Author: friendsofjustice

Open Letter to Mychal Bell

From J. Michael Carr Jr., President and CEO, Fathers for the Future Foundation

Dear Mychal,

It is an honor to reach out to you! Surely, thousands of people have sent letters while you have been unjustly jailed the past few months and continued to be held. After the rally in Jena and Alexandria on September 20th, I am confident that your correspondence has increased in volumes. So I had to think long and hard about writing a letter that would give you hope and internal peace in this time of introspection. Therefore, I have decided to share with you a personal experience from when I was your age.

My 20th high school reunion is next year. For high school, I attended a military academy in Aurora, Illinois. I was one of nine black students in a school with a body of 300 give or take a few. Most of my white classmates to this day remain my friends as much as you can say that after 20 years. One evening though, when I was a senior, a couple of my white classmates and I went to a keg party at a forest preserve in Cicero, Illinois, which is still known for its racial tension between blacks and whites. At this party, my friends were confronted by a few local party goers. Two white gentlemen approached my classmates and sternly asked, “Which one of you brought the NIGGER”! I immediately realized, through no conscience fault of my own, that I had made a mistake coming to this party and my life was in danger. I had heard stories about Cicero but thought, “this in 1988 and the civil rights movement was a fond memory of our parents used to lecture us about responsibility. Nobody was really going to hurt the little black kid from the south side of Chicago because I was from the street”. Mychal, I was wrong. As the two men pushed my classmates aside and took off chasing me through the pitch black forest, I had never wanted to live so badly in my life. That feeling of survival occurred later in my life, but for that particular moment, I was scared of living and scared of dying. The men used the headlights of their motorcycles to scour the forest with a noose screaming, “We should have lynched that nigger when we had the chance”! I prayed and prayed and prayed. Eventually after an hour of hiding a couple of feet up on a tree branch, I made it back to our car, and my friends were able to secure my stealth escape by covering me with a blanket in the trunk.

It wasn’t until I visited Jena did I understand God’s purpose for my high school experience, which is why I share it with you. Few know that happened to me, but its time for the world to know that extreme hatred and racism still exists. God has a unique and deliberate way of stretching us especially when we don’t want adversity in our lives. During these difficult times we tend to resent and resist the challenges placed in front of us.

The other instance I mentioned earlier when I didn’t know if I would be able to overcome a major obstacle that God put before me was in 2002. As a young, 32 year-old father of three, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. This manageable cancer has a 95% recovery rate in men, but the facts still didn’t help me with questioning why God could let this happen. The age old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people”. I was forced to change my lifestyle from being a heavy drinker and smoker, to being a positive vessel for peace and universal love so I could see my children become adults. After the surgery, radiation treatment, annual check-ups, and a brief stint with clinical depression, I have accepted the challenges in my life. In fact, from this tremendous ordeal, I was able to take my experiences and skills to create an organization dedicated to assisting young men, like you, with overcoming adversity. The Fathers for the Future Foundation is here for you and for all men in America that need that helping hand.

Now, like I have done and so many people who have had to overcome life’s bumps in the road, you will need to accept God’s plan for you too. On September 20th, you secured your place in history as a victim of national circumstance with Mrs. Rosa Parks (R.I.P). Mychal, you never asked for this level of celebrity or notoriety, and I’m sure that everyday you curse your jailers and the system from which they administer their unjust laws. I will not tell you to “turn the other cheek” or “love your enemies”, because that type of love requires a self-actualization that not even the most enlightened men (i.e. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., El-Hajj El-Shabazz) in history could accomplish without practice. However, I will recommend you find peace in your circumstances as the catalyst for racial resolve in our country.

