Alan Bean’s take on Jena mythology

Craig Franklin never dreamed he’d be writing a feature story for the Christian Science Monitor, just as Reed Walters never expected to see his name gracing the pages of the New York Times Op-Ed page.  

There is an old rule in journalism; when you can’t wring another drop of juice out of a story, flip the script–tell the world the press has been getting it wrong.  Telling the “real story” about Jena has become a cottage industry.

“Jena” has always been a disagreement between Alan Bean and Craig Franklin, co-editor of the Jena Times.  Craig and his father, Sammy Franklin devoted several gallons of ink to the noose incident and the arrest and prosecution of the Jena 6.  My “Responding to the Crisis in Jena, Louisiana” narrative owed much to the copious detail of their reporting.  The Franklins publish a first class small-town newspaper.

Those of you who have been reading my posts won’t need to read Franklin’s deathless prose (you’ve heard it all before) or my responses (I will touch on a few new issues, but not many).  But if you are new to this debate, this back-and-forth discussion should proove instructive.  My comments appear in italics.

Media myths about the Jena 6

A local journalist tells the story you haven’t heard.

By now, almost everyone in America has heard of Jena, La., because they’ve all heard the story of the “Jena 6.” White students hanging nooses barely punished, a schoolyard fight, excessive punishment for the six black attackers, racist local officials, public outrage and protests – the outside media made sure everyone knew the basics.

There’s just one problem: The media got most of the basics wrong. In fact, I have never before witnessed such a disgrace in professional journalism. Myths replaced facts, and journalists abdicated their solemn duty to investigate every claim because they were seduced by a powerfully appealing but false narrative of racial injustice.

I would suggest that coverage of the march to Iraq would constitute a much more serious media meltdown.  As you will see from later comments, most of the “myths” Franklin addresses rarely appear in mainstream reporting.  Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune, the first mainstream journalist to cover the story on the national level, spent a week in Jena before writing a word.  Dozens of reporters have followed in his footsteps (to the point where overwhelmed Jena residents refuse to comment) and most of them have been equally careful. 

I should know. I live in Jena. My wife has taught at Jena High School for many years. And most important, I am probably the only reporter who has covered these events from the very beginning.

Actually, Abbey Brown of the Alexandria TownTalk and Tony Brown, an Alexandria journalist and talk show host, have given careful attention to this story from the day nooses appeared on a tree at the high school.

The reason the Jena cases have been propelled into the world spotlight is two-fold: First, because local officials did not speak publicly early on about the true events of the past year, the media simply formed their stories based on one-side’s statements – the Jena 6. Second, the media were downright lazy in their efforts to find the truth. Often, they simply reported what they’d read on blogs, which expressed only one side of the issue.

Few mainstream reporters have repeated blog gossip–they prefer to copy one another.

The real story of Jena and the Jena 6 is quite different from what the national media presented. It’s time to set the record straight.

Myth 1: The Whites-Only Tree. There has never been a “whites-only” tree at Jena High School. Students of all races sat underneath this tree. When a student asked during an assembly at the start of school last year if anyone could sit under the tree, it evoked laughter from everyone present – blacks and whites. As reported by students in the assembly, the question was asked to make a joke and to drag out the assembly and avoid class.

The “lazy Negro theory” was invented to address an obvious question: “If the Jena high school courtyard is as integrated as Mr. Franklin claims, why did Kenneth Purvis ask if he could sit under the tree?  I do not know if Mr. Purvis was laughing nervously as he asked the question, and I don’t see that it matters.  Initially, Jena High students, black and white, freely admitted that the courtyard has always been segregated–the sidewalk serving as the line of demarcation.  While it is true that black students occasionally wandered to the white side of the courtyard, this was not typical behavior. 

Hence the question.  It should also be noted that Kenneth and a few friends tested out their new freedom by sitting under the tree after school.

Myth 2: Nooses a Signal to Black Students. An investigation by school officials, police, and an FBI agent revealed the true motivation behind the placing of two nooses in the tree the day after the assembly. According to the expulsion committee, the crudely constructed nooses were not aimed at black students. Instead, they were understood to be a prank by three white students aimed at their fellow white friends, members of the school rodeo team. (The students apparently got the idea from watching episodes of “Lonesome Dove.”) The committee further concluded that the three young teens had no knowledge that nooses symbolize the terrible legacy of the lynchings of countless blacks in American history. When informed of this history by school officials, they became visibly remorseful because they had many black friends. Another myth concerns their punishment, which was not a three-day suspension, but rather nine days at an alternative facility followed by two weeks of in-school suspension, Saturday detentions, attendance at Discipline Court, and evaluation by licensed mental-health professionals. The students who hung the nooses have not publicly come forward to give their version of events.

There are actually three competing noose theories.  The default position is well known: the nooses were hung in response to Kenneth Purvis’s question and the bold action of actually sitting under the tree. 

Recently, Jena residents have suggested the nooses were aimed at supporters of Jena’s next football opponent–the Mustangs.

The Lonesome Dove theory was initially freestanding: the kids watched the Western on television and were so impressed with the hanging scene, they decided to hang a few nooses of their own.  But no one could explain why they chose this particular tree, or why the nooses appeared the day after Kenneth’s question and the Principal’s answer. 

Now we learn that the nooses were a poke at white members of the rodeo team.  We are to believe that some white kids on the rodeo team were playfully suggesting that they were going to string up other white members of the team because . . .

You see the problem.  What could possibly follow the “because”?  Mr. Franklins’ desperation is painfully evident at this point.  He’s doing the best with what he’s got–but he ain’t got much.  You can hardly blame the mainstream media (or any sensible person) for preferring the original explanation.  It has the advantage of making sense.

Finally, Franklin’s theory can’t explain why then-principal Scott Windham was so horrified by the noose incident that he recommended expulsion for the school year.  If this was simply a white-on-white practical joke, Windham’s response can only be seen as a bizarre over-reaction. 

The logical conclusion is that Windham was never exposed to the theory Mr. Franklin is selling.  Is it just a coincidence that Mr. Windham was quickly shuffled to a less controversial position within the school administration.  Perhaps, but the timing raises questions.  The mainstream media, for better or worse, has given very little attention to this issue.

Myth 3: Nooses Were a Hate Crime. Although many believe the three white students should have been prosecuted for a hate crime for hanging the nooses, the incident did not meet the legal criteria for a federal hate crime. It also did not meet the standard for Louisiana’s hate-crime statute, and though widely condemned by all officials, there was no crime to charge the youths with.

Last week, US Attorney Don Washington, finally admitted that the noose hanging in Jena constituted a hate crime under federal law.  Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center has argued persuasively that the act also satisfies the Louisiana definition of a hate crime.

But, like Mr. Cohen, I agree with the basic thrust of Franklin’s argument here–the noose hangers should not have been charged with committing a hate crime because they are juveniles who didn’t understand the full import of their actions.  I have no doubt that the noose hangers would have felt remorse if the horror of the noose symbol had been adequately explained to them; but I remain skeptical.  Now that the “remorseful noose boys” theory is on the table, I’m sure the media will report it; but this new wrinkle only surfaced last week.

Myth 4: DA’s Threat to Black Students. When District Attorney Reed Walters spoke to Jena High students at an assembly in September, he did not tell black students that he could make their life miserable with “the stroke of a pen.” Instead, according to Walters, “two or three girls, white girls, were chit-chatting on their cellphones or playing with their cellphones right in the middle of my dissertation. I got a little irritated at them and said, ‘Pay attention to me. I am right now having to deal with an aggravated rape case where I’ve got to decide whether the death penalty applies or not.’ I said, ‘Look, I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. With the stroke of a pen I can make your life miserable so I want you to call me before you do something stupid.'”

