Craig Franklin, assistant editor of The Jena Times, publishes his side of the Jena story in the Christian Science Monitor. (“Media Myths about the Jena 6”, October 24, 2007)
He attempts to right the records because, as he says: “I should know. I live in Jena. My wife has taught at Jena High School for many years. And most important, I am probably the only reporter who has covered these events from the very beginning.” So, he sets out to debunk 12 myths about Jena, Louisiana and the case against six black boys charged with “aggravated assault”.
According to Franklin:
Myth 1: The Whites-Only Tree. There has never been a "whites-only" tree… When a student asked during an assembly at the start of school last year if anyone could sit under the tree, it evoked laughter from everyone present – blacks and whites… the question was asked to make a joke...
Myth 2: Nooses a Signal to Black Students. An investigation by school officials, police, and an FBI agent revealed the true motivation behind the placing of two nooses in the tree the day after the assembly. According to the expulsion committee, the crudely constructed nooses were not aimed at black students. Instead, they were understood to be a prank by three white students aimed at their fellow white friends, members of the school rodeo team… Another myth concerns their punishment, which was not a three-day suspension, but rather nine days at an alternative facility followed by two weeks of in-school suspension, Saturday detentions, attendance at Discipline Court, and evaluation by licensed mental-health professionals...
Myth 3: Nooses Were a Hate Crime. Although many believe the three white students should have been prosecuted for a hate crime for hanging the nooses, the incident did not meet the legal criteria for a federal hate crime...
Myth 11: Jena Is One of the Most Racist Towns in America. Actually, 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.
Craig Franklin looks back on Jena’s history with blurred hindsight. A more accurate record can be gleaned from TownTalk.Com which provided a blow-by-blow daily account of Jena events from the first day the nooses were reported.
September 6, 2006 report: Black parents and students met Tuesday (09-05-06) to discuss what to do about a purported racial incident Friday (09-01-06) at Jena High School… The group met for about 45 minutes at L&A Missionary Baptist Church along U.S. Highway 84 West to discuss what response should be made to the discovery of two ropes fashioned as nooses found hanging from a tree on the school campus.
"I feel like something needs to be done," said parent Dan Brown... He has three children attending the high school. "They come to school, and this is what they come to... Friday's incident was the talk of the town over the Labor Day weekend, "and everyone's upset about it," Brown said. "I feel like they (school officials) took it like a joke."
Tracy Bowens, who helped organize the meeting, said she didn't witness the incident, but added that a teacher supposedly cut down the ropes. "I feel like if it was a black (person) who did something like that ... something would have been done. They would have been kicked out of school," she said.
Lawyer Krystal Todd, the main speaker at Tuesday's meeting, urged parents to contact the LaSalle Parish School Board office today and before Monday's scheduled meeting. Todd suggested that those involved be punished by being expelling for the rest of the school year, not suspended for three days or home schooled.
"We have to do something. It's time to take a stand and not let it get swept under the rug," Todd said. "As parents, we have to --- if we don't stop it now" such incidents will "continue the cycle."
"I have a son who goes to Jena High School, and I won't tolerate this," parent Renea Ogletree said. "This racism, this stuff, won't be tolerated at all."
Shirley Bowens, 55, of Jena, told the crowd that she was more concerned about the way the school officials handled the incident. "The right thing would have been to start action that day," she said. "This need not to happen anymore" she said to the students. "You're in school to take care of business."
About 16 students who claimed to have witnessed the incident were called to stand in front of the crowd. The students didn't speak publicly, but one later confirmed the incident.
Eddie Griffin Critique
Franklin’s Myth 11 declares that Jena is "a wonderful place to live for both whites and blacks". But following the September 1, 2006 noose incident, blacks in the community were meeting and expressing outrage. Do Dan Brown, Tracy Bowens, Krystal Todd, Renea Ogletree, and Shirley Bowens characterize Jena as “a wonderful place to live for both whites and blacks”?
Who is putting words into whose mouth and concocting a myth and a lie?
September 8, 2006: Three white Jena High School students now face expulsion after they allegedly taunted black students on Sept. 1 by fashioning ropes in the form of nooses and hanging them from a tree on school grounds… The racial tensions remained strong this week, with at least one fight among students reported at the school Wednesday.
