NEWSLETTER OF THE
ON HUMAN RELATIONS ON HUMAN RELATIONS
Volume 43, Issue 4 Volume 42, Issue 4
Paul Y. Burns, Interim Editor
LCHR Board Actions July and October
of Directors has met twice since the most recent newsletter was issued in
July. At its meeting July 14 in
Current Composition of the LCHR Officers and Board Members
Class of 2008: Paul Y. Burns, Baton Rouge; Leslie & Shirley
Burris, Baton Rouge; Joseph Dennis
(President) & Joseph McCarty,
Lafayette; Rogers J. Newman, Baton Rouge; Patrickia Rickels (Corresponding Secretary), Lafayette;
Eileen Shieber, Baton Rouge; Doris White, Opelousas (Plaisance). Class
of 2009: Bernard & Rose Mae Broussard,
Violence and Lack of Justice in
case of the Jena Six has evoked international attention as well as
31, 2006: Two black youths, after talking to the school
Sept. 1, 2006: The next day, three nooses are hung from the tree. After initially being expelled by the principal, the three white students responsible are given three days of “in-school suspension.” The school superintendent is quoted as saying, "Adolescents play pranks. I don't think it was a threat to anybody."
Sept. 5, 2006: A group of black students gathered and sat
under the tree in protest. White students' parents called the police, and
Sept. 8th, 2006:
Sept, 10, 2006: Several dozen black students and
parents attempted to address the school board concerning the recent events but
were refused because the board was of the opinion that "the noose
issue" had been adequately resolved.
Racial tensions in
Nov, 30 2006: Arson destroyed Jena High's main academic building.
Local law enforcement cannot prove the fire was connected to the noose-hangings
or the subsequent racially-motivated attacks.
This further escalated racial tensions in
Dec. 1, 2006: Robert Bailey, one of the student leaders of the Jena High protests, was invited to a party attended by mostly white students. At this party he was attacked by a 22-year old man wielding a beer bottle. He was further attacked with bottles and blows after being knocked to the ground.
Dec. 2, 2006: Robert Bailey and two friends went to a convenience store where they ran into a young white man from the previous night’s party. After exchanging words with him, the trio entered the store. The young white man greeted them with a pistol grip shotgun upon their exit. The African-American boys wrested the gun from him and ran away.
December 4, 2006: A white student, Justin Barker, was allegedly using racial epithets and celebrating the beating of Bailey at Friday night’s party. A fight broke out, and Barker was knocked out. He was kicked by a several black students after he hit the ground. The police were called, and after speaking with several witnesses six boys – 17-year-old Robert Bailey, Jr. whose bail was set at $138,000; 17-year-old Theo Shaw - bail $130,000; 18-year-old Carwin Jones - bail $100,000; 17-year-old Bryant Purvis - bail $70,000; 16-year-old Mychal Bell, who was charged as an adult and for whom bail was set at $90,000; and a still unidentified juvenile – were arrested and charged with aggravated 2nd degree assault and conspiracy to commit the same. District Attorney Reed Walters intervened to increase the charges to attempted second degree murder. In the meantime, Justin Barker was treated at a hospital and released. He attended his high school ring ceremony later that evening. Bailey, Shaw, and another friend were also charged with theft of a firearm, second-degree robbery and disturbing the peace in connection with the incident at the convenience store. Furthermore, the six were immediately expelled from Jena High. The normal punishment for a fight at school is a three day suspension.
June 28th, 2007:
Mychal Bell, the first of the
six to go to trial, was convicted of charges of aggravated 2nd
degree assault and conspiracy to commit the same. His court-appointed attorney did not
challenge the composition of the all-white jury, did not ask for a change of
venue, nor did the lawyer call witnesses or introduce evidence on
“Aggravated second degree assault” requires an assailant use a potentially lethal weapon. The D.A. successfully argued that the black youths’ tennis shoes were lethal weapons.