Reminiscent of the late 1960s, dark times are ahead for the United States. What happened to you in Jena is a reflection of the national climate for all black and brown men across the world. Racial tensions have started to elevate daily. The Jena 6 will be another chapter in the book of civil rights. As various people continue to immigrate to the United States, we will need to absorb their cultures. The continued fight for justice will be expanded to include peoples of other colors, nationalities, and ethnicities. Eventually, America will have to choose a side. The demarcation line will finally be drawn between right and wrong. And I am writing to say, I, as well as my associates, friends, neighbors, and this entire nation, will stand on the side of justice not intolerance and bigotry. We stand by your side. Please know that your plight is not in vain. The movement for civil, cultural, and human rights continues in you. So feel the love that surrounds you, and know in your heart that the challenges you must overcome will only build character and integrity. We love you brother! Thank you for your strength, courage, and fortitude.

Yours in the cause for peace,
J. Michael Carr Jr.
President and CEO
Fathers for the Future Foundation

Jena 6 case caught up in a whirlwind of distortion, opportunism

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?

Jena, O.J. and the Jailing of Black America

Check out this piece by Orlando Patterson in the New York Times:

Americans needs to talk.  We need to talk about race, poverty and mass incarceration.  In particular, we need to shift our primary focus from Mississippi Burning-Rosa Parks racism to the new reality: Jena-Mychal Bell racism–what we call “the New Jim Crow.”

I just got back from a Children’s Defense Fund sponsored conference at Howard University dedicated to “dismantling the cradle to prison pipeline”.  The conversation swirled around three topics: institutional racism (the New Jim Crow) and the relationship between poverty and dysfunctional behavior.

On Tuesday, Bill Cosby, Juan Williams (NPR) and Morehouse President, Robert Michael Franklin, talked about the need for personal and community responsibility.  A large audience, swelled by hundreds of Howard University students, applauded Cosby, Williams and Franklin as they lamented the breakdown of family values.  The next night, the same audience roared its support for the Jena 6 (I was on a panel that included four relatives of Jena 6 defendants).  A week before the historic, September 20th rally for justice in Jena, 2500 Howard students crammed into Cramton Auditorium for a rally in support of Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey, Theo Shaw, Bryant Purvis, Jesse Ray Beard, and Carwin Jones.

The Cradle to Prison Pipeline conference demonstrated that America’s sharpest African American students love Bill Cosby as much as they love the Jena 6.  They don’t have to choose between criminal justice reform and personal responsibility, and they don’t.

Orlando Patterson teaches sociology at Harvard University.  I spent half an hour with him last year talking about the mission of Friends of Justice.  Patterson thinks that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are stuck in what I call the Old Jim Crow paradigm.  His criticism is practical rather than personal.

I endorse Patternson’s critique.  Initially, I was pleased to see America’s most famous black “reverends” entering the lists on behalf of the Jena 6.  Tens of thousands of people weren’t going to make the pilgrimaget to isolated Jena, Lousiana because the Rev. Al Bean issued the invitation.  The Rev. Al Sharpton, working through a long list of radio talk jocks, got the job done.  Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III helped out as well.  They deserve credit for a remarkable accomplishment.

But there’s a problem–the message is out of focus.  Like everyone (including Orlando Patterson), the reverends are using Jena to advance their agenda.  It’s an agenda that hasn’t changed much in the past forty years, and it needs to change.  How?  Ask the students at Howard University.

SPLC responds to Walters, getting back to the point

The Southern Poverty Law Center responds to D.A. Reed Walters’ Op-Ed in the New York Times.

San Diego columnist Ruben Navarette critiques the protests in Jena:

Ruben Navarette is a gifted, even-handed columnist. Unfortunately, his
weird treatment of the Jena 6 story illustrates why all the details of this
story must be on the table before any of it comes into focus. Notice that
Navarette doesn’t even mention the noose incident or the official,
“stroke-of-my-pen” response to it. Reed Walters’ bizarre overcharging of
the Jena 6 pales in comparison to his crude attempt to use the power of his
office to clamp down on legitimate protest. In the process, Walters placed
the white country boys who hung the nooses and the black football players
who led the student protest on a collision course that was guaranteed to end

I wonder if Mr. Navarette has dealt with the image of black and gold nooses
hanging from a “white tree”? Or has he come to grips with Reed’s pen?
Apparently not. These omissions are so appalling they call for an
explanation. What, precisely, is going on here?