The unrest prompted a student assembly Wednesday, where officials including District Attorney Reed Walters stressed the importance of remaining calm, said one student, Kieangela Nash, a sophomore... The Sept. 1 incident "kinda made people a little upset," Angela Nash said… She said news about the incident spread around town quickly, witnessed by a number of black and white students on the last day of school before the Labor Day weekend.
In an interview in his office Thursday, Jena High School Principal Scott Windham would say only that "the situation has been investigated, the ones responsible have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken... Windham said he has recommended that the three students, all males, be expelled from school… LaSalle Parish Schools Superintendent Roy Breithaupt... and other school officials held a hearing Thursday morning at the school district office concerning the three teenagers' scholastic future...
The students have been taken out of Jena High and now are attending an alternative school in the parish usually reserved for suspended students, said Breithaupt, who would not reveal the students' names or grade levels... He did confirm that there was at least one fight Wednesday stemming from the provocation.
"Yes, there was an incident," Breithaupt said, and an investigation within the school system is ongoing of the altercation.
Neither the Jena Police Department nor the LaSalle Parish Sheriff's Office has been asked to investigate.
However, Kieangela Nash, the Jena High 10th-grader, said one student was handcuffed and taken to jail by city police Wednesday following a fight.
That assertion was denied by a city police officer, who said she knew of no student being arrested.
Kieangela also said there were at least five fights among students Wednesday, all along racial lines.
According to earlier news reports, the trouble started with black students' efforts to sit alongside white students outside, under the tree from which the ropes later were found hanging.
Following the discovery of the nooses, a group of black parents and students met Tuesday for about 45 minutes at L&A Missionary Baptist Church to discuss what to do about the incident. Breithaupt said the weeklong tensions are being quelled, the ones responsible are being dealt with… He also said the district would not tolerate racial bigotry.
Eddie Griffin Critique
Kieangela Nash, the 10th grader, gives insight into what happened in school during the first week after the nooses first appeared. In her own words, people were “kinda upset” after word of the noose incident spread around town. There were fights in school along racial lines- Kieangela asserts at least five fights, wherein LaSalle Parish Schools Superintendent Roy Breithaupt admits only one fight resulting from the “provocation”.
From Franklin’s Myth 2: According to the expulsion committee, the crudely constructed nooses were not aimed at black students. Instead, they were understood to be a prank by three white students aimed at their fellow white friends, members of the school rodeo team...
For the legal records, they record the noose incident as a prank “aimed at fellow white friends”. Did somebody forget to tell the black students before all the fights broke out? Or, are they pretending the rash of fights never happened, that black students were “not provoked” to violence? And, who was the student reportedly taken away from the school in handcuffs, which officials denied happened?
September 9, 2006: Three white Jena High School students have been suspended, not expelled, in the wake of an incident on Sept. 1 when hangman's nooses were found dangling from a tree on school grounds, inciting racial tensions in the LaSalle Parish seat.
LaSalle Parish Schools Superintendent Roy D. Breithaupt said Friday afternoon that an expulsion hearing committee, which also involved crisis management team officials, "came out with a different recommendation" than that of Jena High School Principal Scott Windham, who had recommended that the students be expelled for allegedly hanging the ropes… The students already had been taken out of Jena High and now are attending an alternative school in the parish usually reserved for suspended students, Breithaupt said earlier in the week.
As to reports Friday morning of a lockdown at Jena High School, Breithaupt said there had been rumors that the school was unsafe and that local law enforcement had come to check the school… LaSalle Parish Sheriff Carl Smith said Friday that one deputy had been at the school throughout the day on Thursday and Friday.
The sheriff said there had been no problems... at the school… no problems outside... Smith said he is aware of rumors circulating of problems in the town but said they were just that – rumors...
Breithaupt said there are no plans to bring the matter before the School Board at either its regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 18 or a meeting Monday in which the board is scheduled to meet in special session concerning the school district's 2006-07 budget.
"We feel like we've handled this situation using our school policies and procedures," he said.
Tracy Bowens, one of the organizers of the church meeting, said Friday that she plans to attend the Monday meeting to voice her opinions on the decision made in the incident. Many of the parents who met Tuesday said they wanted the students involved expelled rather than suspended.