Mr. Walters had been called to the assembly by police, who had been at the school earlier that day dealing with some students who were causing disturbances. Teachers and students have confirmed Walters’s version of events.

 No one has ever suggested that Reed Walters threatened to make the lives of students “miserable”–he said he could make their lives disappear (a slight difference in tone, you’ll agree).  Also, we must remember that school assemblies in Jena have traditionally been segregated.  That’s the way it was when the high school integrated in 1970; and that’s the way it has remained.  Black students insist he was looking at the black side of the auditorium when he issued his threat; but I don’t think it matters where he was looking.

We are being asked to believe that an irate Reed Walters told chatty white girls that he would use the power of his office to destroy their lives if they didn’t shut up.  This is nonsense; but even if it’s true, is that the kind of prosecutor you want in the LaSalle Parish courthouse?

The mainstream media has never done much with this episode–even though Reed Walters has admitted under oath that he uttered these threats four months after I attributed the words to him back in February.  Walters even explained the context of his remarks (and it had nothing to do with talkative white girls).  At a June 12th hearing, Mr. Walters explained that he didn’t see why he needed to take time away from his important work simply because high school students had blown the noose incident out of proportion.  The black and white students, he testified, should have been able to “work things out on their own”. 

Reed Walters understood why he was standing in the school auditorium.  Black students and their parents were outraged by the decision to treat the noose incident as a childish prank.  Earlier that day, virtually the entire black student body, led by the boys we now know as the Jena 6, had taken a defiant stand under the now-famous tree.  Most white kids had no problem with this gesture–but some took offense.  Push was coming to shove.  Racially charged shoving matches had been reported.  Tensions ran high.

Reed Walters came to Jena High School to calm things down.  Like Superintendent Breithaupt, Reed Walters believed the students and their parents were making a mountain out of a molehill.  His message was simple: drop the protest or I will use my prosecutorial authority to make you wish you had.  Settle down and I’ll be your best friend; keep fussing and I’ll be your worst enemy.

Given the context, that is the only message that makes sense.  What else could Walters have been driving at.  His words were addressed to the kids causing the fuss–and those kids were all black.  True, a vocal minority within the white student body took violent exception to the protest under the tree–but then, so did Mr. Walters. 

Mr. Franklin neglects to mention that black parents attended a school board meeting in the wake of the disciplinary committees’ decision to over-rule the recommendation of the principal.  The parents were refused a hearing because they weren’t on the agenda.  Shortly thereafter, the same parents made a brief presentation to the school board (a meeting covered in detail by the Jena Times) and were greeted with silence. 

Why, if the school board had been swayed by the white-on-white hate crime theory did they not explain themselves to these parents?  The two groups had a simple difference of opinion and eight of the nine board members were white.  They could do whatever they wanted to do, so they sat in stony silence.

Reed Walters was right about one thing–in “Lord of the Flies” fashion, the white and black students were left to “work things out for themselves”.  And sure enough, the prosecutor was waiting at the end of the trail, pen in hand.

The mainstream media, I must stress again, has never understood how damning all of this is for the DA.  Even bloggers tend to pass over the pen incident. 

Myth 5: The Fair Barn Party Incident. On Dec. 1, 2006, a private party – not an all-white party as reported – was held at the local community center called the Fair Barn. Robert Bailey Jr., soon to be one of the Jena 6, came to the party with others seeking admittance.

When they were denied entrance by the renter of the facility, a white male named Justin Sloan (not a Jena High student) at the party attacked Bailey and hit him in the face with his fist. This is reported in witness statements to police, including the victim, Robert Bailey, Jr.

Months later, Bailey contended he was hit in the head with a beer bottle and required stitches. No medical records show this ever occurred. Mr. Sloan was prosecuted for simple battery, which according to Louisiana law, is the proper charge for hitting someone with a fist.

Robert Bailey Jr. didn’t wait several months to come up with the “bottle” theory; that was his story when I interviewed him for two hours in the LaSalle Parish jail back in January of 2007 and he has never deviated from it.  The fact that he didn’t mention every detail of the assault in his report to the police doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  But the bottle rarely appears in mainstream reporting because the Fair Barn incident is rarely discussed.

The 22 year-0ld white male who assaulted Robert Bailey as he entered the Fair Barn continued his aggressively violent behavior even after adult chaperons had restrained him.  Hostilities continued in the parking lot.  The “lone assailant” theory runs contrary to everything we know about adolescent fights.  When your buddy throws a punch, you jump in to show you’ve got his back.  The same social dynamic was on display, with tragic consequences, at the high school a few days later.

There are several alternative explanations for the assault on Robert Bailey.  Some Jena residents have suggested that Robert was attacked because he was leaving the dance with a white girl.  Eye witness testimony lends no support to this version of events; I mention it only to indicate the power of rumor.  The story was told, and a lot of people believed it.

The common explanation, repeated here by Editor Franklin, is that Robert Bailey was trespassing and his assailant found this offensive.  Robert claims he was allowed to enter the dance with the proviso that he not cause trouble.  That last bit adds credence to the story–it’s not the sort of thing Robert would have invented. 

Several eye witnesses back up Robert’s account.  Let’s leave it to the lawyers to sort this one out, but it would be surprising for the police to limit the filing of charges to Robert’s attacker if they believed Robert had openly defied the party gatekeeper.  If that had been true, a charge of disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct would have been virtually inevitable.

The important question is never addressed: Why was Robert’s attacker so angry?  There is a backstory here that has never been told.  This wasn’t the first encounter between the two young men.  They, and their friends, had been feuding ever since the noose incident.

Myth 6: The “Gotta-Go” Grocery Incident. On Dec. 2, 2006, Bailey and two other black Jena High students were involved in an altercation at this local convenience store, stemming from the incident that occurred the night before. The three were accused by police of jumping a white man as he entered the store and stealing a shotgun from him. The two parties gave conflicting statements to police. However, two unrelated eye witnesses of the event gave statements that corresponded with that of the white male.

I congratulate Mr. Franklin for his frank admission that the Gotta Go incident was related to the fight at the Fair Barn.  But how are the two events related?  Robert claims that Matt Wyndham, the boy with the shotgun, was one of the people who jumped him at the dance.  The Gotta Go incident cannot be understood unless this connection is recognized.

Again, the mainstream media generally skips over the convenience store incident; bloggers are much more likely to give the altercation the attention it deserves.

Everyone agrees that Robert Bailey and two friends, Theo Shaw and Ryan Simmons, were exiting the Gotta Go just as Matt Wyndham was approaching the store, that a fight ensued, and that a shotgun was involved in some way.  Two explanations have been put forward.

Mr. Wyndam seems to suggest that Robert and his friends stole his gun and then beat him up.  This is why the three boys stand accused of theft and assault. 

One thing is clear: Robert was confronting a kid who had jumped him the night before.  Robert had a score to settle. 

Fearing the worst, Matt Windham ran back to his vehicle to get his pistol-grip, pump-action shotgun.  It is not unusual for young men who live in the country around Jena to ride with this sort of weapon.  It is also clear that Windham had time to remove the shotgun from behind the seat of his truck before Robert arrived on the scene.

