helping find peaceful solutions to problems ... I am fine with that. As long as they do that, I am supportive of their right to be here."
Meetings for the Clayton County chapter of NAN are held on the second and fourth Saturdays at 1 p.m., at Mt. Nebo Cathedral South, located at 8818 Tara Blvd., in Jonesboro.