District Attorney Reed Walters: Justice In Jena

Let me preface this by saying that I do not believe a weapon was involved other than the shoes of the people kicking the victim. However, a jury can find that kind of thing to be a dangerous weapon in criminal law. In any event, I found Mr. Walters’ perspective to be important in all this, so I thought I would post his op-ed here:

September 26, 2007

Op-Ed Contributor

Justice in Jena

Jena, La.

THE case of the so-called Jena Six has fired the imaginations of thousands, notably young African-Americans who, according to many of their comments, believe they will be in the vanguard of a new civil rights movement. Whether America needs a new civil rights movement I leave to social activists, politicians and the people who must give life to such a cause.

I am a small-town lawyer and prosecutor. For 16 years, it has been my job as the district attorney to review each criminal case brought to me by the police department or the sheriff, match the facts to any applicable laws and seek justice for those who have been harmed. The work is often rewarding, but not always.

I do not question the sincerity or motivation of the 10,000 or more protesters who descended on Jena last week, after riding hundreds of miles on buses. But long before reaching our town of 3,000 people, they had decided that a miscarriage of justice was taking place here. Their anger at me was summed up by a woman who said, “If you can figure out how to make a schoolyard fight into an attempted murder charge, I’m sure you can figure out how to make stringing nooses into a hate crime.”

That could be a compelling statement to someone trying to motivate listeners on a radio show, but as I am a lawyer obligated to enforce the laws of my state, it does not work for me.

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.

Similarly, the United States attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, who is African-American, found no federal law against what was done.

A district attorney cannot take people to trial for acts not covered in the statutes. Imagine the trampling of individual rights that would occur if prosecutors were allowed to pursue every person whose behavior they disapproved of.

The “hate crime” the protesters wish me to prosecute does not exist as a stand-alone offense in Louisiana law. It’s not that our Legislature has turned a blind eye to crimes motivated by race or other personal characteristics, but it has addressed the problem in a way that does not cover what happened in Jena. The hate crime statute is used to enhance the sentences of defendants found guilty of specific crimes, like murder or rape, who chose their victims based on race, religion, sexual orientation or other factors.

Last week, a reporter asked me whether, if I had it to do over, I would do anything differently. I didn’t think of it at the time, but the answer is yes. I would have done a better job of explaining that the offenses of Dec. 4, 2006, did not stem from a “schoolyard fight” as it has been commonly described in the news media and by critics.

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.

Imagine you were walking down a city street, and someone leapt from behind a tree and hit you so hard that you fell to the sidewalk unconscious. Would you later describe that as a fight?

Only the intervention of an uninvolved student protected Mr. Barker from severe injury or death. There was serious bodily harm inflicted with a dangerous weapon — the definition of aggravated second-degree battery. Mr. Bell’s conviction on that charge as an adult has been overturned, but I considered adult status appropriate because of his role as the instigator of the attack, the seriousness of the charge and his prior criminal record.

I can understand the emotions generated by the juxtaposition of the noose incident with the attack on Mr. Barker and the outcomes for the perpetrators of each. 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.

That is what I have done. And that is what I must continue to do.

Reed Walters is the district attorney of LaSalle Parish.

15 Responses to “District Attorney Reed Walters: Justice In Jena”

  1. 1 David Berry September 27, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    The law abiding citizens of the City of Jena put Reed Walters in office to protect the population from the criminal element. It sounds to me as that is exactly what he his doing. I only hope that he can remain vigilant and unaffected by the biased, and largely uniformed, media coverage that surrounds this tragic situation.

    The rest of the Country is watching. Stay on target.