Here’s what’s going on: Mr. Navarette is tired of Al Sharpton and Jesse
Jackson, and this case provides the perfect opportunity to get in a few
licks. I probably talked to twenty reporters from across the nation
yesterday, and they all seemed to have it in for Al and Jesse. That’s a
problem for a man in my position. Clearly, celebrities like Jackson,
Sharpton, and Michael Baisden attracted a great deal of attention to this
story. That’s the upside.

But this nickel also has a tails side–America, black and white, old and
young, isn’t responding to the Al and Jesse show anymore. You can celebrate
or lament this fact, but it cannot be denied. Their shtick is growing
stale. The cameras still come running when the household names speak–but
the gravitas is gone.

The celebrities who have latched onto this case have inadvertently messed
with the message. As I just suggested, this has been a story that gets
badly out of focus if essential aspects are ignored. The media is an
entertainment medium. It goes for the graphic images: nooses in a white
tree; Justin Barker’s battered visage. All good stories are driven by
conflict, so the media phoney competitions (which is worse, nooses or
assault?) and “town divided” scenarios in which black residents lament their
communities racist ways and white residents say it ain’t so. That’s hot; it

At its core, this is a story about Reed Walters’ pen; a story about bigotry
and hubris combining to create a toxic environment for Jena’s young
people–black and white. Many CNN viewers were surprised to hear the
LaSalle Parish district attorney explaining how the Lord Jesus Christ tamed
a pack of wild-eyed black superpredators on September 20th. Left to
themselves, Walters suggested, these folks would have run riot–just like
the Jena 6.

My Jena, Louisiana song (available on our home page) has Reed Walters
describing his role thusly: “Sunday morning I’m a church mouse, but Monday
morning at the courthouse, with a stroke of my pen, I’ll make your whole
world end. And all the King’s horses, and all the king’s mean, won’t put
your world back together again. I can do it all; ’cause I’m sitting on the
wall . . . Between the free and the fallen, between the sinner and the
saint; between the is and the ain’t. I can make you crawl, ya’ll, ’cause
I’m sitting on the wall.”

This guy sees himself as the Vicar of Christ in LaSalle Parish. I’m
serious. All power resides in his pen. All opposition to his righteous
reign will be crushed mercilessly. Robert Bailey Jr. and Justin Barker both
fell victim to Reed Walters’ megalomania. Reed got this way because he has
unlimited discretionary powers. Power, as they say corrupts–and Reed’s
power is absolute.

You can’t blame Ruben Navarette for getting the story so very wrong. Blame
story tellers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who are too stuck in the
categories of the old civil rights movement to understand what this story is
about. Mychal Bell ain’t Rosa Parks, ya’ll. Rosa Parks isn’t going to jail
anymore. We can either pretend that Mychal is Rosa, or we can defend Mychal
Bell’s right to due process because he is an American citizen.

That much, Mr. Navarette understands.

Can we get back on message here? I hope so. I spent two months framing
this story before I fed it to the journalists and the bloggers. It hurts to
watch celebrity activists wandering so far off-message. Mychal Bell
deserves better.

L.A. Times on Mychal Bell’s release on bail

This L.A. Times article gives us a rare sympathetic image of a young black defendant, Mychal Bell, smiling bashfully for the cameras as he goes home to his relieved parents. Yes, jail is a bad place to raise a teenager, whether they’re black or white, rich or poor. It also quotes Reed Walter’s bizarre statement that only intervention by the Lord Jesus Christ prevented the protesters from erupting into violence.

