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Justice For Jena


The Color of Change folks sent this along:

Their story has been forced into the mainstream media, the Governor was finally forced to speak on the issue, Mychal Bell is facing a new trial with a maximum penalty of 4 years instead of 22, and the systemic problem of unequal justice across this country is getting more attention.

As the fight moves to court trials, members have helped put the legal teams on solid ground by generously contributing $212,399 to the legal defense of the Jena 6, $106,000 of which has already been spent at the direction of the families to help get investigators on the ground, bring in expert witnesses, and to secure the best legal counsel available for these young men.1.

Having well-funded legal teams and more media attention is important, but we can’t forget that these young men could be free of these charges completely if not for one man: LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters. He is still representing the State of Louisiana in the case and needs to be removed and disciplined for his misconduct immediately.

Can you file a letter of complaint with the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board asking them to investigate Walter’s conduct?

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. Blanco 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.

If Walters can’t find any problem with a noose, he ought to refer to this memorable moment from oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Virginia v. Black:

Out of nowhere booms the great, surprising “Luke-I-am-your-father” voice of He Who Never Speaks. Justice Clarence Thomas suddenly asks a question and everyone’s head pops up and starts looking madly around, like the Muppets on Veterinarian Hospital. “Aren’t you understating the effects … of 100 years of lynching?” he booms. “This was a reign of terror, and the cross was a sign of that. … It is unlike any symbol in our society. It was intended to cause fear, terrorize.”

Walters is clearly abusing his power by his own admission. He needs to be removed from the case and his conduct investigated.

(h/t Phoenix Woman and Siun, and Howie Klein for the Mellencamp video)

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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