Now, imagine that you are Robert Bailey.  Maybe you just wanted to have a few words with your assailant; maybe you wanted a taste of revenge.  Who knows?  What we do know is that Robert followed Wyndham to his truck and saw him pull out a shotgun.  Theo and Ryan dived behind parked vehicles.  Robert would have done the same, but he was too close to the man with the gun; so he grabbed Wyndham’s arm and they wrestled for control of the weapon.

Now, imagine you are Theo Shaw and Ryan Simmons.  You see your buddy wrestling for control of a dangerous weapon with the kid who helped beat him up the night before.  What do you do?  You help your friend.  In the circumstances, no other course of action is even thinkable.

Nor is it surprising that, collectively, Robert and his friends were able to get the gun away from their would-be assassin.  But now they’ve got another problem; what do they do with the gun?  Hand it back?

Of course they should have called the police.  But you’ve got the gun now, and you just got physical with the gun owner.  How is a white officer going to interpret the scene?  You don’t know, but you can guess.  So you run off with the gun and stash it in the old red truck behind Robert’s trailer.

This entire scenario is unthinkable if you take the assault at the Fair Barn out of the equation.  Robert had met white boys coming out of the Gotta Go a thousand times; Matt Wyndham had met black boys under similar circumstances just as often.  So why do we have a violent interlude on this particular morning?  Because there had been a fight the night before.  And why had there been a fight the night before?  Because two groups of boys (white friends of the noose hangers, and black football players) had maintained a running feud ever since Reed Walters and Roy Breithaupt made their rulings and issued their threats.

Myth 7: The Schoolyard Fight. The event on Dec. 4, 2006 was consistently labeled a “schoolyard fight.” But witnesses described something much more horrific. Several black students, including those now known as the Jena 6, barricaded an exit to the school’s gym as they lay in wait for Justin Barker to exit. (It remains unclear why Mr. Barker was specifically targeted.)

When Barker tried to leave through another exit, court testimony indicates, he was hit from behind by Mychal Bell. Multiple witnesses confirmed that Barker was immediately knocked unconscious and lay on the floor defenseless as several other black students joined together to kick and stomp him, with most of the blows striking his head. Police speculate that the motivation for the attack was related to the racially charged fights that had occurred during the previous weekend.

First, Mr. Franklin suggests that the assault on Justin Barker was an isolated incident; then he says it may have been a carryover from the white-initiated violence of the weekend.  Which explanation makes sense?

Franklin is certainly right that the assault on Barker should not be characterized as a “fight” in the usual sense; neither should the assault on Robert Bailey at the Fair Barn.  Both boys were cold cocked–the primary difference being that Justin Barker was knocked unconscious by the initial blow while Robert Bailey was not.

The details of the assault are difficult to establish on the basis of eyewitness testimony.  (I obtained copies of the eyewitness statements before a single defense attorney had seen them.)  Only one witness, Christy Martin, a teacher, advances the barricade theory suggested above.  The same teacher is the only witness able to provide a detailed list of who attacked Justin Barker (although she admits she did not witness the attack because of the alleged barricade). 

A statement from yet another teacher says that he gave Ms. Martin a list of black students who had been acting up during the lunch hour.  I will leave it to defense counsel to piece all of this together, but if you see a pattern developing, your eyes do not deceive you.

The mainstream media has never minimized the extent of Justin Barker’s injuries.  Bloggers, on both sides of this issue, have been guilty of distorting the facts to their own advantage.  Supporters of the Jena 6 frequently dismiss the incident as a schoolyard dust-up.  No one who has seen the pictures of Mr. Barker’s bruised face would make that claim–the kid absorbed a genuine thumping. 

We must remember that Mr. Barker was unconscious, and therefore defenseless, when he hit the ground.  There can be no question that he was kicked by black students (although the identity of the kickers is difficult to establish).  It is also likely that anyone rushing to the scene or away from the scene (and eyewitness accounts suggest a wild scramble in both directions) could have added to the damage, and it is difficult to know with any certainty how the damage was done.  But just look at the pictures and you can only sympathize with Justin Barker and his family.  If my kid was beaten that badly I would be devastated, so I have never had any trouble understanding how the Barker family feels about all of this.

But the extent of Justin’s injuries can be exaggerated.  No bones were broken (a surprising fact considering the alleged murderous intent of the alleged assailants); no organs were damaged, and although there was a great deal of bruising and swelling, few serious cuts have been reported.  My respect for the Barker family makes me reluctant to relate these facts, but at the end of the day, Justin was up and walking.  There was no spring in his step, to be sure, and his face looked almost as bad as it had looked when pictures were taken at the hospital.  His injuries, in short, were both serious and superficial; small wonder, then, that pundits on both sides of the divide would spin things to their advantage. 

The mainstream media, however, has generally exercised great caution in this regard.

Myth 8: The Attack Is Linked to the Nooses. Nowhere in any of the evidence, including statements by witnesses and defendants, is there any reference to the noose incident that occurred three months prior. This was confirmed by the United States attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, Donald Washington, on numerous occasions.

Eyewitnesses didn’t mention the noose incident because they weren’t asked about it.  The primary difference between my account of the facts and Mr. Franklin’s is that he has always presented the assault on Mr. Barker as an isolated incident while I see it as the final act in a tragic string of intimately related events beginning with Kenneth Purvis’s question. 

The mainstream media falls somewhere between my version of the truth and Mr. Franklin’s.  No one should be surprised that public officials in Jena are threatened by my narrative–they should be.  If any of these cases come to trial (and Mr. Franklin should be praying that they don’t) far more connective tissue will come to public attention.

Myth 9: Mychal Bell’s All-White Jury. While it is true that Mychal Bell was convicted as an adult by an all-white jury in June (a conviction that was later overturned with his case sent to juvenile court), the jury selection process was completely legal and withstood an investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Court officials insist that several black residents were summoned for jury duty, but did not appear.

Craig Franklin is absolutely right about this.  Few black residents qualified for jury duty and most of the handful of people who did qualify didn’t show up for health reasons, because they were acquainted with the defendant, or because they knew the prosecutor would strike them.  Minority jurors are always the first strikes when, as is usually the case, the defendant is a minority.  This is all standard procedure, however, and says nothing about LaSalle Parish per se.

Myth 10: Jena 6 as Model Youth. While some members were simply caught up in the moment, others had criminal records. Bell had at least four prior violent-crime arrests before the December attack, and was on probation during most of this year.

Notice that Mr. Franklin stops with Mychal Bell’s well-publicized juvenile record.  No one in the mainstream media has suggested that the defendants were “Model Youth”.  In fact, the disturbing nature of the allegations would have killed this story if the strange behavior of public officials didn’t raise questions about the quality of justice the Jena 6 could expect in LaSalle Parish. 

These are normal, small-town kids.  African Americans tend to identify with the Jena 6 because their story is so familiar, not because they see these kids as latter day incarnations of sister Rosa.  Black Americans know that ordinary kids can get swept up in a pathological social dynamic not of their own making.

Myth 11: Jena Is One of the Most Racist Towns in America. Actually, Jena is a wonderful place to live for both whites and blacks. The media’s distortion and outright lies concerning the case have given this rural Louisiana town a label it doesn’t deserve.

In general, I am in agreement with Mr. Franklin here.  Bloggers and radio personalities have frequently exaggerated the extent and the nature of the racism on display in Jena.  Civil rights leaders, for the most part, have been more cautious on this score.  I have always argued that Jena is a mirror for America, and I stand by that assessment.  

