An op-ed in yesterday's New York Times made my head spin. It's called "Justice in Jena" and was written by a small town lawyer named Reed Walters who is the local district attorney in the case. Briefly, he says, "I cannot overemphasize how abhorrent and stupid I find the placing of the nooses on the schoolyard tree...it was mean-spirited and deserves condemnation. But it broke no law." My first response was, "Well then we need new laws." The nooses seem like a tacit death threat to me -- especially in the south. (Hate crime legislation, he says, does not exist in Louisiana law).
But what surprised me most was Walters' main point: "The victim in this crime...has been all but forgotten." He's referring to Justin Barker -- the white boy who was attacked by the Jena 6 -- even though he "was not involved in the nooses incident." This shocked me since every tv report I saw clearly suggested he was involved and at least one suggested he was the inventor of the noose idea. Further Walters says the boy was "knocked unconscious and kicked" -- a more severe beating than other media suggested. (The tv reports I heard said he was treated for minor cuts and bruises and was not hospitalized).
Is Walters whitewashing the events? He does have access to more evidence than reporters in the case? Are the media using the story for their own agendas -- ratings, publicity? What of the protesters?
Walters ends his piece by saying, "In the final analysis I am bound to enforce the laws of Louisiana as they exist today, not as they might exist in someone's vision of a perfect world." I know this is his legal obligation, but it struck me as sad somehow. Is there any place for idealism, or is the judicial process all about compromise?