An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 protestors, overwhelmingly black, showed up in Jena, Louisiana on Thursday September 20th, 2007 to rally in support of the "Jena 6", the six blacks accused of brutally assualting a white student, Justin Barker (pictured above left) on December 4th, 2006. Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, along with Martin Luther King III were present. Media stories published in the Anchorage Daily News and numerous local stories published in the Alexandria (LA) Town Talk.
However, lost in the shuffle is the victim, Justin Barker. This should be no surprise; Barker is white and the crowd was mostly black. Don't forget the similar racial disparity in the reaction to O.J. Simpson's acquittal in 1994; black America rejoiced, while white America mostly pouted and sucked its thumb.
But one person brought Justin Barker back into the picture. District Attorney Reed Walters. He gave a statement to the media on Wednesday, September 19th. I'll present it momentarily. However, the Alexandria Town Talk website organized a good timeline of the events in the Jena 6 case, so I'll present it first so the reader can get up to speed:
Timeline of the 'Jena Six' case
Town Talk staff
Here is a timeline of events related to the "Jena Six" case.
Students arrive at Jena High School to find three nooses hanging from a tree in the center of the campus. Earlier in the week, some black students had asked whether they could sit under the tree alongside the white students.
Three white students are recommended for expulsion by the Jena High School principal after being accused of hanging the nooses.
Schools Superintendent Roy D. Breithaupt announces that the students recommended for expulsion instead had been suspended, though he refused to say for how long, citing student privacy rules.
Fire destroys the main academic building at Jena High School and is ruled the work of an arsonist. Later that night, a fight is reported at the Fair Barn in Jena at a private party.
A fight is reported at the Gotta Go convenience store in Jena in which investigators say three students beat another man and took his shotgun. One of those accused later says the man had pulled the gun on them and that they had disarmed him.
Jena High School reopens four days after the fire, with classes held in the undamaged wing of the school, library, band room and the home economics cottage. According to court documents, on the same day school reopens, white student Justin Barker is attacked by several students, knocked unconscious and rushed to LaSalle General Hospital. The LaSalle Parish School Board declares a state of emergency after the fire.
It is announced that four people have been arrested in the Dec. 4 fight -- Carwin Jones, 18, Robert Bailey Jr., 17, Theo Shaw, 17, and an unnamed juvenile who was later identified as Jesse Ray Beard -- and charged with aggravated second-degree battery. Also, Shaw, Bailey and Ryan Simmons, 17, are arrested on charges of theft of a firearm, second-degree robbery and disturbing the peace in connection with the Dec. 2 fight. Deputies arrest Justin Sloan, 22, of Jena, in connection with the Nov. 30 fight and also implicate Bailey in that fight.
It is announced that another unnamed juvenile has been arrested in the Dec. 4 fight.
The LaSalle Parish District Attorney's Office announces that the charges against the six students arrested in the Dec. 4 case have been upgraded to attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. One of the unnamed students is identified as Bryant Purvis, 17.
Nearly 500 people join hands at the Jena High School football stadium in a unity rally.
It is announced that one of the two juveniles charged in the Dec. 4 fight - Mychal Bell, 16 - is being charged as an adult with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. Bail is set at $90,000.
Purvis, Jones and Beard posted bail and were released from jail.
Relatives of the students accused in the Dec. 4 fight say they have been expelled.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the LaSalle Parish Courthouse shouting "Free the Jena Six" - the name now given to the students charged in the Dec. 4 fight. It is revealed that Bailey also has been released from jail.
Justin Barker, the victim in the Dec. 4 fight, is arrested after being accused of bringing a gun onto the Jena High School campus. Authorities say the gun, a hunting rifle, was found in Barker's truck.
Breithaupt says he is recommending that Barker be expelled.
The trial of three of the Jena Six is postponed until at least June 25.
Court proceedings begin for Bell, whose charges are reduced to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit the same.
An all-white jury is selected to try Bell after only 50 of 150 people called to jury duty show up. None of the prospective jurors are black.
LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters calls 17 witnesses to testify before resting, while Bell's defense attorney, Blane Williams, calls none.
Bell is convicted of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit the same after the jury deliberates for just shy of three hours. He faces more than 20 years in prison when sentencing begins on July 31.
The tree in which the nooses were found is cut down.
The Rev. Al Sharpton becomes the first national civil rights leader to visit Jena in support of the six students.
Martin Luther King III speaks in support of the students in Jena, and meets with Bell and his family.
First day of school; mood remains relatively calm.
After court records reveal that he has prior criminal offenses, Bell is denied bond.
Jena High School officials ban "Free the Jena Six" T-shirts.