It must be said, however, that LaSalle Parish has retained some disturbing vestiges of the old Jim Crow South that need to be faced honestly and openly (although, I admit that the current environment is hardly conducive to serious self-examination).  Kenneth Purvis asked a question that Jena officials couldn’t answer–the issue wasn’t considered a proper subject for public conversation.  Did an informal, but influential, color line exist on the high school campus?  If so, should Jena renounce that line and turn over a new leaf?  The adults of Jena weren’t ready for these questions and now the kids, black and white, are paying the price.

Myth 12: Two Levels of Justice. Outside protesters were convinced that the prosecution of the Jena 6 was proof of a racially biased system of justice. But the US Justice Department’s investigation found no evidence to support such a claim. In fact, the percentage of blacks and whites prosecuted matches the parish’s population statistics.

It must be remembered that the US Justice Department is part of the American criminal justice system.  Donald Washington was right: most of what happened in Jena was legal.  That is because we have decided to gift prosecutors and judges with great discretion.  Mr. Walters’ threat to black students, the prejudicial announcement he published in the Jena Times in mid-December, 2006, and a number of his recent comments are clearly grounds for recusal.  Ethical standards have been violated.  But were these acts illegal?  We’ll see–the ethical bar for prosecutors is set very low.

Friends of Justice decided to bring this case to the attention of the nation because it illustrates what is happening, albeit in less spectacular fashion, across the nation.  We aren’t trying to get the Jena 6 off; we’ve been trying to get them some justice.  The next few stages in the legal process will demonstrate whether we have succeeded.  I suspect we have.  There will be no repeat of the fiasco that was the Mychal Bell trial.

Regrettably, however, the mainstream media has rarely asked what the Jena story says about the fairness of the American criminal justice system.  “Objective” journalists aren’t supposed to even address that question–they can only repeat the critique advanced by their sources.  And thus far, sources like Al Sharpton haven’t settled on a consistent message.  One moment, Jena is a throwback to Jim Crow justice; the next moment, Jena is about contemporary America.  Al Sharpton et al, need to clarify their message.

The media has created the illusion that Jena is a uniquely racist community by asking Jena residents the wrong question: “Do you think this is a racist town?”

Black residents, with few exceptions, do see Jena as a racist community; white folks disagree.  Conflicting quotations give the appearance of a town divided along racial lines.  Tulia, Texas received the same treatment, with similar results.

Journalists should be asking if the Jena 6 can get a semblance of Justice in LaSalle Parish.  They should be asking if the plight of the Jena 6 suggests unresolved issues within the American criminal justice systemUnfortunately, the mainstream media doesn’t like that question because they fear that Middle America doesn’t like it. 

These are just 12 of many myths that are portrayed as fact in the media concerning the Jena cases. (A more thorough review of all events can be found at www.thejenatimes.net – click on Chronological Order of Events.)

Click on this link and you will get an expanded version of the official-friendly history the Jena Times has been sponsoring from the beginning.

As with the Duke Lacrosse case, the truth about Jena will eventually be known. But the town of Jena isn’t expecting any apologies from the media. They will probably never admit their error and have already moved on to the next “big” story. Meanwhile in Jena, residents are getting back to their regular routines, where friends are friends regardless of race. Just as it has been all along.

Craig Franklin is right to compare Jena with the Duke Lacrosse imbroglio.  Mike Nifong and Reed Walters presented the public with a version of history unsupported by the facts and simple common sense.  If Mr. Nifong’s victims had been represented by the lamentable Blaine Williams they would have been convicted at the end of a brief and unheralded trial.  Had Mr. NJifong focused on an anonymous college with low-status students, the media wouldn’t have paid much attention.  Thanks to highly paid, motivated defense counsel, the Duke defendants were able to clear their names.  Now that the Jena 6 enjoy the same advantage, the scales in the hands of the blind lady are beginning to tilt in the direction of justice.

• Craig Franklin is assistant editor of The Jena Times.

Alan Bean is executive director of Friends of Justice.

53 thoughts on “Alan Bean’s take on Jena mythology

  1. I have made 17 visits to Jena and have conducted dozens of interviews and reviewed all court and media materials associated with this case. What is the basis for your position? This is all about who you believe and who’s account makes the most sense–there are no “artifacts of solid evidence”. There rarely are in cases like these. Just because a police officer, a DA, or a US Attorney says it doesn’t make it factual unless what these folks are saying holds up under close scrutiny.

  2. alan bean,

    you are reporting hearsay! what makes you think that your story is better than the next. i am from jena, and there was never a white tree. arent’ you tired of being embarrassed? the truth is overwhelming and it is sweeping this nation. you are a mockery. the jena six will be prosecuted in a court of law for the attack. your backing of the lies is fruitless. if you want to do somethng send marcus jones some money, he is jobless. again.

  3. Fried Okra:
    Please read my post, then tell me what you think of it. Responding to something you haven’t read gets in the way of clear communication.

  4. Mr. Franklin: “As reported by students in the assembly, the question was asked to make a joke and to drag out the assembly and avoid class.”

    You: “The lazy Negro theory’ was invented to address an obvious question: ‘If the Jena high school courtyard is as integrated as Mr. Franklin claims, why did Kenneth Purvis ask if he could sit under the tree?’”

    Lazy Negro theory? I read Lazy Student – in other words, student. You leap to that makes me question you’re your lens.

  5. http://www.mydd.com/story/2007/10/25/113723/66

    Alan, I talked to you last month. You were kind enough to send me information. I would like to talk to you again. I will send you an email. I am trying to spread awareness of your organization to more bloggers.

    I like the fact that you did not respond to the article by blindly making the African American students look like angels. The point is not that there are flawed students of both races but how the people in charge handle the flaws and provide the next generation of both races with valuabe lessons. What the DA and school board did is worse than the hanging of nooses by immature youths who probably had some inkling of the racism but did not think through clearly the intensity of such a message. The DA is a grown man in a responsible position. The school board is supposed to manage the school in a responsible manner and making studens learn from their mistakes.

  6. (I posted this over at Reason before realizing hey, I could comment here.)

    Alan Bean himself says, in the article to which you link, that the Franklins run a first-class weekly newspaper, yet can’t keep from the disdain when he disagrees with something.

    While Bean offers some decent though not irrefutable thoughts on the inherent logic problems of the alternative noose explanations, he also says that he has no doubt that the white students would have felt remorse if the full symbolic impact of the nooses was explained to them.

    And yet a bit later, back on attack mode with regard to the statements of the prosecutor Reed Walters, he says Walters knew he was in the gymnasium because of some black students and parents being outraged that the noose incident was being treated as a “childish prank” rather than a hate crime.

    I’d say Mr. Bean evidently accepts the view that it was a childish prank, or at least closer to that than a hate crime. In fact he says it outright: it wasn’t a hate crime, in his opinion.

    And since he doesn’t respond he evidently is accepting as fact the punishment Franklin describes: “not a three-day suspension, but rather nine days at an alternative facility followed by two weeks of in-school suspension, Saturday detentions, attendance at Discipline Court, and evaluation by licensed mental-health professionals.”

    In short; I’d say the punishment as described – which does in itself offer evidence of the media’s inaccurate and distorting reporting – fits the incident as he sees it. So what’s his basic beef with Franklin? And Mr. Balko, what’s your basic beef with the notion that this was a situation responded to about as fairly as could be done, and in a way that certainly does not prove overwhelming racism in the town?