2007: Two white men were arrested after they ran over
a sign outside a black church in
By William Winters, Advocacy Staff, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge with a few additions by Diana Dorroh, BRCHR Board Member
The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge first became active participants in the fight for equitable outcomes for the Jena Six in early August, when pastor Steve Crump and staff member William Winters gave a talk from the pulpit to inform the congregation of – as Crump put it – “the what, so what, and the now what.” This was swiftly followed by vociferous institutional and congregational support for the Jena Six. UCBR passed a resolution authorizing staff to publicly advocate for the Jena Six on the church’s behalf. The church board, in the meantime, donated half of the cash offerings collected during the month of September to the Jena Six Legal Defense Fund. The position of Advocacy Staff William Winters, who was just finishing a stint in AmeriCorps, was continued specifically for the purpose of providing additional leadership and support in the Church and in the community at large for the Jena Six.
William Winters spoke to the Board
of the Baton Rouge Council on Human Relations on August 9. The
Council decided to support local actions and to write letters to the governor
and other public officials to draw attention to the injustice in
President Cynthia Manson’s letter to the editor appeared in The Advocate on September 19:
“Governor urged to act on
“In reference to the local, statewide, national and international concern being given to the ‘Jena 6' situation and the massive gathering to take place in Jena on Thursday, we urge the governor to act immediately in authorizing all action necessary to bring a temporary halt to all judicial proceedings against the black youth involved.
“In addition, we strongly urge the governor to act immediately in
arranging for a thorough investigation into the whole series of events that resulted
in what appears to be vastly unequal justice for white and black
“As a human rights organization that has been active in Baton Rouge since the 1960s, we think it extremely important that all steps be taken to ascertain and ensure equal and appropriate justice for all individuals.
“Cynthia DeMarcus Manson,
Additional Actions in
In collaboration with the
Members of the action committee
addressed the first goal in various ways.
First, a researched and footnoted chronology of the events in
In addition, members networked
with students at Southern University, LSU, and the NAACP who were also working
to inform people about and demonstrate support for the
Two members of the LCHR Board went
Meanwhile, a member of the
After the initial flurry of
activity around the Jena Six story, activity definitely, even necessarily,
out of the woods yet, however. Mychal Bell, having been freed on bond, is back in jail for probation violation in what has been by some as retaliation by Jena DA Reed Walters and District Judge J.P. Mauffrey for the heavy scrutiny on their actions related to this case. A November 7 hearing produced no surprises, although Bryant Purvis was finally arraigned in the Jena Six case. The charges on all of the young men have been reduced from attempted second degree murder to aggravated second degree assault and conspiracy to commit the same. These young men face decades in prison if convicted.
Support for the Jena Six is still needed. The Jena Six Legal Defense Fund has nearly been depleted, and there could be years of litigation ahead if the young men’s cases go to trial. In addition, motions have been filed by media organizations seeking to unseal the now-secret proceedings of Mychal Bell’s legal battle, his being dealt with in juvenile court. Motions described by Friends of Justice executive director as “state of the art” have been filed on behalf of all the young men asking for a change of venue and the recusal of Walters and Mauffrey from their cases. In addition, political pressure to investigate the actions of Reed Walters should still be exerted on powerful statewide officials such as the attorney general and governor. Stay tuned for additional opportunities to provide support for the Jena Six as their fight for equity continues.
On November 11, the Chicago Tribune ran a news story to the effect that a controversy
was growing over the accounting and disbursing of at least $500,000 donated to
pay for the legal defense of the Jena Six.
The parents of the teenagers strongly deny that they have misused any of
the donated money. ColorofChange, a
national civil rights organization which Editor Burns supports, has fully
disclosed how the $212,000 it collected for the
Along with other civil rights activists, on October 29
Burns wrote a letter to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel in
Office of Disciplinary Counsel
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing
to request an investigation into the conduct of LaSalle Parish District
Attorney Reed Walters over the last year with regards to several incidents,
culminating with the prosecution of Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey, Bryant Purvis,
Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, and an unidentified minor. I am concerned that DA Walters has
selectively and aggressively used his prosecutorial discretion in several cases
over the last year and I believe he is unable to be an effective and impartial
advocate for justice in LaSalle Parish.
