In his Op-Ed for the Times, Jena DA Reed Walters attempts to shift the discussion from unequal justice in Jena to one of sentimentality, where the march last week was simply an emotional reaction to nooses hanging from a tree rather than a response to a long trail of incidents in Jena for which only black students faced serious legal consequences. In his attempt to garner national sympathy, Walters omitted several important details even among the incidents he decided to include, most notably this one:

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.

Well, aside from the details of how one Godlike student managed to deter the fiery wrath of six “attempted murderers,” (attempted murder was the crime Walters originally charged five of the six with, not “aggravated battery,” either way, the question remains) what is the distinction here between “severe injury” and “serious bodily harm?” and how exactly, did Justin Barker suffer one, and not the other? Walters clumsiness here hides the simple fact that Justin Barker walked out of the hospital two hours later and attended a social event, not something that people do after being the victim of a life threatening beating. Just ask John Lewis.

But perhaps most telling is that Reed Walters conveniently omits from his Op-Ed a description of the “dangerous weapon” used in the attack.

It was their sneakers.

The black boys were charged with attempted murder, which threatened to put them in prison for most of their lives. The district attorney alleged they’d used a deadly weapon: their sneakers.

Walters didn’t say that because it would have made him look absurd, and it would have shattered the narrative of the reluctant white lawman trying to keep the piece in a town full of savage Negroes.

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.

One might think that if Walters hadn’t repeatedly used his prosecutorial discretion only to seek jail time for the Jena Six, not after the nooses, but after the series of violent incidents that occurred in the town between students at the school for months after.

The Chicago Tribune reported that there were a series of fights at the school, and yet, no charges were filed:

First, a series of fights between black and white students erupted at the high school over the nooses. Then, in late November, unknown arsonists set fire to the central wing of the school, which still sits in ruins. Off campus, a white youth beat up a black student who showed up at an all-white party.

The details of the fight at the party were reported by the Washington Post. Apparently, while Mr. Walters believes sneakers to be a deadly weapon when wielded by a black teen, the same does not hold true for a white kid brandishing a beer bottle.

In the weeks that followed, the fighting continued. In one scuffle, Robert Bailey, one of the six teenagers now facing trial, said a white man broke a beer bottle over his head after jumping him at a party, but there was no immediate investigation. Months later, Justin Sloan, who is white, was charged with simple battery and given probation for that attack.

For some reason, Walters did not see that particular incident as “an attack with a dangerous weapon.” I wonder why.

Mr. Walters discretionary oddities abound. Apparently a shotgun is also not a weapon in the hands of a white person.

The critics note, for example, that the white youth who beat the black student at the party was charged only with simple battery, while the white man who pulled the shotgun at the convenience store wasn’t charged with any crime at all. But the three black youths in that incident were arrested and accused of aggravated battery and theft after they wrestled the weapon from the man — in self-defense, they said.

Once again, the charge is “aggravated battery” against a group of black teenagers who wrestled a shotgun from someone who was essentially threatening to shoot them. While that man wasn’t charged with a crime, the black teenagers apparently once again had a “dangerous weapon” in their possession. Was it their sneakers this time as well? Should black people in Jena be walking around barefoot just to make sure they aren’t charged with aggravated battery?

There are other relevant details Walters omitted or failed to explain, such as the threat he delivered exclusively to black students at Jena High School, or the circumstances surrounding weapons charges Justin Barker faced for bringing a loaded shotgun to school that have now mysteriously disappeared. (Although perhaps we have already established that Reed Walters does not consider a shotgun to be a weapon as long as a white person is holding it.)

In his Op-Ed yesterday, Mr. Walters attempted to mask a serious of decisions he made as a District Attorney that had they been presented, would have been indefensible. The incident is actually less about the nooses than it is about Mr. Walters, who has consistently failed to pursue justice against any aggressive acts by the white community in Jena, Louisiana. The issue isn’t the symbolic meaning of the nooses, the issue is equal protection under the law. Which doesn’t exist in Jena. Not if you’re black.

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