  7. “The mainstream media falls somewhere between my version of the truth and Mr. Franklin’s.”

    Speaking from Minnesota, no they don’t. They accept your version, or about 97% of it.

  8. You grudgingly accept that Walters may not have been looking at the black students and yet you keep referring to “Walter’s threat to black students.”

    You state flat-out that assmeblies were always segregated “and still are.” Is there evidence?

    If by “segregated” you mean “the black students tended to congregate with each other, leaving their classes-based seating to do so” – that’s not segregated. That’s groups sitting together, which by the way I would also assume to be the reality behind the “segregated tree.”

    And the reason I say “black students tended to congregate with each other” rather than “both races tended to congregate with each other” is because of my understanding of the racial makeup of the town, and thus (I assume) of the school: overwhelmingly white, not many blacks. White wouldn’t have to move to largely sit with each other.

    And I’m not saying blacks have themselves to blame for their faux segregation. I’m saying what it sounds like to me is the local manifestation of an unfortunate reality: in schools, the races, all races, still tend to congregate among their own.

    And you’re using that reality to try to constuct a narrative that fits your idea that you alone are somehow sitting on a powderkeg version of reality, when actually all you’re trying to suport is the version that is accepted nearly everywhere already.

  9. “Journalists should be asking if the Jena 6 can get a semblance of Justice in LaSalle Parish. They should be asking if the plight of the Jena 6 suggests unresolved issues within the American criminal justice system. Unfortunately, the mainstream media doesn’t like that question because they fear that Middle America doesn’t like it.”

    Are you living inside a styrofoam bubble? I almost don’t mean that facetiously.

  10. (Posted this at Reason too; the final part at least is something I believe you should take into account .)

    The town is about 85% white, according to the “facts about Jena” page which seems ot have some kind of relationship with the Jena Times, but unless proven otherwise I’ll accept it as basically accurate.

    http://jenala.net/AboutJena.html

    In short, assuming the racial mix of the town holds for the school in large part, white students don’t have to do a damn thing to sit with each other.

    I’m not blaming black students for sitting with each other, if that’s in fact the substance of the “segregation,” as I suspect. I’m saying that the local manifestation of the national reality of races sitting with each other would, here, primarily involve actions by black students. Unless you can provide any evidence of white students forcing black people not to sit with them.

    Speaking of which, the racial composition affects the idea of the “whites only tree,” too.

    It sounds, to me, like the tree was the most desirable spot to gather, being shaded. Most students went there. Most students were white. The black students, if they as one would expect were often/sometimes looking to congregate, would have, of necessity, been forced to do it somewhere else. Not forced by white people; forced by geometry.

    The resulting reality – whites get the shade – could easily be both largely innocuous and the source of some nervous attention by the students. Which by the way provides a backdrop to the possibility of the black student’s question at the assembly being a joke, an edgy joke. (Mr. Bean claims to see no possible rationale for a joke. He’s not trying very hard.)

  11. “Mr. Franklin neglects to mention that black parents attended a school board meeting in the wake of the disciplinary committees’ decision to over-rule the recommendation of the principal. The parents were refused a hearing because they weren’t on the agenda. Shortly thereafter, the same parents made a brief presentation to the school board (a meeting covered in detail by the Jena Times) and were greeted with silence.”

    He may have left the reading of the statement out of the article for the Monitor, although he does mention it in some detail in the timeline at the paper. Since the fact of black parents reading a statement at a meeting doesn’t seem any kind of overwhelming evidence against his narrative, I’d assume he left it out of the article for space reasons. He also says that since the incident involved students, the board members were prohibited from discussing it in public. Is he wrong? Or are you implying something untrue?

  12. Question: is there any kind of familial relationship between Windham, the principal who recommedned expulsion for a year, and Wyndham, the kid who got in the fight with Robert Bailey?

    (I believe you have the spelling of the prinicpal’s last name wrong, by the way, just based on the fact that when i google you’re the only one spelling it that way. But slightly different spellngs of names can still belong to relatives, even wihtin the same area. My in-laws are an example.)

  13. Paul:
    Thank you for your copious comments. I won’t try to address each one of them.

    I have corrected the spelling of “Windham”, and, no, I am led to believe the two Windhams are not directly related.

    I most certainly believe the hanging of the nooses was a hate crime; I just think juveniles should be educated rather than prosecuted.

    If you want to know if assemblies are segregated in Jena just drive down there and ask–no one will deny it.

    I should probably have mentioned that the current version of the discipline meted out to the noose hangers contradicts what journalists were initially told by Superintendent Breithaupt. If people believed the students received a few days of suspension it’s because that’s what the official line used to be. Why it has now changed, I cannot say.

    Finally, I refer to the “Lazy Negro” theory because Mr. Purvis, as everyone knows is black. Mr. Franklin dismisses the idea that the student had a sincere desire to be treated as the equal of white students and fishes about for an alternative explanation–i.e. the boy was lazy. How does Mr. Franklin know he is lazy? What evidence suggests he was lazy? One thing alone–Kenneth Purvis is black, and everybody knows . . .

    If I seem a bit miffed with Mr. Franklin, I apologize. It may have something to do with the fact that he recently ridiculed my work on the front page of his newspaper (or so I am told). But you really can’t blame people like Craig Franklin for taking all of this personally–it is personal. On the other hand, that is just another reason why these trails need to be moved out of LaSalle Parish.

    Also (and please don’t think me unkind, Paul), I trust you have read my latest post. Your desperate desire to believe that all is well in Jena shows that you have a hunger to be lied to. Stay tuned, the march of events has a way of clarifying factual disputes.

  14. i’d say that the so called “MSM” distorts the facts as they appear.

    in many instances, the MSM will attempt to make the focus of this case the “failure” of the powers that be to prosecute the hanging of nooses as a hate crime.

    to ME the issue seems to revolve around the fact of the DA’s apparent selective proseuction of the students involved in the campus beat-down as “AGG Assault” and the perpetrators of the beat-down of robert bailey at the barn (who apparently was coldcocked with a beer bottle in the incident) with simple assault.

    the idea (actually FACT!) that this DA who has already gone on record as saying that he has the power to end these kids lives with the stroke of a pen, then actually having the temerity to tell us that while SHOES are weapons of mayhem, a bottle so used is NOT, is EXEMPLARY of the janus-faced system of “justice” in these, the united snakes of ameriKKKa!

  15. Rich:
    I should caution that the bottle, as the story was related to me, was not wielded either by the initial assailant or by Matt Windham, but by a third student. Still, the assaults are very similar in the sense that both started with a sucker punch. As I say, the difference is that Robert Bailey was not knocked unconscious. Actually, I think the matter at the Fair Barn was handled fairly and appropriately. It could be argued that more students should have been charged, but I would need to hear the testimony of all the eye witnesses before commenting on that issue. I think the Jena 6 should be charged with misdemeanor battery, for those under 18 at the time of the incident, in juvenile court. As you can tell, I am not in favor of putting juveniles in prison except in the most exceptional cases.

  16. The DA should not have charged these young men with such aggravated crimes.

    You and I would both be upset if our son received a beating such as the one Mychael Bell inititiated.

    We agree on somethings.

    However, if you think the Jena Six have not been lionized and celebrated for their goodness, you are mistaken.

    And you come very close in your lengthy defense to saying that the African American violence and self segragation were both justified. But the fact is that far too many African-American males are in prison. What makes you think that these young men won’t attack again?

