Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Justice should be blind, but unfortunately, prosecutors are not

[Another Message from the Color of Change Team]

After nooses were hung from the "white tree" at Jena High School in September 2006, the adults in Jena could have taken actions to reduce tensions and help the community heal, but their actions only further aggravated tensions. Reed Walters was one of the main instigators. He came to the school and threatened Black students who protested peacefully under the "white tree."2 He used his prosecutorial discretion to refuse to pursue incidents of white-on-black violence that preceded the beating of Justin Barker, and then abused that same discretion to overcharge the young men who allegedly beat Barker, claiming that tennis shoes were a "dangerous weapon" and the assault was attempted murder.3 From the day he threatened to "make [their] lives disappear with the stroke of a pen," Walters has had a clear agenda, and has followed it aggressively, unfairly, and outside of the boundaries of his position.

Now he's trying to cover his tracks. In a public statement on September 19, 2007, DA Walters claimed that there was no connection between the assault on Justin Barker and the hanging of nooses in the "white tree" several months before.4 In an op-ed in the New York Times, Walters claimed that the noose hanging "broke no law. I searched the Louisiana criminal code for a crime that I could prosecute. There is none." 5 But two attorneys we're working with easily found Louisiana Revised Statute 14:107.2, which creates a hate crime for any institutional vandalism or criminal trespass motivated by race. Walters was creative enough to turn a schoolyard assault into an attempted murder case; he surely could have figured out how to make nooses into hate crimes.6

After the massive protest on the 20th, Governor Blanco was forced to act, but sadly her only action was to give Walters cover to continue his aggressive prosecution. Blan co grandly proclaimed that Walters was not going to appeal the 3rd Circuit Court's nullification of Mychal Bell's conviction in adult court, and would instead prosecute him as a juvenile.7 Sounds good until you remember that 4 young men still face charges in adult court, and 2 are still facing charges as juveniles, for a fight that occurred at school. And Walter's "generosity" sounds even worse when you remember that only one of the young men who attacked Robert Bailey three days before Justin Barker was assaulted was even charged; that he was charged with a misdemeanor; and that he has never spent a minute in prison.8

It is outrageous that Walters is still pursuing charges against the Jena 6, and it's even more outrageous that he's being given political cover by the Governor, by Louisiana's District Attorney Association, and even by the New York Times. Anyone can file a complaint against an attorney by sending a letter to the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, the organization that has the power to take action against Walters, and we want them to hear from as many of us as possible. We've prepared the letter. All you have to do is add your address and put it in the mail. When you send your letter, please let us know at If lots of you send letters, we'll use those numbers to get the media to cover the story, adding more pressure on the Disciplinary Board to act.

Justice should be blind, but unfortunately, prosecutors are not. They see color and it can impact how they exercise their prosecutorial discretion. This is the case for the Jena 6. Reed Walters' attacks have already damaged the lives of these 6 teenagers. He shouldn't be given the opportunity to keep at it a minute longer. Please send your letter of complaint requesting a thorough investigation into Reed Walters' conduct today.

Thanks and Peace,

-- James, Van, Gabriel, Clarissa, Mervyn, and the rest of the team
October 7th, 2007


1. Jena 6 Defense Fund information page

2. North Texans marching behind 6 young men in Jena. The Dallas Morning
News, September 20, 2007

3. Injustice in Jena as nooses hang from the "white tree".,
July 3, 2007.

4. US Attorney: Nooses, beating at Jena High not related., September
19, 2007

5. Justice in Jena. New York Times, September 26, 2007.

6. The Stroke of a Pen. Southern Poverty Law Center, September 28, 2007.

7. La. Governor says DA won't challenge ruling that sent Jena 6 teen's case
to juvenile court. Boston Herald, September 27, 2007.

8. See reference 5


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Anonymous said...

The Justice Department investigated the noose-hanging incident and determined that it did not fall within federal guidelines for a hate crime. Following the Jena High School beating incident, the Justice Department reopened its investigation and found no link between the noose-hanging incident and the assault on Justin Barker or other confrontations between black and white students at Jena High School. Donald Washington, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, told CNN that "A lot of things happened between the noose hanging and the fight occurring, and we have arrived at the conclusion that the fight itself had no connection." He added that "We could not prove that, because the statements of the students themselves do not make any mention of nooses, of trees, of the 'N' word or any other word of racial hate." The CNN story ("U.S. Attorney: Nooses, Beating at Jen High Not Related") is
online at

There is no connection between the nooses and the attack on Barker. According to witness statements, the black students were angry because they overhead Barker talking about a fight at a private party that involved Robert Bailey, a member of the Jena Six. Police arrested Justin Sloan, a white 22-year-old male, in connection with the fight and charged him with simple battery. He pled guilty and was place on parole. So far, Sloan is the only person convicted and sentenced for any of the Jena Six events. Police have refuted allegations that Sloan hit Bailey with a bottle, and in his statement to police Bailey merely alleges that Sloan hit him, he doesn't mention being hit with a bottle. (It’s unclear why Windham was not charged.) The simple battery charge was appropriate because Sloan did not use a weapon and no serious injuries were inflicted; Bailey required no medical attention. Virtually everyone convicted of simple battery, regardless of race, is placed on parole provided it's a first offense. Mychal Bell, for example, was on parole at the time of the beating incident at Jena High School. To date, Sloan is the only person to have been sentenced in connection with the Jena Six events.

The charge of attempted murder was dropped before Mychal Bell went to trail and should no longer be part of the controversy over whether the Jena Six have been inappropriately charged. They are charged with aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. One of three circumstances or a combination of three circumstances elevates simple battery to aggravated battery: (1) a deadly weapon was used, (2) sever injuries were inflicted, or (3) the victim was vulnerable (helpless or defenseless). In some states, simple battery becomes aggravated battery if "the offense occurred in a public transit vehicle or station, school zone, or other protected place," but I don't know if this applies in Louisiana.

Four of the Jena six were over 17 at the time of the beating incidence. Trying them in juvenile court is not an option; by law they must be tried as adults.

The argument that shoes constitute deadly weapons has legal precedence. Courts have ruled that shoes constitute deadly weapons in cases where victims were kicked to death. (Carol Swan, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, has posted the story of her brother's death on the university's official website ( He was kicked to death by teenagers wearing sneakers.) However, the prosecution will not have to convince the jury that shoes qualify as deadly weapons to prove aggravated assault.

Yobachi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yobachi said...

anonymous coward, I’ve already answered all this balderdash before here - and here -

Do you believe everything someone in government says? You must still believe there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that Nixon's wasn't a crook, and that the Pope is infallible.

Thanks for looking at this case with your eye of critical thinking.

Anonymous said...

SO, come to find out the criminal (Mychal Bell) that we're all trying to save is now sentenced to 18 months for assault and vandalism in a case prior to his beating of the poor white boy (the true victim of racism). Why wasn't this addressed publicly? Stop playing the role of victim. Stop being a criminal. Pay your dues and change your ways.

Anonymous said...

The latest outrageous example of racial bigotry is that Al Sharpton is speaking to Congress asking for tougher hate-crime laws. Imagine! After spending several weeks campaigning to free the Jena 6 from the consequences of THEIR hate crime, he still sees himself as the anti-racial crusader. Last I checked, racism was wrong REGARDLESS of the skin color of those who practice it.