A Nurse with a Gun

Sunday, April 15, 2007

What The Hell Is Happening In Jena?

· On Thursday, August 31, 2006, a small group of black students asked if they could sit under a tree on the traditionally white side of the Jena High School square.
· The students were informed by the Vice Principal that they could sit wherever they pleased.
· The following day, September 1, 2006, three nooses were found hanging from the tree in question. Two of the nooses were black and one was gold: the Jena High School colors.
· On Tuesday night, September 5, 2006, a group of black parents convened at the L&A Missionary Baptist Church in Jena to discuss their response to what they considered a hate crime and an act of intimidation.
· When black students staged an impromptu protest under the tree on Wednesday, September 6, 2006, a school assembly was hastily convened. Flanked by police officers, District Attorney Reed Walters warned black students that additional unrest would be treated as a criminal matter. According to multiple witnesses, Walters warned the black student protestors that, "I can make your lives disappear with a stroke of my pen." This was widely interpreted as a reference to the filing of charges carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison.
· On Thursday, September 7th, police officers patrolled the halls of Jena High School and on Friday, September 8 th, the school was placed on full lockdown. Most students, black and white, either stayed home, or were picked up by parents shortly after the lockdown was imposed. The Jena Times suggested that black parents were to blame for the unrest at the school because their September 5th gathering had attracted media attention.
· Principal Scott Windham recommended to an expulsion hearing committee that the three white boys responsible for hanging the nooses in the tree should be expelled from school.
· On Thursday September 7, 2006, asserting that the noose were merely a silly prank inspired by a hanging scene in the television min-series 'Lonesome Dove', the committee opted for a few days of in-school suspension. The names of the three students were not released to the public for reasons of confidentiality.
· According to press accounts, on September 10, 2006, several dozen black parents attempted to address a meeting of the school board but were refused an opportunity to speak.
· At a second September meeting of the school board, September 18, 2006, a representative of the black families was allowed to give a five-minute statement, but school board refused to discuss the "noose issue" because the matter had been fully addressed and resolved.
· Although few major disciplinary issues emerged during the fall semester at Jena High School, there is strong evidence that several black male students remained unusually agitated throughout the semester and that disciplinary referrals on these students spiked sharply.
· On Thursday, November 30, 2006, the academic wing of the Jena High School was largely destroyed by a massive fire. Officials strongly suspect arson.
· Throughout the following weekend, Jena was engulfed by a wave of racially tinged violence.
· In one incident, a black student was assaulted by a white adult as he entered a predominantly white party held at the Fair Barn (a large metal building reserved for social events). After being struck in the face without warning, the young black student was assaulted by white students wielding beer bottles and was punched and kicked before adults broke up the fight. It has been reported that the white assailant who threw the first punch was subsequently charged with simple battery (a misdemeanor), but there is no documentary evidence that anyone was charged.
· In a second major incident, a white high school graduate who had been involved in the assault the night before pulled a pump action shotgun on three black high school students as they exited the Gotta-Go, a local convenience store. After a brief struggle for possession of the firearm, the black students exited the scene with the weapon.
· The Jena Times has reported that, in light of these racially-tinged incidents, several high school teachers begged school administrators to postpone the resumption of classes until the wave of hysteria had dissipated. This request was ignored and classes resumed the morning of Monday, December 4, 2006.
· Shortly after the lunch hour of Monday, December 4, 2006, a fight between a white student and a black student reportedly ended with the white student being knocked to the floor. Several black students reportedly attacked the white student as he lay unconscious. Because the incident took place in a crowded area and was over in a matter of seconds eye witness accounts vary widely. Written statements from students closest to the scene (in space and time) suggest that the incident was sparked by an angry exchange in the gymnasium moments before in which the black student assaulted at the Fair Barn was taunted for having his "ass whipped".
· The victim of the attack is close friends of the boys who have admitted to hanging the nooses in September of 2006.
· Within an hour of the fight, six black students were arrested and charged with aggravated battery. According to The Jena Times, at least a dozen teachers subsequently threatened a "sick-out" if discipline was not restored to the school. According to the Alexandria Town Talk, District Attorney Reed Walters responded to the teacher's threat by upping the charges on the six boys to attempted second degree murder and conspiracy to commit second degree murder, charges carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison.
· On the basis of the charges filed by the District Attorney's office, all six black students have been expelled for the remainder of the school year and, according to The Jena Times, several teachers quickly demanded that the accused boys be barred from the school for life.
· On December 13, 2006, District Attorney, Reed Walters published a statement in The Jena Times in which the young men arrested in the school fight incident were characterized as criminals who had been terrorizing both the school and the community. The sloppy wording of the statement and an introduction associating the tirade with the "recent two incidents at Jena High School" created the impression that those accused of involvement in the fight were also suspected of setting the school fire.
· The Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct 3.6(a) state that: "A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter."
· At a January 29 2007 school board meeting, called to consider the possibility of reversing the decision to expel the students, District Attorney Reed Walters, appeared as the school district's legal counsel. Although it is standard practice in Louisiana for district attorneys to represent the local school board, there is strong evidence that the disciplinary investigation undertaken by the school and the criminal investigation of the December 4 fight are virtually indistinguishable. This heightens the impression that the charges filed by DA Reed Walters reflect the understandable hysteria engulfing both the student body and the school faculty in the wake of the school fire and a weekend of racial violence.

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