It’s interesting that Walters fails to notice that most of the protesters were devoted Christians, who felt the Lord Jesus Christ was the one who compelled them to be there in the first place. Maybe he should watch that video we posted last week, filmed by a Jena protester, who declared that God was with them, and that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Or shoot, Reed Walters could read what the Bible has to say to government leaders about upholding justice for the poor and marginalized. Friends of Justice is quoted at the end of this article:,1,5340911.story?coll=la-news-a_section&ctrack=1&cset=true

Christian Broadcasting Network takes on race, inequality and power

Christian Broadcasting Network filmed this interview with Friends of Justice’s Executive Director, Alan Bean. (You may know CBN as the network built by Pat Robertson of the 700 Club.) Notice that the Christian Broadcasting Network gave us the space to talk honestly about the problem of race, inequality, and power in America today. Contrast this with the lukewarm coverage of the allegedly “liberal” New York Times, which ignored the Jena story entirely and then let D.A. Reed Walters write an Op-Ed.

So we’ve got the conservative Christian media letting us talk openly about race, inequality, and power, while the New York Times sticks their fingers in their ears and focuses on “important” news (like, uh, the buzz around Guiliani’s effort to rebrand himself since 9/11.) Congratulations to CBN for stepping up to the plate–shame on the New York Times.

Clarence Page takes a few determined steps toward a new civil rights strategy in this probing column. We need to get the churches and college students into the fight while minimizing the role of self aggrandizing shock jocks and polarizing prima donnas. The release of Mychal Bell will be a Pyrrhic victory if we can’t swing the support of Middle America behind the Jena 6. Question: can we organize an effective civil rights movement void of celebrities? Could we win justice for the Jena 6 without the support of folks like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Yes, but only if we create a new advocacy model from the ground up. As Clarence Page suggests, we need to stress the principle of equal justice and we need to be racially inclusive. Morally, this is the right approach. Pragmatically, it is the only strategy capable of producing a profound cultural shift.,0,2383627.story

Last week, Friends of Justice spoke at a conference in Washington D.C. on the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund:

Give us Rosa!

If the New York Times had its way, no one would know about the Jena 6. It’s not the kind of story they like to cover. “Give us Rosa Parks,” the editors say, “we aren’t comfortable with Mychal Bell.”

Rosa Parks is doing just fine these days. Although the literal Rosa has gone to her reward, her respectable, upwardly mobile sisters are reaping the benefits of the civil rights movement. They don’t live in a perfect world; but things are a whole lot better for America’s black middle class. You don’t find Rosa Parks in jail these days, nor do you find many of her sons. Rosa’s boys get pulled over a lot more than their white counterparts; but a quick flash of middle class credentials and they are back on the road.

Mychal Bell is another story. Mychal grew up poor. He grew up without a father in the home. He grew up angry, and his success on the football field did little to quench the flames. As Reed Walters never tires of reminding the media, Mychal Bell has issues.

He may also be entirely innocent of the charges filed against him.

But the Times isn’t satisfied with a maybe, so they aren’t satisfied with Mychal—they want Rosa.

Mr. Walters tells us that Justin Barker, the victim of the December 4th assault, should be the center of media attention. “As he passed through the gymnasium door to the outside, he was blindsided and knocked unconscious by a vicious blow to the head thrown by Mychal Bell.”

Mr. Walters doesn’t tell us that several white students insist that Mychal didn’t throw the punch that separated Justin Barker from his senses. Even more significant, a football coach who insists he witnessed the attack from close range, says Mychal didn’t throw the punch.

When Mychal Bell’s attorneys emerged from the LaSalle Parish courtroom last Friday they had no comment. Since this was now a juvenile case, they explained, they couldn’t discuss the details with the media.

Mr. Walters feels no similar compunction. The knockout punch was “thrown by Mychal Bell.”

The mere accusation is enough to make white progressives run for the exits.

This afternoon, Mychal Bell will walk free—on Al Sharpton’s arm no less. At a press conference a few hours ago, Reed Walters was asked if this fight is stressing him.

