[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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
October 7th, 2007
1. ColorOfChange.org 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". Truthout.org,
July 3, 2007.
4. US Attorney: Nooses, beating at Jena High not related. CNN.com, September
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