Alan Bean of the advocacy group Friends of Justice responds to Craig Franklin's article about the Jena 6 (blogged by Nick yesterday) here. I'm not sure why much of the blogosphere is pronouncing Franklin's take on the case to be definitive. Much of his piece consists of little more than denials from the public officials accused of wrongdoing in the first place. Hardly surprising. Franklin is also clearly a partisan for the town, the school, and the town officials, just as Bean is clearly a partisan for the Jena 6. I guess it boils down to which of the two you find more convincing.
Advocates for the Jena 6 did clearly make some mistakes. Not disclosing Mychal Ball's prior criminal record while holding him up as a victim of injustice was one big one. So was the ensuing effort to make the six black youths look like heroes, which I think a lot of critics rightly saw through.
But that doesn't mean there aren't problems in Jena, or that the town's black residents were wrong to see the case as confirmation of a two-tiered system of justice. Nor does it mean Franklin's account of events leading up to the lunchroom beating ought to be believed over Bean's (especially given that the latter's account has been corroborated by other journalists).
I should note that it was Bean who first introduced me to another case in Louisiana that I'll be writing about in a future issue of our magazine. Thus far, my reporting has confirmed most of what he told me about the case, with a couple of exceptions. It has also confirmed much of the sentiment bubbling over in Jena.
As for Franklin, I find his description of Jena a bit too idyllic to be believed. He writes:
Jena is a wonderful place to live for both whites and blacks. The media's distortion and outright lies concerning the case have given this rural Louisiana town a label it doesn't deserve.
As with the Duke Lacrosse case, the truth about Jena will eventually be known. But the town of Jena isn't expecting any apologies from the media. They will probably never admit their error and have already moved on to the next "big" story. Meanwhile in Jena, residents are getting back to their regular routines, where friends are friends regardless of race. Just as it has been all along.
"All along?" Really?
As recently as the early 1990s, LaSalle Parish (where Jena is located) voted for white supremacist and former Klan leader David Duke by a two-to-one margin. In fact, they gave him that margin twice—for governor, and for U.S. Senator. In 1996, the parish again gave Duke the majority of its votes for U.S. Senator.
The parish is reliably and overwhelmingly Republican, save for the odd anomaly of the 2003 gubernatorial election. In 2003, the parish gave Democrat Kathleen Blanco 60 percent of its vote over Republican Bobby Jindal. Jindal also happened to be the GOP's first non-white nominee for governor. The next year, the parish went 80 percent for George W. Bush in the presidential election. Curious, that.
Oh, and then there's the matter of the mayor of Jena sitting down for an interview with the leader of a white supremacist organization last month.