“I’m not going to say that I haven’t been stressed by this,” Walters replied. “But let me say this. The only way that I believe that me or this community has been able to endure the trauma that has been thrust upon us is through the prayers of the Christian people who have sent them up in this community. I firmly believe that had it not been for the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened.”

Then, asked why the protestors had been so peaceful on September 20th, Walters explained that “the Lord Jesus Christ” put his influence on those people and they responded accordingly.

How will America respond to the freeing of Mychal Bell? There is a growing tendency to view Mr. Bell as a thug. As such, the reasoning seems to go, he has no right to due process. This soap opera ain’t over folks—we haven’t even gotten to the first commercial

After ignoring Jena, NYTimes gives Reed Walters a pulpit

The New York Times didn’t cover the Jena story until they were faced with a protest so big that they had to put it on the front page. But now, apparently they can find the space for this disingenuous screed from Reed Walters, the D.A. responsible for the Jena debacle.

Reed Walters complains that hanging nooses is no excuse to jump a white boy. But he conveniently leaves out his own shameful role in fanning the flames of racial unrest in Jena. He neglects to tell America how he also refused to protect Jena’s black youth from a series of attacks by white youth, in the days leading up to the attack on Justin Barker. He neglects to mention how a black youth was assaulted by a gang of white youth at a party, and how another white high school graduate threatened black youth with a shotgun outside a convenience store. This is the critical information we need to understand the attack on Justin Barker–it was the mirror image of a similar attack by white youth on a single, defenseless black youth that weekend. Except Reed Walters didn’t punish all the participants in that attack. Apparently some young people are worth more than others.

New York Times, now you need to publish a rebuttal from Friends of Justice that holds Reed Walters responsible for Jena’s racial unrest.

Also in the New York Times is an interesting commentary by Paul Krugman, connecting Jena to the Republican’s problem with race–i.e., having built their power by scapegoating people of color, they are now having trouble meaningfully campaigning for the vote of all Americans, especially our country’s growing ranks of Hispanic voters. Interesting…although Krugman is wrong to associate Jena only with the vestiges of Old Southern racism. Black youth are denied due process across America, not just in small Southern towns like Jena. So the problem is just as bad in Boston, MA as it is in Jena, Louisiana or Tulia, Texas. Talking from friends who minister in low-income black communities in Boston, it’s painfully obvious that the New Jim Crow is a national problem. That’s why Friends of Justice sticks to our guns on this point: Jena is America.

Why the “liberal” media doesn’t get Jena

I read this scathing denunciation of the GOP from a hotel room in Washington, DC. I appreciate the fact that Bob Herbert has finally directed his attention to the Jena story, even if he merely uses it as what columnists call a “media hook”. Herbert could have brought the Jena story to the attention of mainstream, liberal America months ago, but he chose not to. (Herbert, some of you may recall, set a fire under the Tulia story with a string of columns in 2002). In fact, the New York Times virtually ignored this story until it got so big they had to put it on the front page. This is tragic because, thanks to Randy Credico and the Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, the New York Times brought the Tulia story to national attention two years before Mr. Herbert’s influential work.

For several weeks now, I have been doing an average of two interviews a day on the Jena mess. Yesterday, I was talking to a radio talk show host in DC while I settled into my seat on the plane–the interview ended when the pilot told us to kill our cell phones. Everybody wants to know why the mainstream, allegedly “liberal” media has been so slow to pick up on Jena. Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune and CNN are blessed exceptions, but, as a general rule, the big boys and girls of the Fourth Estate fumbled this story badly. How come?

The answer is obvious: at first glance, this is a story about six black guys beating the crap out of a white guy. The Jena saga begins with a graphic and rivetting image: nooses dangling from a “white tree”; but it ends with lurid photographs of Justin Barker’s swollen eyes. That’s not an image white Americans (be they ever so liberal) like to promote.