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Hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary- Jena 6 and the Role of Federal Intervention in Hate Crimes and Race-Related Violence in Public School

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Location: Washington, DC


Hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary- Jena 6 and the Role of Federal Intervention in Hate Crimes and Race-Related Violence in Public School

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REP. GOODLATTE: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman -- and I'll be following Mr. Watt to the floor momentarily on the same issue which you well know, and I also want to thank you for holding this hearing. And I also want to say -- and I think I can say this on behalf of everybody on this committee on both sides of the aisle, that we all stand for equal justice under the law. And I think this is an appropriate hearing to determine the facts behind what occurred in Jena and what can be done to avoid similar circumstances in the future.

So in that regard, I'd like to follow up on the questions that were addressed by Mr. Watt to Ms. Krigsten and Mr. Washington -- and perhaps get you to be a little more precise with us if you can, and that is to ask each of you, in your opinion, what do you think were the appropriate charges to be brought against the Jena Six members with regard to the assault on Justin Barker?

MR. WASHINGTON: Congressman, we have done what we can, as hard as we can, not to come up with opinions regarding prosecutorial discretion, and things of that sort in this particular case. What we can say --

REP. GOODLATTE: (I'm going to ?) give the other members of the panel the opportunity to answer too, so I want you, as a representative of the Justice Department, to have the first crack at that.

MR. WASHINGTON: I understand. What we can say is that there has been a loud outcry in the community that these charges are overboard. And we've taken that into consideration, and we will continue to take that into consideration as we move forward with our processes.

REP. GOODLATTE: Ms. Krigsten?

MS. KRIGSTEN: At this time, I simply can echo what Mr. Washington has said: There has been an outcry; we have received the message from members of this committee, from the American public, that people are not pleased with the charging decisions; that at this time the Justice Department is not going to express an opinion about whether those charges were appropriate or not appropriate, because it is an ongoing prosecution and because we are considering a request of whether to investigate the district attorney.

REP. GOODLATTE: All right. Now let me ask you a second question and then I'm going to give the other members of the panel an opportunity to respond.

Based on your knowledge of the facts and circumstances surrounding the racial tensions and actions that occurred in the Jena community, do you believe that any additional charges could have, and should have been brought against any other parties in Jena?

MR. WASHINGTON: Well, we've -- we've taken the same kind of position so far, Congressman. We are in the process of evaluating all of the rumors and innuendo and information. We continue to collect information to answer that -- those kinds of questions as we move forward. As has already been indicated by Mr. Cohen here, when you start talking about selective prosecution, and things of those sort, we have to be very precise in the kinds of evidence that we need to collect, and we have to do it in a very deliberate, careful fashion.

REP. GOODLATTE: All right, now bearing in mind the circumstances you find yourselves in, with an incomplete process, let me then ask you maybe an easier question and that is, what should we but doing to ensure that our criminal statutes are more uniformly enforced?

MS. KRIGSTEN: One of the things that I think is important for us to note at this time, is that in talking about these incidents in Jena, we're talking about two independent judicial systems. We're talking about the state system and the federal system. As a federal prosecutor for the past seven years -- and in fact as a prosecutor for my entire career, 12 years, I am very familiar with the idea that there needs to be uniformity in the application of law.

But the uniformity of which Mr. Washington and I are concerned is the uniformity in applying federal law. And in this case, we believe that we are operating under the correct principle of federal prosecution. There is a concern about how the state system is making their decisions, and it's important for us to draw this distinction because it is not our concern, as federal prosecutors, that there's uniformity between the federal and the state system.

REP. GOODLATTE: All right, let me pass those questions on down the line.

Mr. Cohen?

MR. COHEN: (Off mike) -- probably simple battery would have been more than sufficient.

REP. GOODLATTE: If you would hit your mike on.

MR. COHEN: It's -- my microphone seems to be having a problem. I have a light but no sound.

I think simple battery would have been more than sufficient. Aggravated battery, of course, requires both a serious injury and a dangerous weapon, I don't want to minimize any injuries here, but everyone knows that Mr. Barker left the hospital under his own power with no broken bones and no stitches. Also the dangerous weapon here was tennis shoes. One can always claim that anything can be used in a dangerous fashion, but I think that simple battery with have been more than sufficient under the circumstances here.

REP. GOODLATTE: Thank you.

Reverend Sharpton?

REV. SHARPTON: I would -- as not being one of the learned counsels at the table, I wouldn't even venture to guess what would be appropriate. I'd think it would be appropriate that there should have been some kind of penalty on a juvenile level if, in fact, it occurred. I think that what I would like to address is the second part of your question. I think that the federal government and the Justice Department should review the laws that protect juveniles from hate crimes.

I've seen where people that have been involved in drug trafficking has gotten around those laws by using kids. Are we now going to have a society where if you want to hang up a noose or paint a swastika, you use somebody underage to do it? And therefore, we can permeate society with hate by just playing around this juvenile law?

Does the federal government have the same requirement that you have to be grown to commit a hate crime? If it does, we need to visit or revisit whether that law protects us. If it does not, then does that -- does the state of Louisiana law supercede federal law? I think they can immediately do this.

These nooses were hung over a year ago, sir, so I know that the wheels of justice may turn slow, but it seems that it's at a standstill, because to deal with those nooses does not require interfering in any of the prosecutions of the local district attorney, does not take away any of the power of the prosecutor. It's to say an event happened over a year ago, is state law Constitutional, and is federal law outdated where you now have to be grown to commit a hate crime in America? I think that that's a threat to all of us that are in groups that have been targets of hate.

REP. GOODLATTE: Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, I believe my time's expired, unfortunately. I'd like to continue this down the line, I don't know --

REP. CONYERS: Could we -- let me allow you enough time to get to the two other witnesses.

REP. GOODLATTE: If they would care to --

REP. CONYERS: If you have a response.

REP. GOODLATTE: -- respond to either of those questions.

MR. OGLETREE: To both questions, in the first case, it seems to me -- along with Richard Cohen, that battery seems to be the appropriate charge. These were dramatically overcharged against the Jena Six. On the other hand, the second question, Robert Bailey, Jr. was assaulted with a bottle, had a gun put on him, and those individuals received little or no punishment at all.

So race has been a factor in the way the punishment has been meted out. That's why there's no justice. There is no justice when anybody can look at these individuals and see that the amount of punishment they are exposed to, is the direct -- a direct correlation to the race of the person who's the victim, and the race of the person who's accused of the offense. And that's the problem in Jena that we keep ignoring.

REV. MORAN: I think that the punishment that was given to the white children who hung the nooses, it was dealt out by the school system -- by suspension, and whatever other means of punishment that was given to them. I think that the black students should be treated the same. There should have been some type of educational status -- or educational punishment given to them. I don't believe that the law should have been a part of what took place inside of the school when it was, in fact, a schoolyard fight.

Also, we must also look at the fact that the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled out that Mychal Bell was illegally charged, but nothing has been done about that as of this point. Things are steadily rolling, and the DA is steadily putting out punishment for even Mychal Bell. That's very unjust.

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