Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Jena 6 DA cops a plea

In a New York Times Op-Ed piece, Reed Walters, the Jean 6 DA, writes a justification for all of his actions in a sensitive tone in an attempt to appear reasonable, and I assume, not racist. Let us begin.

Reed Walters' Poison Pen


Before I get into what he wrote in the Times, lets talk about some things he said that aren't disputed. Walter read stood in front of some students in an assembly at school and told them “With one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear.” Many black students felt that remark was directed at them and reported that he was looking directly at them when he said it. However, regardless of which group of students his comment was directed at, he was still talking to HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS!!!! Before there was an incident worthy of national attention, he behaved in a way that is equal parts unprofessional and irresponsible. Furthermore, I believe his behavior played a role in escalating tensions surrounding the noose incident. I've heard the pen is mightier than the sword, but I'm saying though-this is incomprehensible.

In his Op Ed piece, Reed Walters wrote:

I do not question the sincerity or motivation of the 10,000 or more protesters who descended on Jena last week, after riding hundreds of miles on buses. But long before reaching our town of 3,000 people, they had decided that a miscarriage of justice was taking place here. Their anger at me was summed up by a woman who said, “If you can figure out how to make a schoolyard fight into an attempted murder charge, I’m sure you can figure out how to make stringing nooses into a hate crime.”
That could be a compelling statement to someone trying to motivate listeners on a radio show, but as I am a lawyer obligated to enforce the laws of my state, it does not work for me.
He chose to argue against what even he admits was talk radio logic. Although I understand that hanging a noose isn’t a crime, I must admit that I dont understand why it isn't, since it's basically a terroristic threat and America's answer to the Swastika. But again, I can't fault a man for not charging students with something that isn't in the book (isn't it funny how instituional racism works?). However, for most of us, the outrage in the Black community is not about equating the hanging of nooses with beating someone unconscious. The outrage is about the inappropriate zeal with which Reed Walters has approached this case and how most of us view this in the context of a criminal justice system, which has consistantly offered harsher penalties whenever possible for African Americans (theres that pesky institutionalised racism again). This view is well documented as fact, but scant attention is paid to acknowledging its existence, much less redressing it. The outrage in this matter is about redressing it, in this particular case, and in the criminal justice system in general.

Dangerous Sneakers
According to Louisiana Penal Code aggravated second degree battery charges specifically includes the use of a dangerous weapon.
I have read that the dangerous weapon he is alleging was used in this case was the student’s sneakers?!?! I guess that’s not a racist application of a law and its perfectly logical for us to assume that sneakers are deadly weapons when they are attached to these students’ black feet. I don’t have the data about how he has treated other cases, but I would be curious to know how many pairs of sneakers have been labeled dangerous weapons on white feet, hell, on any other feet. Sneakers are not deadly weapons no matter how you slice it, to charge the students in this way is immoral and inappropriate. If Reed Walters thinks overcharging to an admittedly lesser offense than Attempted Murder is appropriate, we can all see where his notions about fairness and justice will lead.

Schoolyard Fight?!?!
Last week, a reporter asked me whether, if I had it to do over, I would do anything differently. I didn’t think of it at the time, but the answer is yes. I would have done a better job of explaining that the offenses of Dec. 4, 2006, did not stem from a “schoolyard fight” as it has been commonly described in the news media and by critics.
Reed Walters' grand omission here is that he charged some teenagers who jumped another student, with second degree attempted murder. That he shows no contrition for such an excessive charge speaks volumes. Schoolyard fight, or bar room brawl, Second degree attempted murder charges for a fight are excessive.

Still I march on to the notion of whether the term 'school yard fight' is appropriate. It was a fight and it happened in a school yard, so that part is accurate. However, I think the true test in this is to think about how you would feel if your child had been beaten by several students and was unconscious, bloody and taken to a hospital in an ambulance. I would not characterize that as a schoolyard fight, so Reed Walters and I do agree on something.

Freedom or Justice?
As I have said to many a friend in response to the ridiculous hip hop ‘campaigns’ to free x rapper, or x rapper's weed carrier; calls for freedom are reserved for people who are falsely accused/imprisoned. While I think the Jena 6 have been overcharged, I haven't heard anyone claim that they have been falsely accused. What I want for the Jena 6 is justice. Freedom may be justice for all or some of them in this case, or it may not be, depending on the circumstances. The fact that the kids were over charged initially, and are still being overcharged, imo, does not mean they all ought to exonerated unconditionally. I am not certain about everything that happened, but, we do know that Justin Barker was beaten unconscious and lets assume that some or all of the students known as the Jena 6 were responsible. This incident is not something I would characterize as a schoolyard fight. When a kid is beaten unconscious and taken to the hospital in an ambulance, that is a serious matter. Yes, even if he was well enough to go to an event later that night, its still serious. I certainly would be taking it very seriously if a group of kids knocked my child unconscious. So lets establish that.

That the police were involved in a situation like this does not seem unusual or happening solely because the students were black. A kid gets beaten unconscious on school grounds, and has to leave in an ambulance, and several kids allegedly beat him, yes I would think anywhere in America, school administrators would call the police. So I think we have a situation where kids have taken some actions which have lead them into the arms of the criminal justice system and are now facing charges.

What kind of charges ought they face, if any, and what kind of sentence ought to be meted out if they are found guilty? I'd say they ought to get the same kind of justice that upper class white teens get when they do things they aren't supposed to do. I think thats a fair. way to go about evaluating the fairness in any case.I also think that our community needs to be more critical and strategic about when and how we respond to instances of alleged injustice. There are so many more egregious examples of injustice that are deserving of our outrage, that if we were on our jobs as community, I'm not sure we would have had time to focus on Jena so loudly. In fact, if we were really on our jobs, there might not have been a Jena 6 in the first place.




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