Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"I Tried Really Hard, But It Turns Out That 'Innocent Pranks' Aren't Against The Law....


I have heard residents of Jena complain that theirs is not a racist town, and that the news media is being unfair in its depiction of the town when covering the "Jena Six" story. I'm happy to give the residents of Jena the benefit of the doubt, but until today that me with one of two possibilities: They elected a racist prosecutor, or they elected a prosecutor who believes the town to be largely racist and conforms his policies to that perception. Now he speaks out to defend himself, and....
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.

But it broke no law. I searched the Louisiana criminal code for a crime that I could prosecute. There is none.
When I find something to be stupid, abhorrent, and worthy of prosecution, I am disinclined to refer to it as an "innocent prank", and if I were a prosecutor I would not be at all inclined to threaten those who object to the abhorrent act, "See this pen? I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen." I personally might also question why there was a "white tree" in the first place, and why school administrators found that acceptable. I guess I'm an oddball.

This is a fascinating passage,
Conjure the image of schoolboys fighting: they exchange words, clench fists, throw punches, wrestle in the dirt until classmates or teachers pull them apart. Of course that would not be aggravated second-degree battery, which is what the attackers are now charged with. (Five of the defendants were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder.) But that’s not what happened at Jena High School.

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. 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.
Okay... I have never been one to argue that, all else being equal, the "Jena 6" weren't deserving of charges from this incident, and let's assume for the sake of argument that of the competing accounts of what occurred, the prosecutor's version is correct. The prosecutor now believes that the current charges of "aggravated second-degree battery" are justified. He doesn't mention that the six were originally charged with aggravated battery before he intervened and raised the charges to "attempted second-degree murder". He makes no attempt to explain or justify his decision to increase those charges to "attempted second-degree murder". If the current charges (and thus the original charges) were justified by the facts, exactly what was it that motivated his decision to increase the charges? And has he truly forgotten that it was not the original charges, but was his intervention, which led to this furor?

Walters also skips over a number of other events, including fights where white students were the aggressors, in which the most severe charge he contemplated was apparently "simple battery". The more perplexing charging decision - that following the incident in which a white student brandished a shotgun at black students and was disarmed by one of the students. Walters didn't charge the white student with any offense, and charged the black student who disarmed him with theft of a firearm, second-degree robbery and disturbing the peace. (Even if we were to assume, as Walters was apparently happy to do, that the shotgun was brandished out of some form of "self defense", after the gun-wielding man was disarmed was the black student supposed to say, "Oh, sorry. Here, you can have the gun back now"? (And does Louisiana have a "stand your ground" self defense law? Because if I were able to avoid a (presumed) group of threatening youths and get to my car, I would personally drive away rather than pulling out a loaded shotgun to confront them.) I welcome Walters to write a follow-up piece explaining himself. Until he does, I regard Walters' choice not to speak in his own behalf to be a tacit concession that his various other charging decisions related to this case are indefensible.

As for Justin Barker being forgotten in the midst of all the furor over Walters' charging decision? If they looked for information about Barker, here's what the media would find. I'll give Barker the benefit of the doubt, that he was duped into giving a statement to white supremacists. But perhaps Mr. Walters should consider having a conversation with his star witness about actions which might prejudice (no pun intended) the outcome of the pending criminal cases.
In the final analysis, though, I am bound to enforce the laws of Louisiana as they exist today, not as they might in someone’s vision of a perfect world.
Even with his attempt at an explanation, if that's the measure by which we are to judge, I would deem Walters a failure.

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