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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


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


REP. MELVIN WATT (D-NC): I thank my colleagues on the other side, and I thank the chair. I guess the lesson to be learned from that is no good deed goes either unpunished or unrewarded, so I'm going to go shortly and substitute for the chair on the floor in connection with another bill.

It seems to me that we have danced around a question quite a lot this morning that Reverend Moran seems to put his finger directly on, and that is the fact that there's been a lot of discussion about reconciliation and very little discussion about justice. And until this pending dispute is resolved in some way, it's going to be difficult, hard, if not impossible for the Jena community to move forward in any kind of constructive way.

So I guess the question I want to focus on is what, if anything, can we do given the recognition that everybody on this panel seems to have that there were two standards being applied. There still seems to be two standards being applied. The prosecutor is still out there charging on a different standard; the black kids not having charged anything against the white kids.

Is there anything in the current posture of the case that the Justice Department can do, or do we have to just wait on an irresponsible, insensitive prosecutor that continue to play this out for his own political benefit, I'm told, while the nation is trying to reconcile, he's trying to be a hero? Is there anything that we can do in this context, in this case, to get this prosecution resolved so that we can start to try to reconcile?

And I would address that question first to the representatives from the Department of Justice, and then to the learned council on the panel.

MS. KRIGSTEN: One of the things that I want to make sure our testimony does here today is --

REP. WATT: I want to make sure that we answer the question --


REP. WATT: -- I've got your testimony. I don't see an answer to this question in your testimony.

MS. KRIGSTEN: The answer to the question is this. The Department of Justice has been active in the Jena community. There has been an immediate response by the Department of Justice, and a continued response, to address all of the issues in the community.

When looking at the issue that you bring to the table at this time, the Department of Justice is aware that there are requests to investigate the judicial system in Jena. Just last Friday Mr. Washington was joined by the head of the Civil Rights Division in discussions with community leaders, and that is one of the topics that was brought to our attention.

At this time, the Justice Department is gathering information, and reviewing that information, and is taking that request about whether there needs to be an investigation into the justice system very seriously. At this time there is an ongoing criminal prosecution and it would be premature for the Justice Department to say, at this time, whether there will be the investigation.

REP. WATT: Mr. Cohen, Mr. Ogletree, in our criminal context, in our justice system, are we just stopped at this moment until some irresponsible, quote, unquote "prosecutor" plays out his own political agenda?

MR. COHEN: (Off mike.) Well, we hope at some point that --

REP. WATT: Would you -- would you put your mike on, please?

MR. COHEN: (Off mike.) I think it is on.

We hope, at some point, that cooler heads do prevail. Unfortunately, we live in a federal system and what's -- and it's very difficult to bring a selective prosecution case and stop a prosecution in its tracks. I know that Mr. Scott, Mr. Bell's lawyer, and many of the other lawyers are trying to file motions to recuse the district attorney. They've been unsuccessful so far. I think there'll be motions filed to change the venue and get the case out of Jena. I can't imagine that those won't be granted.

You know, ultimately the wheels of justice grind slowly, unfortunately. They're going to go through the Louisiana Appellate Courts, and if there's -- and if there's not justice there, there'll be federal habeas actions brought. I just hope that the kids, in the meantime, can bear up. But I think it's not an obvious thing that we can short-circuit that by some sort of federal intervention, unfortunately.

REP. WATT: Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman on the other side for allowing me to go out of order and I'll go handle the Chairman's business now.


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