Jason Whitlock is a sports writer for the Kansas City Star. Lately, however, he’s been on a mission that is only tangentially related to football–the Jena 6. Whitlock flipped the Jena script a couple of weeks ago in a column that unleashed a whole string of revisionist history columns and articles. The Kansas City Star columnist used dubious quotes from LaSalle Parish officials, US Attorney Donald Washington and the regional media to suggest that people like me had the story all wrong.
Now Mr. Whitlock has actually traveled to Jena to listen to white folks talk trash about Mychal Bell and Alan Bean. The whole Jena story, Whitlock asserts, is my creation.
Like everyone, I like to get credit for what I do. Jason Whitlock’s stinging indictment isn’t exactly what I had in mind. He’s right about one thing–the Jena 6 story, as it was initially reported in the media, followed a script I had carefully cobbled together from media reports, court documents and personal interviews. He’s also right in asserting that my goal was to make the Jena 6 (and Justin Barker) look like the victims of malevolent public officials.
In tennis, you have to put reverse spin on the ball to make it sail straight. The original Jena narrative was created by public officials like Craig and Sammy Franklin of the Jena Times, Superintendent Roy Breithaupt and the now-famous Reed Walters. According to their script, the assault on Justin Barker had no relation to a lunch-hour trash-talking session, the school fire, the shotgun incident a the Gotta Go, or the assault on Robert Bailey at a local dance. In particular, the events of December 4th were completely separate from the noose controversy. US Attorney, Donald Washington, has recently re-introduced this narrative . . . And he’s black, so he must be telling the truth!
According to the “isolated incident” scenario, Justin Barker was picked out of the crowd at random by a roaming band of black thugs who wanted to beat the crap out of a white boy–any white boy. Ergo, all white people are in danger–they might be coming for you next. Hence the attempted murder and conspiracy charges.
Two months of intense investigation and research exposed this story as a crude and cynical hoax. The isolated incident story was clearly designed to cover up the egregious behavior of Mssrs. Breithaupt and Walters. They play the villain role in my narrative because their behavior was, and remains, villainous. I never accused these men of breaking the law; I accused them of immoral and unethical conduct (I am a Baptist preacher, remember). By neglecting urgent issues, Reed and Roy created a Lord of the Flies scenario that could only end badly for black and white students alike. Many white folks in LaSalle Parish are gradually, and grudgingly, shifting to my view. They don’t appreciate the scrutiny I have brought to their town; but they now understand where things went wrong and why it must never happen again.
I am tempted to issue a point-by-point refutation of everything Jason Whitlock got wrong. The list of errors is long. But Whitlock doesn’t really care about me. Like everyone associated with this story, he is using the Jena saga to advance a personal agenda. Whitlock knows that Friends of Justice is right about the criminal justice system. He knows the war on drugs is a scam designed to attract dollars to law enforcement under the false pretext of getting drugs off the street. So what is Whitlock’s beef?
He doesn’t like Sharpton and Jackson. He thinks they’re bad for black America. I applaud the reverends for attracting attention to the Jena 6 and for galvanizing the black churches of LaSalle parish. Whitlock doesn’t care about any of that; he is convinced (ala Shelby Steele, John McWhorter and Bill Cosby) that black Americans need to stop blaming all their woes on white racism. The Jena story gives Jason a long-awaited pulpit and he’s making the most of it. Hey, this is America; let the man have his say.
A couple of clarifications are in order, however.
First, I am not a “self-proclaimed” Baptist minister. My wife and I are both ordained by the American Baptist Churches, USA, the racially diverse denomination that provided a seminary education for Martin Luther King Jr. I spent three years in seminary and five years working on a doctorate in church history and theology, so I know my stuff. The American Baptist Churches have formally endorsed the work of Friends of Justice in general and our stand on Jena in particular. Enough said.
Secondly, I did not spoon-feed the Jena story to people like Howard Witt and Bill Quigley. I sent my narrative to Witt and asked him to look into it. Professor Quigley was introduced to my version of the Jena story through Tory Pegram of the La. ACLU. Journalists and bloggers didn’t write until they had made a thorough and independent investigation of the facts. My narrative influenced their writing only to the extent I got it right. As I explained to Mr. Whitlock, nobody is going to write a groundbreaking story about Jena, Louisiana simply because some white preacher told them to. I was the first to visit Jena and put the facts together; but I didn’t make this stuff up. Who could?