In a statement published in a New York Times op-ed on September 26, 2007 that now appears on the Louisiana District Attorney Association website, Walters describes his role as District Attorney as one where he has to "...match the facts [of a case] to any applicable laws and seek justice for those who have been harmed. " What Walters ignores in this definition is the tremendous latitude prosecutors have to raise, lower, or dismiss charges as they see fit, under the doctrine of prosecutorial discretion. It has become clear that when Reed Walters is making decisions, white perpetrators in
When it came to prosecuting three white students for hanging nooses in the so called "white tree" at
black students sat under it, Walters said (in the same New York Times op-ed)
this act "broke no law. I searched the
14:107.2 creates a hate crime for any institutional vandalism or criminal
trespass motivated by race. His
Similar discretion was applied after an incident on December 1, 2006. A black teenager, Robert Bailey, was attacked by a group of whites, beaten to the ground, and apparently hit with a beer bottle. Bailey suffered a gash to his head, and Walters could have prosecuted the group of whites with felony charges. Instead, Walters charged one man with a misdemeanor, but that person served no prison time. The others walked.
A very different and more dangerous form of discretion was applied three days later, when an assault on Justin Barker, a white student, occurred. Robert Bailey and five other black teens were arrested and charged by the police with aggravated second-degree battery, a very harsh charge under the circumstances. But Walters went even further and used his discretion on December 7th to increase the charges to attempted murder, later arguing that the students’ tennis shoes were dangerous weapons.
A week later,
Walters announced that he would try Mychal Bell for attempted murder as an
adult, another example of his discretion being aggressively used to bring harsh
punishments only to certain young people.
When Walters reduced the charges against
misconduct extends beyond these instances of uneven application of his
discretion. After black students staged
a sit-in under the contested tree to protest the light punishment for the noose
hangers, Walters came to Jena High School and told the student body that if
they did not settle down, "[he could] make [their] lives disappear with a
stroke of [his] pen. " This
statement was confirmed by Walters during Mychal Bell's court proceedings, and
clearly connects to the actions he took after Justin Barker was assaulted.
Walters' threats against the
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
of this LaSalle Parish D.A. reminds me of the behavior of Sargent Pitcher, a
strong segregationist who was elected D.A. of East Baton Rouge Parish a few
years after I came to
News about Human Relations Council Members
Dr. Robert Reich, a long-time BRCHR member and retired landscape architecture professor at LSU, was honored in October by having the LSU School of Landscape Architecture as the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture. Congratulations to my fried Bob! I have known and admired him since I first met him 52 years ago.
Dr. Samuel P. Meyers passed away Nov. 2, 2007 at the age of 82. He was a world-renowned and much admired LSU
professor in the departments of Food Science and Marine Science. He retired in 1997. Besides being my friends, Sam and his wife
Gertrude (Trudi) were longtime supporters of the BRCHR. Trudi served on the BRCHR Board of Directors
many years ago, and she was awarded the Council’s humanitarian award in
2005. She and their daughter Susan and
sons Stephen, Benjamin, and David are survivors. A memorial service is planned for the
Dr. Paul Y. Burns was honored November
10 by being received into the Hall of Fame of the LSU School of Renewable
Natural Resources. Burns was Director of
the School when it was the
John Valery White was named the new dean of the Boyd School of Law at
Supreme Court Justice Revius O. Ortique,
Current Composition of BRCHR Officers and Board of Directors
Cynthia DeMarcos Manson, President; Glorious Wright, Vice-President; Patrice Niquille, Corresponding
Secretary; Richard Haymaker, Membership Secretary; Bridget Udoh, Treasurer; Marjorie Green, Immediate Past President. Other Board members: Nathan Gottfried, George F. Lundy, S.J., Robert Thompson, Laurabeth Hicks, Harry Hoffman, Valerie Jackson Jones, Eileen Shieber, Thelma Deamer.
TV Station Plans Program about Race Relations in
LPB’s Dorothy Kendrick is doing an excellent job on a
documentary describing the work which blacks did in Old South Baton Rouge to
provide a place to swim–Brooks Park–in the 1940s through the 1960s. Old South Baton Rouge, formerly known as “
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