In response to those who've written to ask whether I read Louisiana District Attorney, Reed Walters' op-ed in the New York Times. Yes I did! And I asked Alan Bean about it today on the RadioNation program that will air Sunday on Air America and across the country this week.
Bean, of the Friends of Justice, says that contrary to Walters' assertions, there is sufficient stand alone legislation on the books in Louisiana to have covered the noose-hanging incident. I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me that the there were plenty of ways the local authorities could have responded to the noose-hanging, short of bringing criminal charges, that would nonetheless have sent a clear message about where the campus stood on racial equality.
Jena High needed to suspend the noose-hangers for a long enough period to make an impact (not just a couple of days. ) In addition, the principal could have convened a community meeting, held a public event, hosted a teach-in on lynching. You name it. Anything that sent a strong message to the parents, the school body and the public: this community will not tolerate hate-speech or hateful acts. Says Bean: "The principal needed to say clearly: there's no such thing as a color line on campus, no such thing as a black or a white tree." Handled firmly back in September '06, the whole incident need never have left the auspices of the school. No one needed to have gone to court; no one should ever have been beaten up.
The key facts that Walters skims over in the Times, have to do with what he, specifically, did instead, namely dismiss the incident as a harmless prank, then threaten the black families and students who protested. According to everything I've heard, that's what led to a tit for tat series of assaults in which the white students' behavior was treated more leniently than the blacks'.
Walters' paints a stark picture of the attack on Justin Barker. "How can you call that a brawl" my correspondents have shrieked. What's missing from Walters' version however are the details. Barker wasn't a random target, says James Rucker, of ColorofChange "It adds a lot of flesh to the bones of the story to know who'd played what role in the incidents leading up to the December attack."
None of these kids should have been left to fight it out -- not in the streets, in the school yard or any place else. Nor should the Times, after ignoring the case for all these months, be permitted to give the DA responsible for the mess, the first and last word on the op-ed page. How about an op-ed from Alan Bean next?
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LAURA FLANDERS is the host of RadionNation and the author of Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians (2007, The Penguin Press.)