One lesson is clear from Jena: Ignore the media at your peril. The military, prosecutors, Ken Starr, and many others have learned this lesson repeatedly. Talk to the media and they may distort what you say, but say nothing and you’ll get run over by opponents. CNN’s melodramatic focus on the “schoolyard fight” and the “wrong side of the tracks” in its special report on Jena, Louisiana added to the smokescreen set up by the defendants to distract us from what this case is really about: a brutal beatdown of a young man for “dissing” that had nothing to do with the infamous “noose incident” months earlier.
Prosecutor Reed Walters finally had something to say in today’s New York Times. Clearly, if he had been more forthright and persuasive earlier, his town might not have been inundated with pissed off protesters:
Conjure the image of schoolboys fighting: they exchange words, clench fists, throw punches, wrestle in the dirt until classmates or teachers pull them apart. Of course that would not be aggravated second-degree battery, which is what the attackers are now charged with. (Five of the defendants were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder.) But that’s not what happened at Jena High School.
The victim in this crime, who has been all but forgotten amid the focus on the defendants, was a young man named Justin Barker, who was not involved in the nooses incident three months earlier. According to all the credible evidence I am aware of, after lunch, he walked to his next class. 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. While lying on the ground unaware of what was happening to him, he was brutally kicked by at least six people.
Imagine you were walking down a city street, and someone leapt from behind a tree and hit you so hard that you fell to the sidewalk unconscious. Would you later describe that as a fight?