Deep South Didn’t get the Civil Rights Memo

 The drama unfolding in Jena Louisiana has spawned two high-profile stories: one, by Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune; the other, by Tom Mangold, in the London Observer.  Both stories have entered the Blogosphere and have been reprinted by the Baltimore Sun and even an English language newspaper in China.

The civil rights movement convulsed America for a full decade by forging a sturdy alliance between high status black leaders and white liberals. White conservatives screamed that the Jim Crow laws were about states rights. But black opinion leaders found these laws were humiliating and once white liberals were persuaded that Jim Crow and justice were incompatible, they became desperate to dissociate themselves from these loathsome statutes. According to the official story line, the civil rights steamroller plowed through the states rights facade in a glorious march to liberty and justice for all.

The Jena story suggests that certain pockets of Deep South America didn’t get the civil rights memo. That is certainly the burden of the Jena stories published yesterday. Mr. Witt’s headline reads, “Racial demons rear heads.” Mr. Mangold takes things a step further with his “Racism goes on trial again in America’s Deep South.” The Jena story gives white Southerners yet another opportunity to voice a clear and unequivocal “no” to the dismal legacy of Jim Crow.

Would this story be attracting so much media attention if it had nothing to offer but an addled DA over-reacting to a school fight—even if the hapless defendants were facing multi-decade sentences without parole? I suspect not. So thank God for the nooses hanging in the school yard! These vile reminders of lynch mob morality have attracted attention to an all-too familiar story that rarely gets much attention. Jena is being covered as a story about the persistence of the old Jim Crow, but it is much more than that. Jena is also a story about the new Jim Crow: the manipulation of the criminal justice system to deprive low status black people of basic justice.

The trial of the first three Jena defendants, originally scheduled to begin this morning, has been continued until sometime next month. DA Reed Walters had been trying to get one of the defendants to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. This would have made Walters’ job much easier, but no one took the bait. Then a defense attorney filed a motion to have Mr. Walters recused from this case. Initial indications are that Judge Mauffray has scheduled a hearing for mid-June to determine if Mr. Walters should recuse himself from this case. That ought to be as interesting as the trial itself.

I hope the media doesn’t get tired of waiting for the wheels of justice to grind. I got a call from the BBC yesterday asking if they could interview me later in the day. I told them that would be fine, but they needed to know the trial had been continued. That was the end of that. But the delay won’t stop Tom Mangold’s documentary on Jena from airing on BBC 2 this Thursday evening; nor, I suspect, will it keep flagship publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post from getting a piece of the Jena action.

The lull in the action may frustrate the press, but it is good news for the defendants. The more attention this story attracts the harder it will be for Reed Walters to work his usual magic before an all-white jury. If you would like more background on this story please give me a call.

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Looking for Justice in Jena, Louisiana


This Jena story by Jordan Flaherty is being widely circulated by newsletters like Counterpunch. Flaherty lets the families have their say and provides some helpful historical background to the unfolding tragedy in Jena. It now appears that three defendants, Robert Bailey, Mychal Bell and Theo Shaw will be going to trial on May 21st. Jason was with us for our rally last week and has clearly put a great deal of work into this project. I particularly appreciate the recognition he gives Friens of Justice. I generally see myself as a stage director trying to frame a story for others; as such, I don’t usually appear as an actor. Occasionally, however, it’s nice to have our efforts recognized. I am currently in the Dallas area making contacts and telling the Friends of Justice story. I spoke at City Church last night and made some amazing contacts. Friends of Justice is seriously considering a move to the Dallas Metro area sometime this summer. I’ll keep you posted as our plans evolve.

Alan Bean

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Free the Jena 6!



I am writing this update from the House of Java in Alexandria, LA. Yesterday I spoke at the rally covered below. The sympathetic tone of this article says a lot. While in Jena I picked up many indications that several members of Jena’s white establishment are on the verge of jumping ship. The overreach by District Attorney Reed Walters is simply too bizarre to sustain strong support. There are also strong signs that public trials would open the door to a roomful of embarrassing revelations. My prayer is that DA Walters (not “Walter Reed” as the article below has it) will simply drop all charges and wipe this slate clean.