    David Berry

  2. 2 Mike T-REX Sance September 27, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    IMO, this is a situation that has largly blown out of praportion by the media, and civil rights activist!!!…I commend U, Mr.Reed walters for keeping your sites on the reel issue at hand, and not folding to peer preasure from NAACP, Al Sharpton, or any other person that is out to turn this into civil rites circus!!!….Tha media, naacp, sharpton, MKL3, and all tha others I have heard cover this story are just plain ignorant to the facts, or just not interested in having them announced, because after reading what you have wrote, I myself was unaware ov facts that makes this even more damming to the term JUSTICE for the naacp or any civil rites activist to get involved from the start…I wish all our law officers, DA’s, and Judges had the gonads you have…thank you, Mike(T-REX)Sance

  3. 3 Hank Lott September 28, 2007 at 3:40 am

    I could sit here and type all the fancy words and sentences but let’s just say it. The NAACP, Sharpton, Jackson and the rest of the ingnorant crew are the MAIN reason racism is still on the front line. Mr. Walters, you have our support in Southwest Alabama. If this punk kid at the age of 17 isn’t dealt with now as an adult, who’s child will he victimise next. It better not be mine. Good Day………………Hank Lott

  4. 4 obadiahslope September 28, 2007 at 6:14 am

    Do you really belive the law is administered in your country without fear of favour to the wealthy and poor, to the white and non-white?

  5. 5 Worried September 28, 2007 at 7:02 am

    You folks should learn how to spell. Then maybe somebody will try to believe the biased opinions you put forth. First, learn to spell. Second, talk. OK?

  6. 6 Dan Robinson September 28, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    First off, Hank Lott speaks for himself. Because he’s a lonely rascist idiot.

    Second, you couldn’t pin a simple harrassment charge onto the hanging of a noose at the school? Really? Couldn;t find any law that was broken at all? Defacement of property, vandalism? Couldn’t throw your wieght at the schoolboard like you did by not letting the schoolboard read all of the information available before expelling all those kids?

    These are children, you crazy bunch of assholes. It was a schoolyard fight. If black people really scare you so much that you think we need to charge these kids with murder then go ahead and climb into your closet and shove your empty, lightwieght head right up your sissy little asses. The civil war was 150 years ago, and you lost because your cause was unjust. It still is. Go to hell.

    Signed – A White Guy from the South

  7. 7 mrs jackson September 29, 2007 at 6:50 am

    you stuid you and these white let us rember we are not bac in the days when the kkk scared people.your very stuid thouht you were going to get away with this wrong you just got your self in more troule they will be bring a case on you on and you know we as a black people cannot wait. and for you dumb white sit down some were always hideing were rejoceing for bell sorry reed it did not go your way you thouht you could scare those kids wrong

  8. 8 Patricia Brown September 29, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    Mr. Walters, I find it very interesting how you described this incident – from a very biased perspective. Your many selective omissions of the many incidents including the Black young man who attended a party where he was beaten and hit in the head by a beer bottle. Your mention of the nooses but omission of the situation at a high school in 2007 where Blacks students have been terrorized for probably years – intimidated into believing that they could not even sit under a tree and when one did, a violent symbol of the past was displayed; you conveniently omitted the verbal abuse by the victim; You omitted the incident when a White kid pulled a gun on Black kids. I am sure this is not the first time you have sent a Black kid to jail and protected white kids that deserved some form of prosecution, after all, you are the protector, the defender of White citizens, regardless of whether they are peace abiding or criminals, is that correct Mr. Walter? That is your role, right, which is why you threatened those Black children in an assembly, to flex your role, your power. You are also the protector of the past right, because, God forbid, someone has to do it and you and the judge make a good team, right and God forbid, if your town would have to launch into 2007. That would be a real miscarriage of justice, right? I noticed your public statement and its inclusion of Jesus Christ. So, you think, Jesus Christ, a Jew, would condone your actions, especially since He was a defender of the poor, the imprisoned and those unjustly treated? I don’t think so, Mr. Walters. I am sure it will be interesting when you stand in His court. You may be educated, Mr. Walters, but you truly epitomize ignorance and injustice. You probably even believe what you say, which is scary, scary for Jena and scary for the world. Good day.

  9. 9 Spencer October 8, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    The south shall never rise again because of idiots like Reed and those morons that support his ideas of one sided Democracy. Please put that confederate flag where it deserves, on the bumper of and old broken down ford pick em-up truck. And the in the name of god go out and be a bigot.

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