    As a practical matter, we will never know who kicked an unconscious young man while he was on the ground.

    But we do know that the perpatrators have been excused by you of all but the slightest responsibility;
    we do know that on Crooks and iars there were links to white Liberal blogs where writers refused to call the kid who was knocked out a “victim” since the real victims were the assailants;
    and we can also interpolate that some of those who did this will probably end up in prison for other crimes.

    What is sad, and maybe irreperaiable in America, is that 50 years ago we celebrated African Americans who wanted the best education possible, and today we celebrate an attack by African American students, because “it wasn’t THAT bad,” and “What else could they do?”

    Do we really expect so little of African American males that the Jena Six are our version of Black America’s Best and Brightest?

    Don’t you see that one does not have to be a racist to think that overcharging the perpatrators was bad, but so was the attack which seems to mimic the evryday violence so many African American neighborhoods suffer from at the hands of young black males?

    Who is killing all the young African American males? Ultimately, our racists society, but let’s not say, “put yourself in their shoes what else could they do?” Let’s instead say to young African Americans, “put yourself in the shoes of other blacks who are studying to be professors and lawyres and doctors and scientists and writers and so many other professions.”

    I swear that a racist could not make up a better scenario for blacks than Gangsta Culture and white apologists for black violence.

  17. Saying that the assemblies are segregated implies that some sort of enforcement is going on, when there is none. Races sitting in groups is common in any high school or social situation and happens by the choice of the individuals. It is human nature to socialize with those that are similar to you and share your same ethnic background and i don’t think it is indicative of any particular racism.

    Hate crime laws and so-called “civil rights leaders” do the most damage in situations such as these. As immature and possibly hateful as the noose hanging might have been, no American has the right not to be offended. As it did happen on school property however, it was appropriate for school officials to punish the perpetrators. There doesn’t need to be any legislation against hanging nooses. Menacing, harassment, and vandalism are already illegal and appropriate charges for noose hanging. Al Sharpton and the like are creating as much animosity as they can and directly benefiting from it.

    I think the whole situation was handled fairly well by law enforcement and public officials. In many states, any assault that involves more than three attackers results in an automatic charge of attempted murder, so while the initial charges were excessive, I don’t think anyone can claim that there was no precedence for them.

  18. Pingback: Dallas South Blog » Blog Archive » The spin is on in Jena, Louisiana; officials look to rewrite history

  19. See, the problem is, Mr. Bean, I believe it’s the left with the desire to be lied to; and it’s a more insidious desire because it’s unacknowledged by those afflicted – unacknowledged as even a metaphysical possibility – and based on a sense of their own moral superiority.

    The concept you and others need to internalize is that the desire for status quo is easily matched by the desire for rebellion. And in this country, given that life is very difficult and there are actually no negative consequences for rebellion, in fact there are definite rewards if you know what you’re doing, it’s a mighty strong pull.

  20. Your own response to me here is rife with honesty-related ambiguity, which I’d say is directed at even yourself. You don’t see the twists you take to maintain the narrative.

    In your post you say you believe the boys would have been remorseful if they know what the actual historical context was (although you end that confusing sentence by saying you remain suspicious). But here you insist it was a “hate crime.” In what important moral sense is that true if the perpetrators were in any significant degree unaware of the hate in the message?

    I find disingenuous your strong faith that there is no context available for a lighter-hearted reason for the black student’s question at the end of an assembly, about sitting under the tree. But there are facts in dispute that seem answerable.

    Did the student and a friend (as I’ve read) “approach the administration” with the question? Was he a quavering civil rights youth with hat in hand approaching the strict enforcer of notorious segregation at assemblies and with regard to trees (although not parties and football teams)?

    Or was it in fact asked at an assembly? Or a combination? First the assembly question, then the later meeting where the kid says seriously, what about the tree?

    You say, combining certainty, momentousness, and vagueness, that everyone knows the assemblies are segregated, just go down and ask. Well, I may, but I don’t believe you answer the specific reasons for my wondering what that actually means. Is it a formal segregation, enforced by the school? I really doubt it. If it is, we’ve entered into the Twilight Zone and I join you in your protests.

    So is it a 100%-observed informal segregation, with vicious consequences for anyone who changes it? I doubt that, too, given that there were missed-race parties going on and all seemed happy on the football team, that kind of thing.

    Etc. There are more.

  21. Rich’s comment contains a beauty along the same lines: repeated kicking of an unconscious victim is transformed into an attack with “a shoe.” Why, that’s almost funny, to be attacked with a shoe! Obviously not as bad as (one disputed) blow with a bottle!

  22. “Al Sharpton and the like are creating as much animosity as they can and directly benefiting from it.”

    And the national Democratic Party is addicted to the dynamic, with its electoral chances at the Presidential level largely dependent on the ongoing absurdity of receiving 90% of the black vote. And racial politics keeps getting in the way of absolutely everything, including better racial politics.

  23. Paul:
    I would appreciate it if you could collect your thoughts a bit before posting. Responding to six different stream-of-consciousness comments at a time is difficult.

  24. I’m a quick writer by the way. Your loss.

    Your “lazy Negro” answer – which relates to the question of Franklin’s motivation in describing the context for the question about the tree – is like a ride on a slow-moving, twisting, turn-you-upside-down roller coaster.

    Okay, if you go through all that, it’s theoretically possible to see what you mean: Franklin, this fellow you alternately respect and despise, was rolling out the Lazy Negro stereotype

    But it still leaves sitting there the message I believe Franklin was trying to convey, the one I received and seems more obvious to me: a typical student extending an assembly.

    The whole idea that asking a question for such a purpose would characterize notorious racial laziness is ridiculous, first of all. I recognize the urge to do that kind of thing. I would have done it myself, or actually more likely admired someone who did. I remember high school. The question would be a fun but trivial event. Students who would have the cojones to do such a symbolic humorous thing in public, I would see them as natural dynamic leaders with a sense of humor.

    Franklin says the fatuous question was followed by a couple others, from other students, race not specified, for the same purpose. Even if he’s lying about the whole story: if the purpose is to single out a lazy Negro, why tack on the softening detail of other students joining in?

    From my perspective, your answer feels like a man looking to find racism, even in a man he also professes to not despise and to be responsible for a first-class weekly newspaper.

  25. You imply lack of clarity. I’ll arrange it for you.

    My first post today lays out a general theory of the unacknowledged, unconscious urge to be lied to among the left.

    The second gives examples of how that works, with pieces of evasive or slippery writing in your response to me.

    The Sharpton post speaks for itself, and is only tangentially related to Jena.

    The final one above is entirely devoted to dissecting the Lazy Negro theory of Franklin’s allegedly concocted assembly story.

  26. Paul:
    The fact that the Franklins put out an admirable newspaper doesn’t mean they always talk sense, especially when the reputation of their community is in jeopardy. Craig Franklin can’t imagine that a black student might be honestly upset by the segregration at Jena High. Neither, it appears, can you. The fact that Kenneth and his friends went to the tree and sat under it after class says a great deal about how serious they took the question.

  27. We have yet to receive an answer on what’s meant by “segregation,” specifically at assemblies, in the context of an overwhelmingly white school. (Is that a correct assumption?)

    I have a hard time accepting a situation of formal segregation, and I explain pretty carefully why. I ask you if that’s what you mean, and you respond by lamenting my lack of courage in facing the facts.

