Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Jena 6

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?

10 comments:

Bolos said...

Hmmm. I'm not sure I agree with everything Doc OC is implying regarding this incident, though I think we are in strong agreement on the big issues (racism, arbitrary treatment of individuals).

However, it seems to me that there is a undercurrent of "vigilante justice" implied in this post. Regardless of the severity of his injuries, did Justin Barker deserve to be injured for his involvement? Were those who did him harm justified in doing so?

Lastly, to address if there is any place for idealism in the judicial system, I would agree, also sadly, that there is little hope for that in this often messy institution of justice.

BUT, certainly we did see the wonderful idealism of the students who marched and brought attention to this problem. Perhaps that's the best sign of hope.

Brandon said...

Walters is definitely whitewashing the events even though he acts like he is exposing the truth. I think Walters is trying to get readers to side against the Jena 6 by just saying how the media has overlooked certain things, even though Walters, and some of the school administration completely overlooked punishing the noose-hangers.

On another note, Walters is clearly a racist and is definitely not "all about" following the law. He was even reported to warn black students that "I can make your lives disappear with a stroke of my pen."

Doc OC said...

I don't see the disagreement at all here. Walters suggests that Barker is a victim of vigilante justice -- and I agree, based on the evidence at hand. Since he was not involved in the original offense he clearly does not deserve to be injured.

Doc OC said...

My last post was intended to respond to MR. B.

Brandon, you raise some powerful arguments here. What's your source for the quote you cite?

Eli said...

If this was white kids beating up a black kid it would have been an in school suspension, not the national media attention it is getting. the way the media puts in spin on things because of race is ridiculous. the connotation they put on african americans as violent people is terrible, and it trickles down to people who watch the news but only take in the little things like that. that is why these things are such an issue today.

Chris said...

First off, I would like to say that I agree with Eli that race has played a role in the charges broght against those in the Jena 6 controversy. I also would like to agree with O'conner that those who put up the nooses should be punished. I was suprised by Mr. O' Conners refrences to other media reports in order to make his point. Could it be that the media is trying to turn the Jena 6 incident into an even greater problem? Would the story be as big if the white kid had been beaten worse, and was not involved in the nooses? Maybe he was beaten worse than reported, wasn't involved in the nooses, and the media just exagerated everything in order to make a story?

Eli said...

Bolos, you know your story from the town in virginia. something similiar happened to me in Cincinnati. I'll tell you tomorrow.

OC, can I come in early and show you my paper. Fifth on thursday I tried to come in right at the end because my spanish teacher made me retake a quiz...ill come in around eight, if thats okay.

Jace said...

You said that we need new laws, and this brings up the question; "Should there be emotional/rasicst/taunting/threatening punishments and laws?"

Kids throw a neuce over a tree, no law breaking, but a severe racial and threatening implication.

What legal actions can be taken?

JKlei said...

I see a correlation between this case and the Duke Lacrosse case. In each instance there is a district attorney who has chosen to put his spin on the facts for the purpose of steering the public and the press to his way of thinking.
To answer your question, I believe that Walters is whitewashing the events, and the media is certainly guilty of manipulating the story for their own gain.
David Kleifield (Justin's dad)

Zmalkin said...

I feel Reed Walters is clearly whitewashing this case. Hanging nooses in trees is a death threat and a hate crime and cannot be tolerated. This reminds me of the KKK. After listening to holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, speak today at an event for the US Holocaust Memeorial Museum, we learn to never stand by idol and allow these inhumane actions to go unchallenged.

-Karen Malkin, zack's mom-