Myth 4: DA's Threat to Black Students. When District Attorney Reed Walters spoke to Jena High students at an assembly in September, he did not tell black students that he could make their life miserable with "the stroke of a pen... Mr. Walters had been called to the assembly by police, who had been at the school earlier that day dealing with some students who were causing disturbances… I said, 'Look, I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. With the stroke of a pen I can make your life miserable..."
Eddie Griffin Critique
There were reports from black students that Reed Walters’ warning was directed at them and even after the warning, white students continued to taunt black students. Franklin proceeds to concoct Myth 5 and Myth 6, based on December 1-2, 2006 off-campus incidents. (See below)
Myth 5: The Fair Barn Party Incident. On Dec. 1, 2006, a private party – not an all-white party as reported – was held at the local community center called the Fair Barn. Robert Bailey Jr., soon to be one of the Jena 6, came to the party with others seeking admittance… a white male named Justin Sloan (not a Jena High student) at the party attacked Bailey and hit him in the face with his fist… (and) was prosecuted for simple battery…
Myth 6: The "Gotta-Go" Grocery Incident. On Dec. 2, 2006, Bailey and two other black Jena High students were involved in an altercation at this local convenience store, stemming from the incident that occurred the night before. The three were accused by police of jumping a white man as he entered the store and stealing a shotgun from him. The two parties gave conflicting statements to police. However, two unrelated eye witnesses of the event gave statements that corresponded with that of the white male.
Eddie Griffin Critique
But there is no mention of the arson to the schools administration building reported on December 1, coinciding with these incidents. And, to date, no suspect behind the blaze has been found. However, in all three incidents, Jena officials denied that there were any connections to the noose incident- a line which it maintains today.
Myth 8: The Attack Is Linked to the Nooses. Nowhere in any of the evidence, including statements by witnesses and defendants, is there any reference to the noose incident that occurred three months prior.
Myth 7: The Schoolyard Fight. The event on Dec. 4, 2006 was consistently labeled a "schoolyard fight"… Several black students, including those now known as the Jena 6, barricaded an exit to the school's gym as they lay in wait for Justin Barker to exit… he was hit from behind by Mychal Bell. Multiple witnesses confirmed that Barker was immediately knocked unconscious and lay on the floor defenseless as several other black students joined together to kick and stomp him, with most of the blows striking his head. Police speculate that the motivation for the attack was related to the racially charged fights that had occurred during the previous weekend.
Eddie Griffin Critique
Robert Bailey, Jr. was assaulted by Justin Sloan on December 1, and the very next night has a shotgun drawn on him by another white male. Instead of charging the perpetrator with assault with a deadly weapon, Bailey and three of his fellow schoolmates were charged with robbery when they took the weapon.
On December 4, Justin Barker made a remark about Bailey getting his butt kicked at the party and the Gotta Go Grocery store incident. This provoked the fight that would lead to Bailey and five other black youth being charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
If there is a true myth, it would be this: The noose incident on September 1, 2006 led to an unbroken chain of events and eventually to black students’ retaliation upon a white student on December 4, 2006. This issue is not a question of assault, but whether black students were sufficiently provoked to retaliate.
The records speak for themselves, despite Craig Franklin’s hindsight fabrications of myths.