    As for the students going to sit under the tree: you say in your post that black students would go to that area, “though it wasn’t typical.” Okay, then it wasn’t exactly segregation. And “it wasn’t typical” describes the situation with no specificity at all, while also I’d point out leaving plenty of psychic/social space for the black students to go sit under the tree.

    You say in your post that the majority of white students were supportive of the later black sit-in, although some were angry.

    If the majority supported it, and the administration had no problem – presto, the preexisting segregation, formal or informal turns out to be not so bad, if not entirely a fiction. Right? By your own words, I mean.

    And the few white students who you say were angry: what they were angry about? Black students sitting under their tree? The implied message that they’re racist? Some weird male versus male power thing, with race the context but not really the issue?

    The whole point is that it is so damn easy to perceive complexity and motivations other than clear racism, even in your own descriptions. We keep asking specific questions from within that view, and get almost no answers other than directing us to receive the wisdom of your later post.

    I’ll lay off now.

  28. Paul , you seriously buy that Lonesome Dove explanation? They just happened to pick THAT tree on the VERY NEXT DAY? You seriously buy a DA will threaten white girls over cell phones? And why wasn’t that given as an immediate explanation as talk was going around as to what the DA meant?

    Some of the Jena 6 are not angels. Or maybe none of them are. We certainly no Bell is not. Still, he spent 9 months in jail. And considering the bizzare pronouncements of the DA about God protecting the city(i forget his exact words, but he just seemed a little out there), I am willing not to give him the benefit of doubt on his past actions.

    And yes, one can think the nooses were a hate crime, but one can also want to educate the white youths as they are young like the Jena 6 and were obviously not taught the INTENSITY of how bad the nooses were, though they should have known those were bad symbols to use.

    The bigger problem for me is not the white students themselves or the Jena 6, but the conduct of the grownups on the school board and the DA. And if the DA felt that his intentions were being misconstrued, as a public official, he should have realized trust was important and worked to fix the trust right away before the situation got out of hand. The fact that he knew there were some tensions(even if they won’t admit it was as serious as claimed by the black locals), for him to overcharge the Jena 6 in comparison to people in similar level incidents, really makes me doubt his sincerity.

  29. We certainly no Bell is not.
    should read
    We certainly know Bell is not.

    Also a local guy can put out a decent paper and still be in such denial or hold strong loyalty to his hometown that his brain can rationalize incidents differently. They will hang on to every single piece favorable to their point of view they can find and will present it in a way that seems logical to them.

  30. dear Alan

    Someone above posted something which has also bothered me.

    “What is sad, and maybe irreperaiable in America, is that 50 years ago we celebrated African Americans who wanted the best education possible, and today we celebrate an attack by African American students, because “it wasn’t THAT bad,” and “What else could they do?”

    Do we really expect so little of African American males that the Jena Six are our version of Black America’s Best and Brightest?”

    I deplore hwat America has done and continues to do to African Americans. But as a liberal Liberal who hates violence, I think many of those who defend the Jena Six DO make heroes out of them and excuse them. Unfortunately, it is my judgment that you are also doing that here.

    I acknowledge that you do say you would be upset if your child was attacked like this, but you seem to me to be saying “What else could these guys do?” And to make other excuses for them

    I acknowledge that you maintain that nobody has made heroes out of these guys, but I think any search of the coverage would show that isn’t true. The one defendant was honored with an appearance at BET, and his mother issued a non-denial denial to his clowning with hundred dollar bills.

    Like most Americans today, alas, some of these guys like being famous, even if it is for allegedly beating an unconscious high school student who happened to be white.

    Free The Jena Six? To do what?

    This is a sad and shameful story.

  31. Pravin –

    I am open to the possibility that the white boys knew at least something of what they were doing. The fact that it happened the day after this question was asked supports it, as you say. But there are too many nagging contradictions to the backstory of that interpretation, at least the interpretation at its worst.

    It’s unclear to me, yet, in what context the question about the white tree was asked, and in how serious a manner; and related to that, if the nooses were a reaction, how seriously they were meant. Was it a racist taunt, or a stupid “joke” by idiots who didn’t know what they were doing (as Mr. Bean himself accepts)?

    There is reference to wide testimony that the white tree was in fact not a white tree.

    On the other hand, it would be pretty easy to see how a de facto white tree could occur, if the typical informal voluntary segregation took place.

    Mr. Bean himself says that the boys were probably not really aware of the deepest consequences of the action; and he believes the reaction of the school was basically fair. (Although I’m not sure if he believes they changed the original punishment to a harsher one at some point, or if the supposed punishment of three days suspension was reported inaccurately from the beginning.)

    As for the prosecutor, note how even in your post you move toward accepting that perhaps the sin of the prosecutor boiled down to not being sensitive enough to the anger and distrust, as opposed to perpetrating clearly racist prosecutions.

    So the failure to call a meeting to explain a defensible prosecution is cause for national movement? Man, there is no chance of reconciliation if that’s the case.

  32. I’d tend to dispute the contention that prosecutors routinely dismiss potential black jurors first, so blacks called for jury duty will stay away rather than appear in vain.

    First, and I speak as a defense attorney who has represented blacks in jury trials on a variety of charges (whites, too), there’s a case called Batson v. Kentucky in which the Supreme Court struck down such practices. Prosecutors must show race-neutral reasons for striking minority jurors if challenged. There are a number of remedies available to judges under the circumstances. Prosecutors are very aware of this, having a Batson challenge upheld or even seriously looked at by the judge makes the prosecutor look bad. Appeals can be based on it.

    Unless we assume that every lawyer who has practiced in the parish is complicit in some sort of race conspiracy, plus the judge, prosecutor, and the appeals courts, I’d tend to doubt that blacks in LaSalle Parish have a basis to think “If I show up, the prosecutor will strike me.” Not the way things work. A prosecutor who strkes every black from the jury is just begging for a Batson challenge. Most prefer not to risk it. The other jurors notice, too, and react accordingly.

  33. Gary,
    Prosecutors can make several strikes without giving an explanation. In Tulia, Texas, for instance, Terry McEachern would routinely strike black and Hispanic names at the end of voir dire. I doubt he ever had to worry about a Batson challenge.

  34. Paul, I never suggested that the response of the school was basically fair. The noose incident demonstrated that the Jena school system needed a mandated course in diversity education as well as history classes touching on slavery, the Jim Crow period and the Civil Rights Movement. Is it realistic to expect people like Roy Breithaupt to endorse this course of action? Probably not; but that’s just the problem.

  35. #32: I realize that some folks do give the impression that the Jena 6 are role models. Like most kids, they make mistakes, especially when they are exposed to an unprecedented barrage of media attention. Publicity is inherently corrupting and no one escapes entirely unscathed. We are no longer dealing primarily with the Old Jim Crow regime Rosa Parks lived with. The reality we face impacts kids like Robert Bailey and, yes, Mychal Bell. All you have to do to deprive these kids of due process is smear them as thugs. Suddenly, hard evidence is no longer required for a conviction. Check out my reflections on Mychal Bell’s “trial” on the Jena 6 page if you want to know what I’m driving at. Craig Franklin and his daddy assured their readers that the Jena 6 were dangerous dudes and that the Barker episode was unrelated to earlier events. Hence my counter-narrative. I suggest we all wait for the trials (if trials there be) before rushing to judgment. But my point is that the Jena 6 are typical victims of the New Jim Crow and that’s why their stories resonate with the majority of black Americans.