Bell's conviction on conspiracy charges is thrown out. Charges against Jones and Shaw are reduced.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson announces a march on Jena to be held on the new date of Bell's sentencing, Sept. 20.
Four of the five students charged with attempted murder have their charges reduced.
Bell's conviction is overturned by an appeals court, but he remains jailed. Although a sentencing hearing is no longer necessary, civil rights leaders say the Sept. 20 rally will go on as planned.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and others visit Jena in advance of a big rally planned for Sept. 20. Buses begin arriving in Alexandria from around the nation with people planning to attend the rally. A gathering to show support for the Jena Six is held in the Alexandria Riverfront Center.
Thousands of people, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, march in Jena on behalf of the Jena Six. The demonstration draws national media attention.
Now, for the statement by Reed Walters. Originally posted on the Alexandria Town Talk website, the link has gone bad, but fortunately it was also cross-posted on the Vanguard News Network Forum:
Good afternoon. Ladies and gentlemen, I want to begin by introducing Justin Barker. Justin is the young man who is the victim in this case. With all the focus on the defendants, many people seem to have forgotten that there was a victim. The injury that was done to him and the serious threat to his survival has become less than a footnote. But when you're talking about justice and a criminal proceeding, you can not forget the victim, and I will not.
Next, I must tell you that in Louisiana criminal proceedings a criminal defendant is protected against a prosecutor's saying things outside of court to prejudice the case. So, no matter how much I would like to say, and no matter what you ask me, there are likely to be certain areas that I simply can't go into. These are rules that are properly established to preserve a defendant's presumption of innocence, and I must live by them. Nevertheless, I do want to set the record straight on a few things that the news media seem not to understand and to answer your questions as best as I can.
This case has been portrayed by the news media as being about race. The fact that it takes place in a small southern town lends itself to that portrayal. But this case is not and has never been about race. It is about finding justice for an innocent victim and about holding people accountable for their actions. That's what it is about.
Some specific aspects of the case seem not to be well understood. Let me begin with the incident involving the hanging of three nooses on the high school tree. This was an awful act. It was not a prank but a vicious and crude statement by some people I truly wish I could have prosecuted. I searched the Louisiana statutes for an offense that fit that act, but it is simply not there.
It has been suggested that I charge the perpetrators of that noose hanging with a "hate crime." But in Louisiana law, a "hate crime" exists primarily as a sentencing enhancement to other crimes that have been proven. ... Similarly, the U.S. attorney searched the federal statutes for a crime with which to charge these people, but he, too, had to accept the fact as I did that there was none that could be proved.
But again, I cannot overemphasize what a villainous act I believe this was. The people who did it should be ashamed of themselves and mortified at the havoc that they have unleashed on this community.
As to the incident in which Justin Barker was blind-sided with no chance to defend himself, this has been frequently characterized as a "schoolyard fight." This was no "schoolyard fight." To call it that creates sort of a boys-will-be-boys image that is not correct.
All the evidence was that Justin walked out of the gymnasium door, he was punched in the head by Mychal Bell and rendered unconscious. As he lay on the ground, unaware of even what was happening, he was kicked repeatedly and brutally by several people. Only the intervention of an uninvolved student prevented him from suffering even more serious injury or even death. Please, ladies and gentlemen, do not forget that there was a real victim in this incident. And to continue to refer to this as a "schoolyard fight" is to intentionally mislead the public.
The last point I want to make is that in all of the telling of this story, a direct linkage is made between the incident of those nooses and this attack on Justin Barker. When this case was brought to me, during our investigation and during the trial, there was no such linkage ever suggested. The notion that there was an unbroken series of events that began with the hanging of the nooses and culminated in the attack at the school was never presented. This compact story line has only been suggested after the fact.
Finally, concerning my decision whether to take this case to the Louisiana Supreme Court. I have not yet decided. The Third Circuit Court of Appeal's ruling only came down last Friday [Sept. 14], and I have not had time to carefully review that opinion, review the facts and review the law. I wish I could tell you what I will do right now, but as I stand here today, I simply do not know the answer to that question.
Most of the mainstream media coverage is significantly biased in favor of the "Jena 6". Examples include CBS News, MSNBC, and in particular, ABC News, which aired a story entitled "La. Protest Harks Back to '50s, '60s", painting a completely false picture of Jena as a holdover Jim Crow town. A similar case is that of the bedreadlocked convicted black cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murdering police officer Daniel Faulkner in cold blood. Jamal's supporters express no concern about Faulkner. It's obvious there's a double standard alright - but not against blacks, since their rate of incarceration generally matches their rate of crime. It's a double standard against whites.