Town Talk Chronicle of Jena Reports
• September 6, 2006: Jena High noose incident triggers parental protests
• September 8, 2006: 3 Jena students face possible expulsion
• September 9, 2006: Jena students suspended, not expelled, over incident
• September 12, 2006: LaSalle board skips over noose incident
• September 19, 2006: LaSalle Board hears Jena High incident complaint
• December 1, 2006: Investigators say arson is to blame
• December 1, 2006: District proposes use of existing buildings
• December 2, 2006: Jena High staff gets ready for school to resume Monday
• December 3, 2006: No arrests in Jena fire Saturday
• December 5, 2006: Jena High School reopens 4 days after arson blaze
• December 5, 2006: LaSalle board declares state of emergency after Jena fire
• December 5, 2006: Jena High School student beaten
• December 6, 2006: Arrests made in 2 Jena fights
• December 7, 2006: More arrests made in Jena High fight
• December 8, 2006: Jena High fight counts upgraded to attempted murder charges
• December 12, 2006: 4 teens booked in Jena school fight still jailed
• December 14, 2006: Clergy hold service to heal community
• December 16, 2006: Teen in Jena fight charged as adult
• December 21, 2006: Jena-based clergy meet tonight on school woes
• December 21, 2007: School Board to get report on students in Jena fight
• December 22, 2006: Jena ministers discuss next step in easing racial tensions
• December 27, 2006: Jena High fire, racial tension dominate news in LaSalle Parish
• January 3, 2007: Few have answers for Jena's next steps
• January 4, 2007: Ministers greet Jena students returning to classes Wednesday
• January 4, 2007: 3 of 6 youths charged in Dec. 4 Jena fight released on bail bond
• January 7, 2007: Relatives say 6 Jena High School students expelled
• January 9, 2007: LaSalle School Board receives $50,000 to refurbish Jena High
• January 25, 2007: LaSalle School Board meets Monday to hear expulsion appeals
• February 28, 2007: LaSalle officials look to future for new school
• May 3, 2007: Groups to protest until charges dropped or reduced
• May 11, 2007: Jena victim allegedly brought gun on campus
• May 12, 2007: Student may be expelled for a year
• May 22, 2007: 'Jena Six' trial delayed for more than month
• June 11, 2007: Documents give details about fight
• June 11, 2007: Case gets attention from all over world
• June 15, 2007: CNN postpones Jena segment
• June 26, 2007: Plea deals turned down; trial continues today
• June 27, 2007: All white jury selected for first 'Jena Six' trial
• June 28, 2007: Jury may get case today
• June 29, 2007: 'Jena Six' defendant faces years in jail
• June 30, 2007: Crowd of 30 says conviction was a 'miscarriage of justice'
• July 10, 2007: Part of Jena High to be demolished today
• July 14, 2007: Two men accused of running over sign
• July 26, 2007: Forum may ease tension in Jena
• July 27, 2007: Attendees at LaSalle forum on ‘Jena Six’ case lament lack of audience diversity
• July 27, 2007: Handling of ‘Jena Six’ case called ‘outrage’
• July 31, 2007: Official sought to clear up 'Jena Six' 'misinformation'
• July 31, 2007: Jena High 'noose' tree cut down
• August 1, 2007: Marchers rally to support Jena Six
• August 1, 2007: What was said in Jena on Tuesday
• August 2, 2007: Jackson, Sharpton plan trips to Jena
• August 5, 2007: Jena's Bell missing from Cenla's elite
• August 6, 2007: Civil rights leader visits LaSalle to back families
• August 6, 2007: Jena residents have mixed reaction to Sharpton's visit
• August 7, 2007: Sharpton learned of 'Jena Six' case about 4 weeks ago
• August 11, 2007: Sharpton, M.L. King III to speak in Jena Tuesday
• August 15, 2007: MLK III to continue fight for 'Jena Six'
• August 15, 2007: Bell's attorneys file motion to void his conviction
• August 16, 2007: Some intentionally stayed away from rally for 'Jena 6'
• August 16, 2007: Defense attorney says Bell case should be in juvenile system
• August 18, 2007: Calm marks first day at Jena High
• August 20, 2007: 'We lost Jena'
• August 25, 2007: Bell denied bond due to criminal history
• August 29, 2007: Jena High School bans 'Free the Jena 6' T-shirts
• September 5, 2007: Judge throws out one of Bell's convictions
• September 9, 2007: No rules governing how schools handle lawbreaking athletes
• September 9, 2007: 'Jena Six' all ran together -- on the field and off
• September 9, 2007: Jackson to speak today in Jena
• September 9, 2007: College coaches looking for standouts, stand-up citizens