  36. Fair to the kids involved, was my focus. I do believe you’ve seemed to suggest that, like here:

    “But, like Mr. Cohen, I agree with the basic thrust of Franklin’s argument here–the noose hangers should not have been charged with committing a hate crime because they are juveniles who didn’t understand the full import of their actions.”

    I would assume that since they didn’t really understand the symbol, you would also find it unfair to expel them for an entire year. Seems a bit harsh to do that because of the need for the community to make a symbolic statement.

    Was the punishment heightened in reponse to initial anger, by the way? Is that what you believe? Or do you believe it was just misreported?

  37. The bottom line for me is simple:

    Jena reads to me like a town with flaws and some racial problems, and stubborn disparities, and attitudes that still come out in some contexts, but populated largely by people trying to get past all that, imperfectly. As reflected in the reported attitudes of the large majoritiy of white students, for example, about the sit-ins under the tree.

    And that town is being held up for all time as an example of the stubbornness of vicious racism.

    It seems basically untrue, even by your own descriptions. But for some reason it’s important that the story be true, so that the dramatic “lessons” can be applied to the entire damn country, and the sick intertwining of black politics and Democratic politics maintained.

  38. Paul S, to say that you are “open to the possibility that the white boys knew at least something of what they were doing” destroys the logic of your argument, which is based on the fact that there is no segregation in the Jena highschool, except that which arises from the fact that black students are in minority. if you don’t accept the idea that the noose was put on the tree in emulation of Lonesome Dove, then, logically, the tree must have some value as a racial marker. Otherwise, the nooses could have been hung on any tree. And if you accept that the nooses were a racial symbol, what could that symbol be – if not the symbol of lynching? So – you think that a jokey allusion to lynching, produced on a tree that is informally white only, isn’t going to create the type of situation that developed at the Jena school?

    I’m sorry, that is denial, and it is truly unconvincing. I think Beam is right about not persecuting juveniles who did it to the full extent of the law, simply because we have cluttered the law with too many onerous punishments, but I do think he is being a little too softhearted about whether or not the white students understood what they were doing. There was certainly more than enough reason for the school officials to handle this with much more severe punishments than they handed out, and ones aimed at giving the students some kind of racial sensitivity course. But as the school board seemed unwilling to do anything, the black students had good reason to think justice was being doled out asymmetrically in Jena.

    Furthermore, once you admit that the the nooses were connected to the lynching motif, then Franklin’s narrative seems seriously undermotivated. He is trying to disconnect the noose incident from the attacks. But that disconnect only works if the nooses were somehow misunderstood by the media. And, as a corollary to that, that they were understood differently by the people in Jena. If you don’t buy that element in his story, than you can’t really buy the idea that the media narrative is a myth. It is his narrative that becomes mythical at that point. The nooses as symbols of the white tree, and of lynching – which makes much more sense – points to obvious racial tensions in that school that Franklin simply doesn’t want to confront. Especially as the question asked at the school assembly doesn’t even seem to have been accusatory. It seems to have been a joke. But the white students were so defensive about it that they immediately upped the ante.

    The bottom line for me is: your defense of Franklin’s narrative actually blows it away, and makes Beam’s account seem much more plausible.

  39. Here is another Bottom Line:

    50 years ago we liberals celebrated educational barriers falling and the courage it took to imagine upward mobility; today we celebrate violent black students because they are taking proactive measures to fight racism.

    There are way too many wasted African American lives, too many black young men in prison and on parole. Our Drug laws need to be changed; our culture needs to be changed; and our thinking that blacks cannot help but act violently needs to change. The victim of most black crime is other blacks.

    The Jena Six were honored at BET Hip Hop Awards. When was the last time any of us honored young black scholars?

  40. “And that town is being held up for all time as an example of the stubbornness of vicious racism.”

    I thought it is being held up as an example of the stubbornness of *insidious* racism.

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  43. you say :
    “Robert Bailey Jr. didn’t wait several months to come up with the “bottle” theory; that was his story when I interviewed him for two hours in the LaSalle Parish jail back in January of 2007 and he has never deviated from it. The fact that he didn’t mention every detail of the assault in his report to the police doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. But the bottle rarely appears in mainstream reporting because the Fair Barn incident is rarely discussed.”

    but what I want to know is during your “two hour interview “ Did you see the sutures in his head? Did you see the scar from the “bottle” attack? Did you see any medicaid reports showing that Robert Bailey Jr. ever had sutures in his head?
    NO sir, you did not, because he NEVER had sutures in his head from a “bottle”attack because he WAS NOT attacked with a bottle.

  44. Jordan:
    Yes, I did see a scar on the back of Robert’s head. I never saw a medical report because he didn’t go to the hospital. May I ask how you know Robert wasn’t attacked with a bottle? You were present at the scene, perhaps?

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  49. Fist I must salute Mr Bean on his style,conceding minor points, feining sympathy on others,masterfully including admitted rumor and innuendo (if not outright lies) all while driving home his perspective, under the guise of fair-play and impartiality. Witness – “Some Jena residents have suggested that Robert was attacked because he was leaving the dance with a white girl. Eye witness testimony lends no support to this version of events; I mention it only to indicate the power of rumor.” A clever disclaimer,yet which is more powerfull and best remembered, the awful bigotry of a vicious, albeit phony attack, or it being mentioned”only to indicate the power of rumor”?

    While I feel we could parse words and disect the backgrounds,culture and pre-attack events ad nauseum it really comes down to a simple matter in the end.

    Mychal Bell and at least 5 others Premeditated a racially motivated attack on a single student. They trapped him,knocked him unconcious and proceeded to kick and “stomp” him as he lay defensless,most of the blows striking his head.
    Sure Mr Bean calls it “a genuine thumping”, says “he would be devastated” if it was his child,allows the assailants “murderous intent”, feins reluctance to reveal “out of respect for Justin’s family” then goes on to say how Justin’s injuries “can be exaggerated” as no bones were broken,organs undamaged, “a great deal of bruising and swelling” yet “few serious cuts”. Again, concede,sympathize but in the end make your point that it was not a big deal. I defy anyone to read that paragraph, then view the pictures and tell me they describe the same thing. Technically factual perhaps, but c’mon now, that boy was beaten like a dog.

    By whatever miracle Justin’s injuries were not grave the intent and premeditation remains. ANY provocation, real or imagined,immediate or months prior is absolutely NO justification.Period.

    Notice Ive left race out of the description, suppose, just for discussion, that roles were reversed,that 6 or more white students had done that, would They be portrayed as victims by the media, would Mr Bean seek to minimize Their actions, hell, how could anyone?

  50. TCloud:
    Thanks for your comment. If six white boys were facing between 25 and 50 years for an assault on a black student there would be an explosion of outrage in a little town like Jena. In fact, the scenario is unimaginable for that very reason. No DA in his right mind would think of hitting juvenile defendants that hard when the victim was well enough to attend a school function later that evening.

    Your commentary suggests that you have read my entire diatribe. If so, I am surprised that you haven’t engaged with my comments about the role DA Reed Walters and School Superintendent Roy Breithaupt played in fomenting ill will between black and white students. Had they handled the noose situation in a forceful manner neither Robert Bailey nor Justin Barker would have been assaulted in December of 2006.

    The problem in Jena is that men like Walters and Breithaupt were incapable of responding properly to the noose incident. To do so would have been to give black concerns a degree of validation that is simply unacceptable to the white community. Those who fail to grasp this basic point will never understand why 30,000 people descended on Jena to protest.

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