This map highlights the geographical reach of our work.
These are completed campaigns that we have been involved with.
On the morning of September 1, 2006, three nooses dangled from a tree in the High School square in Jena, Louisiana. The day before, at a school assembly, black students had asked the vice principal if they could sit under that tree. Characterizing the noose incident as an innocent prank, a discipline committee meted out a few days of in-school suspension and declared the matter settled. At the end of November, the central academic wing of Jena High School was destroyed by fire and a stream of white-initiated racial violence swept over the tiny community. When classes resumed, a white student was punched and kicked following a lunch-hour taunting match. Six black athletes were arrested and charged with conspiracy to attempt second-degree murder. If convicted, some defendants are facing sentences of between twenty-five and 100 years in prison without parole.
At the request of affected families in Jena, Friends of Justice director Alan Bean conducted a thorough investigation of the case and created an aggressive justice coalition involving Friends of Justice, the Louisiana branches of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Soon, the case was being covered by media as diverse as the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Chicago Tribune.
Gradually, Friends of Justice was able to bring a diverse coalition of partners to the table including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Color of Change, and the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP. When leaders and students from schools like Howard University and Harvard University joined the movement it became possible to recruit gifted pro bono attorneys from Louisiana, Mississippi and leading law firms in Chicago and New York City. By the time 30,000 people from across the nation came to Jena to demand equal justice for the Jena 6 the legal fight was in exceptionally good hands. When the crowds returned home the legal fight continued unabated.
In June of 2009, the remaining five defendants pled no contest to charges of simple battery and were sentenced to one week of unsupervised probation. More information on the Jena 6 case can be found here.
The Colomb Case
In the autumn of 2004, Ann Colomb of Church Point, Louisiana drove to New Orleans with her daughter Jennifer and her granddaughter Mariah to meet with Friends of Justice director Alan Bean. Two years later, Dr. Bean attended an intense two-week trial in Lafayette in which Ms. Colomb and three of her sons were convicted of conducting a ten-year crack cocaine conspiracy out of their FHA home in Church Point.
Moved by the media coverage Dr. Bean’s daily dispatches stirred up in the local media, two inmates agreed to testify that the Colomb family had been convicted by a highly organized perjury ring operating in the federal prison system. When these two inmates stuck to their story at great personal cost, a federal judge ordered a thorough investigation which resulted in the full exoneration of the Colomb family. Ann Colomb is now a member of the Friends of Justice Board of Directors. The Colomb case was featured in the May edition of Reason magazine.
The Alvin Clay Case
Alvin Clay, a hardworking Little Rock attorney, was convicted on June 4, 2008. The only testimony linking him to a mortgage scam was provided by a fast food manager and street hustler named Donny McCuien. McCuien had lied repeatedly to the government, inventing phantom deals out of whole cloth and grossly minimizing his own involvement in the scam. The US attorney’s office had a hard choice: they could sponsor the testimony of a pathological liar or drop the charges. They went with the liar.
The federal government launched an investigation of the African American attorney before they possessed any evidence of wrongdoing. Mr. Clay had twice embarrassed the US Attorney’s office with charges of prosecutorial misconduct. In 2000, he brought the federal government to the verge of scandal with his critique of a corrupt undercover narcotics operation. More on the background to this case can be found here and live reports from the trial can be found here. Alvin Clay was convicted by an all-white jury while the actual perpetrators received sweetheart deals from the government. Sentencing has been postponed, and Friends of Justice continues to monitor the situation.
Friends of Justice has been conducting an investigation in Bunkie, Louisiana ever since Denise Adkins (pictured at the right, above) attended a public meeting in nearby Jena in early 2007. Recently, Dr. Bean interviewed a dozen Bunkie residents at a crawfish feed and went home with a plastic bag full of the delightful little morsels. The Bunkie story features allegations of racial profiling and police officers who appear to have graduated from the Tom Coleman School of law enforcement. Church Point, Jena and Bunkie symbolize a pattern of small town Southern injustice.
The Tulia Drug Sting
Friends of Justice formed in response to the infamous Tulia drug sting of 1999 in which 47 people, 39 of them African Americans, were rounded up based on the false and uncorroborated testimony of undercover agent Tom Coleman. Friends of Justice emerged as a coalition of defendant’s families and other concerned citizens who believed the defendants were being prosecuted on faulty evidence. Because of the work of Friends of Justice, the Texas Legislature passed the Tulia Corroboration Bill, which has led to the exoneration of dozens of innocent people by raising the evidentiary standards for undercover testimony.
Friends of Justice eventually attracted a large and diverse coalition of individuals and organizations to the fight for justice in Tulia. At our request, Nate Blakeslee (then of the Texas Observer) wrote a major investigative piece. In the summer of 2000, we brought Randy Credico and the Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice to Tulia from New York City. An excellent documentary produced by Sarah and Emily Kunstler, Scenes from the Drug War, was instrumental in attracting the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP and Bob Herbert, a New York Times columnist to lend their talents to the struggle for truth and justice.
Former Texas Lawman of the Year, Tom Coleman, was tried on perjury charges in January of 2005. Twenty members of Friends of Justice attended the trial and director Alan Bean published daily reports in the popular blog Grits for Breakfast. The ex-police officer was convicted and sentenced to a ten year probated sentence that effectively ends his sordid career in law enforcement.
The fight for justice in Hearne, Texas began in November, 2000 when 15% of the town’s black population was arrested in pre-dawn raids on a low-income housing development. The Tulia story had just achieved national attention and, inspired by the stand of Friends of Justice, a small group of Hearne residents voiced their opposition to a drug sting based on the uncorroborated word of a drug addicted confidential informant. Eventually, the informant confessed that he had invented drug buys out of whole cloth in order to stay out of prison. Working in close cooperation with local leader Charles Workman.
Friends of Justice made seven visits to Hearne between 2000 and 2005. Eventually, Robertson County officials apologized for the incident and settled a civil suit with the sting victims. (A young resident of the housing development targeted in the bogus drug raid is pictured to the left.
In the spring of 2009, the Hearne story was released as a feature film featuring the story of Regina Kelly, a young mother who was wrongfully prosecuted in the course of the Hearne operation. Executive Director Alan Bean joined Ms. Kelly (pictured at the right) at a public event in Dallas, Texas in June of 2009 organized by Mothers Against Teen Violence.
TABC Raid (Tulia, Texas)
In May of 2002, black-uniformed officers from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission burst into the back yard of Mario and Sylvia Rosales. Several dozen adults, high school graduates and children were forced to kneel on the ground with their hands behind their heads. When Sylvia Rosales protested this warrantless intrusion into a private graduation party she was arrested and hauled off to jail. Friends of Justice wove twenty eyewitness accounts of the TABC raid into a unified narrative, “Everybody on Your Knees” which was published in several independent publications in both English and Spanish. Embarrassed by the negative publicity, six members of the TABC administration in Austin flew to Tulia to meet with indignant family members at Tulia’s Junior High School. “Why do you come breaking into my home like people who have no morals?” Sylvia Rosales asked them. Shortly after this dramatic meeting the TABC fired two of the officers involved in the raid and re-wrote their search and seizure guidelines to prevent a reoccurrence of this outrage.
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