• September 10, 2007: Jackson calls for Jena march
• September 11, 2007: Charges reduced for another 'Jena Six' member
• September 11, 2007: LaSalle official: No damage to Goodpine school
• September 14, 2007: Jena-area schools to be closed during sentencing of Bell
• September 15, 2007: Bell’s conviction overturned
• September 17, 2007: Officers from across state to help police LaSalle Parish march
• September 17, 2007: Area hotels booked solid prior to event
• September 18, 2007: Some Jena businesses will close Thursday because of rally
• September 18, 2007: Thousands traveling by bus to Jena for protest
• September 18, 2007: Attorney seeks Bell's release
• September 19, 2007: Facilities readied for Thursday events
• September 19, 2007: Mayor says order to be maintained during march
• September 19, 2007: Black entertainers plan to attend rally
• September 19, 2007: Rally planned in Alexandria today
• September 19, 2007: City bus terminal relocated Thursday
• September 19, 2007: Gay rights group to attend Jena rally
• September 20, 2007: On eve of huge rally, chaos reigns
• September 20, 2007: Sharpton says all eyes will be on Jena march
• September 20, 2007: City, jury not sponsoring events
• September 20, 2007: Local officers ready to handle traffic woes
• September 20, 2007: Supporters from across nation coverge
• September 20, 2007: Students flock to Jena in support of civil rights
• September 20, 2007: Jena Notebook
• September 20, 2007: Jena Timeline
• September 21, 2007: Town’s worst fears fail to materialize
• September 21, 2007: Full day of events began early in Jena
• September 21, 2007: Bell bond hearing may come today
• September 21, 2007: Thursday’s second rally held in Alexandria
• September 21, 2007: People from churches in 36 states attend events
• September 21, 2007: Few people go to NAACP town hall-style meeting
• September 21, 2007: Jena march, rally draw visitors from near and far
• September 21, 2007: March on Jena Notebook
• September 21, 2007: Rally peaceful, but heat too much for some
• September 22, 2007: Bell again denied bond
• September 22, 2007: Two teens charged after nooses spotted hanging from truck
• September 22, 2007: Barkers say they were duped in white supremacists's interview
• September 23, 2007: Days since Jena rallies marked by nooses, threats
• September 23, 2007: Communication, cooperation cited for rallies' success
• September 23, 2007: Jena resident upset officials didn't provide prior notice
• September 23, 2007: Teen released on bond after noose incident
• September 25, 2007: Students debate 'Jena Six'
• September 25, 2007: Officials say visitors, residents behaved well during rally in Jena
• September 26, 2007: Threats don't deter 'Jena Six'
• September 27, 2007: Blanco: Bell case to be decided in juvenile court
• September 27, 2007: New Black Panthers say they will patrol Jena
• September 27, 2007: LaSalle DA defends handling of 'Jena Six' case
• September 28, 2007: Bell out on bail
• September 28, 2007: Walters says victim's interests best served by not appealing
• September 28, 2007: 'Jena Six' notebook
• September 30, 2007: 'Jena Six' case shows power of Internet
• September 30, 2007: 'Jena Six' impacts high school students
• October 3, 2007: Bell has first hearing in juvenile court system
• October 3, 2007: ‘Jena Six’ case threats continue
• October 3, 2007: Alexandrian posts parody of ‘Jena Six’ incident
• October 3, 2007: Lafayette 'Jena Six' protest aimed at U.S. attorney
• October 4, 2007: Mellencamp ditty about 'Jena Six' case posted on Web
• October 4, 2007: Jena approves panel to study race relations
• October 4, 2007: 'Jena Six' parody video to lead to sensitivity training at ULM
• October 5, 2007: U.S. Senate passes Jena-related resolution
• October 8, 2007: Jena High rises above
• October 12, 2007: Mychal Bell taken back into custody
• October 13, 2007: DA group, Gov. Blanco say Bell's case routine
• October 16, 2007: 'Jena Six' hearings today in D.C., national rallies planned
• October 17, 2007: Justice Dept. pressed to probe handling of LaSalle controversy
• October 17, 2007: Students also discuss 'Jena Six' case
• October 19, 2007: Two of 'Jena Six' defendants present BET award
• October 23, 2007: Bell case records sought
• October 26, 2007: Attorneys file more motions to open Bell hearing, data
• October 27, 2007: Nationalist Movement plans to hold rally in Jena
• Timeline of the 'Jena Six' case
• Answers to frequently asked questions about 'Jena Six'
• Frequently asked questions surrounding the 'Jena Six"