Jena Six DA’s Odious Op-Ed

DA Walters plays the race card: “Imagine you were walking down a city street, and someone leapt from behind a tree and hit you so hard that you fell to the sidewalk unconscious. Would you later describe that as a fight?� Walters is hoping that whites who have either been victimized by Blacks, or know of other whites that have been robbed or assaulted by Blacks, understand and nod approvingly as they read his Op-Ed.

[Black Star News Editorial]

The September 26 Op-Ed column in The New York Times by LaSalle County DA in Louisiana, Reed Walters, confirms why he should never have been on the case.

Moreover, as with the DA in the Duke case, Walters’ rush to judgment and his depraved decision to try the case in the Times has polluted the jury pool with his prejudices: the six Black boys have no chance for a fair trial and their attorneys should move for the remaining charges to be dismissed.

Walters first tried to railroad the boys through adult court with preposterous murder charges perhaps believing enough of the “old” South still survived to accommodate his wishes—and who knows what might have happened had the nation not rallied to the boys’ cause. It begs the question how many such Jena victims are rotting in prison there and in other parts of this country?

Walters’ Op-Ed piece in the Times confirms his critics’ contention: That he is a reckless prosecutor on a mission—it is not clear what that goal is beyond denying the six boys a chance for a fair trial.

He displays his prejudice when he asserts that the case “has fired the imaginations of thousands, notably young African-Americans who, according to many of their comments, believe they will be in the vanguard of a new civil rights movement.” He is very presumptuous and he is also contemptuous towards his fellow whites: might Jena Six not have also “fired the imaginations of thousands” of many white people who abhor racial injustice?

Walters tries to gain universal sympathy by presenting himself as this harmless “small-town lawyer and prosecutor,” who harbors no malice. His actions, in bringing the murder charges against the six boys belie this self-deprecating persona.

“For 16 years, it has been my job as the district attorney to review each criminal case brought to me by the police department or the sheriff, match the facts to any applicable laws and seek justice for those who have been harmed,” Walters writes, as if “evidence” and “facts” are always gathered in an dispassionate and objective manner. His own actions throughout this case have dispelled that myth, that justice is color blind; this fantasy has led to the convictions –and even executions—of many innocent Black people.

Walters contempt for the tens of thousands of protestors that went to Jena is clear: “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.’” He notes: “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.”

Walters totally misses the point the woman and other critics have been trying to convey—that had the justice system, including DA Walters, intervened in a timely and forceful manner with the school system after the noose-hanging incident of August 2006, the beating of Justin Barker in December might never have occurred. For readers who are unfamiliar with the noose incident: it happened after Black students at Jena High School had sat underneath a tree that had been used by whites—provoking the criticism that the school had tolerated the existence of a “whites only” tree.

Rather than reflecting on what the marcher might have meant, Walters writes lamely, and unconvincingly, after the fact, “I cannot overemphasize how abhorrent and stupid I find the placing of the nooses on the schoolyard tree in late August 2006. If those who committed that act considered it a prank, their sense of humor is seriously distorted. It was mean-spirited and deserves the condemnation of all decent people.”

“I searched the Louisiana criminal code for a crime that I could prosecute. There is none,” Walters continues, of the noose hanging incident. Yet, what prevented Walters from taking charge by demonstrating his professed outrage? Why did he not hold a press conference and publicly urge the Louisiana legislators to introduce the laws needed to fight such racist assaults? What is stopping him from holding that news conference today? Since it’s likely this might not have been the first noose-hanging incident, nor will it be the last one, wow does Walters propose to deal with it in the future? Is there also no law to punish those who draw Swastikas?

Walters pats himself undeservedly, as when he writes that he should have done a better job “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.” He goes on to describe his vision of boys in a school yard fight: “they exchange words, clench fists, throw punches, wrestle in the dirt until classmates or teachers pull them apart.”

If all school yard fights were that predictable, there would be no problems. But school yard fights, like other fights, vary in degree depending on the factors involved. An observer might believe that the alleged beating of Barker –and we only have the DA’s version of events so far – might have been caused by the aggravated racial tensions and animosity that simmered probably before, and specifically after the noose incident, which authorities had not properly dealt with. This in no way condones or minimizes the beating of Barker.

Even as DA Walters tries to de-link the noose incident and the Barker beating, he unwittingly ties the events. “The victim in this crime, who has been all but forgotten amid the focus on the defendants, was a young man named Justin Barker, who was not involved in the nooses incident three months earlier,” he writes,  unintentionally conceding the premise that a noose hanging incident might provoke a physical confrontation between whites and Blacks: He is simply stating that the alleged Black suspects targeted the wrong white boy.

Walters also complains that the alleged beating victim, Barker, has all but been forgotten. This is true, but not for the reasons Walters suspects.

Barker was forgotten because DA Walters committed an outrage when he charged five of the Black boys with attempted second-degree murder in adult court. His actions were so outrageous and disproportionate that they completely overwhelmed and stole the story about Barker’s alleged beating. An appellate court felt the same way, overturning Mychal Bell’s conviction on those charges.

DA Walters declares his obvious bias, as when he writes about the alleged beating victim Barker: “According to all the credible evidence I am aware of, after lunch, he walked to his next class. As he passed through the gymnasium door to the outside, he was blindsided and knocked unconscious by a vicious blow to the head thrown by Mychal Bell. While lying on the ground unaware of what was happening to him, he was brutally kicked by at least six people.”

And here we were under the misguided belief that it is the role of a court of law to weigh “all the credible evidence” and then make a determination. DA Walters himself has tried the case and convicted the Jena Six.

And, to make sure that the imagery of predatory Blacks setting upon an innocent white victim becomes ingrained in an inflammatory manner on the minds of white readers of his Times Op-Ed, DA Walters plays the race card: “Imagine you were walking down a city street, and someone leapt from behind a tree and hit you so hard that you fell to the sidewalk unconscious. Would you later describe that as a fight?”

Walters is hoping that whites who have either been victimized by Blacks, or know of other whites that have been robbed or assaulted by Blacks, understand and nod approvingly as they read his Op-Ed.

Why did Walters bring murder charges against Mychal Bell and in adult court in the first place? He writes that he “considered adult status appropriate because of his role as the instigator of the attack, the seriousness of the charge and his prior criminal record.” What did Bell’s prior criminal record have to do with the alleged beating of Barker and how did it elevate the charges to attempted murder against five Black boys?

Were the other boys linked to Bell’s “prior criminal record” in Walters’ mind? Do we chalk this down to the they-are-all-the-same anyway syndrome?

Walters concludes: “I can understand the emotions generated by the juxtaposition of the noose incident with the attack on Mr. Barker and the outcomes for the perpetrators of each.” Actually, judging by his Op-Ed Walters will never understand.


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