At yesterday’s rally King Downing of the national ACLU announced that he has sent an open letter to the DA asking for a mountain of information concerning the kind of treatment white and black students have received from the disciplinary system within the schools and the criminal justice system. Message: our concern with LaSalle Parish justice doesn’t end with Jena 6. When the megaphone was handed to me I recalled my reaction to seeing old postcards produced to commemorate public lynchings in the postbellum South. Preachers would be pictured in their Sunday finest, eating potato salad and fried chicken while singing Amazing Grace and other gospel standards. Inevitably, off to one side of the picture, you would see the lifeless corpse of a young black man hanging from a tree. Clergy support for acts of state sponsored terrorism has grown more subtle over the years, I said, but the clergy continue to serve as enthusiastic cheerleaders for the status quo, no matter how biased and bizarre it might be. Then I traced God’s protective love of the poor and the oppressed through the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The fate of the Jena 6, I said, has created a crisis of conscience for the religious community–both white and black. Not the sort of thing that ever gets quoted in the newspaper, of course.


Stay tuned folks–this story will soon be receiving that national coverage it richly deserves. An important hearing is scheduled for May 8th and three defendants are headed for trial on May 21st unless DA thinks the better of his bizarre decision to transform a school fight into a capital crime. If you would like to know more about this story, contact me at 806-729-7889 (cell) or at I should have more to report next week.


See the full report of Friends of Justice here: Jena 6 summary

Alan Bean

Friends of Justice


Impact of the Colomb-Davis case on a new prosecution

The long-term impact of the Colomb-Davis case in Louisiana continues to expand. Assistant US Attornhey Todd Clemons has refused to identify the inmate witnesses lining up to testify against George Celestine and his co-defendants in a Lafayette case similar to the Colomb-Davis prosecution. Sammy Davis Jr., one of the defendants in the Colomb-Davis case, introduced me to Celestine shortly after Sammy was released last year. George is a slim, thoughtful, spiritual man who has not always chosen his friends wisely. But the government’s “case” against him is so similiar to the Colomb-Davis case that the DOJ clearly fears a similar result if they release too much information. Fortunately, the Colomb-Davis fiasco has opened the eyes of Federal Judges like Tucker Melancon and Rebecca Doherty and judicial displeasure has placed prosecutors like Todd Clemons and Brett Grayson in an untenable position. I have recently been contacted by two other defendants facing similar charges and will try to check out the details during my current trip to Louisiana. I write this from the House of Java in Alexandria, LA, and will be leaving in a few minutes to attend a peace rally for the “Jena 6”. I will have a full report on that event ready for you either later this evening or tomorrow morning. Stay tuned.

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Duke Case Shows Justice System’s Flaws

I met Radley Balko, the author of this piece, at the Atlanta roundtable on the use and misuse of informants. Read Seligmann, one of the wrongfully prosecuted Duke Lacrosse players, says, “I can’t imagine what they do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves.” Balko uses the current string of exonerations in Dallas County to suggest defendants without resources go to prison. Tulia enters the picture as an example of a wrongful prosecution that didn’t involve DNA (most of them don’t). The newly elected Dallas County DA, Craig Watkins describes the attitude of his predecessors like this: “If you sent someone to jail who was possibly innocent, it was a badge of honor.” Watkins is right. Richard Posner, Chief Justice of the 7th Court of Appeals and highly celebrated legal analyst, exposes the assumptions that make wrongful prosecution such an intractable problem:

I can confirm from my own experience as a judge that indigent defendants are generally rather poorly represented. But if we are to be hardheaded we must recognize that this may not be entirely a bad thing. The lawyers who represent indigent criminal defendants seem to be good enough to reduce the probability of convicting an innocent person to a very low level. If they were much better, either many guilty people would be acquitted or society would have to devote much greater resources to the prosecution of criminal cases. A barebones system for the defense of indigent criminal defendant may be optimal. (This is from his The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory, pp. 163-164)

Posner’s statement is based on the assumption that few innocent people are wrongfully convicted as a result of poor-to-mediocre legal representation. But the DNA exonerations in Dallas County, the horrific findings at the Houston crime lab, the Tulia case and a host of similar horror stories have obliterated this comfortable assumption. Low status defendants (as opposed to the members of the Duke lacrosse team) are wrongfully convicted because men like former Dallas County DA Bill Hill prosecute defendants in the absence of strong evidence. So long as the perp du jour fits the profile (poor, uneducated, black or brown) nobody in the system (least of all jurors) will care too much about guilt or innocence. A simple cost-benefit analysis suggests that society would be better off if this guy (and as many people like him as the system can arrest) were warehoused behind bars for as long as the law allows. The real crime is fitting the profile in the first place. This explains why the Dallas criminal justice establishment refused to believe that hapless Mexican nationals had been set up in bogus drug deals by crooked cops and sleazy confidential informants.

The election of Craig Watkins is something to celebrate.

Alan Bean, Friends of Justice,2933,267800,00.html