Glenn Reynolds usually thinks it’s okay for someone who is violently attacked to defend themselves with a gun. What might get him to change his mind? If his only source for the facts is Radley Balko.
Reynolds has a post on the “Jena 6” incident. This is the incident in which 6 black teenagers, one with an extensive record of violence, attacked and stomped on a white student, rendering him unconscious. Here’s how one news account described the incident:
According to court documents, someone hit [victim Justin] Barker from behind, knocking him out, then others began to kick and stomp his “lifeless” body. He spent about three hours in a local emergency room for treatment of injuries to his head and face.
The case is getting attention from the usual squad of Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons. Reynolds begins:
Okay, the fact that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are involved doesn’t prove that there’s no actual injustice, but it was enough to make me email Radley Balko — I’ve gotten a lot of email on the case, but most of it seems to assume that I already know what’s going on. Radley’s lengthy reply is below: click “read more” to read it. As always, it’s constructive to ask how people would act if the races were reversed.
I fully agree with that last sentence, and I guarantee you that if six white students beat and stomped a black student into unconsciousness, the Jacksons and Sharptons would be demanding that he be prosecuted to the full extent of the law — and appropriately so. However, this isn’t the message that comes across in the Radley Balko e-mail that Reynolds proceeds to reprint. Instead, Balko’s e-mail contains (to nobody’s surprise) a pro-defense spin on virtually every aspect of the case. (It could be that Radley Balko once fully presented the prosecution side of a criminal case; I just haven’t seen it yet.) Balko presents this account of one of the incidents leading up to the “Jena 6” incident:
What’s got everyone upset is the racial disparity in the sentences. In one case, a white kid pulled a shotgun on three black kids. The black kids wrestled the gun from him, and took off. The black kids were charged with stealing the gun, the white kid wasn’t charged.
Is there another side to the story? Indeed there is. Does Balko present it? He does not. Here is what Balko (and by extension Reynolds) doesn’t tell you.
The victim, Matt Windham, alleges that three black males attacked and robbed him while the three accused are claiming self-defense.
According to CNN, Windham
would later tell police he felt threatened by three black students. Windham hurried to his pickup truck and returned with his shotgun. Three black students wrestled it away from him.
What really happened? I have no idea. But according to the Jena Times story:
Both the victim and those arrested offered different statements to the police, however, eye witnesses to the event unrelated to the victim or those arrested, gave a report of the incident that corresponded with the victim[‘s].
It could be that the Jena Times is a racially biased paper. It could be that the independent witnesses didn’t say what the paper claims they say — or, if they do, it could be that they are lying are wrong. Let me be perfectly clear: I have absolutely no idea what really happened.
But I know there’s another side to the story — and I know it wasn’t presented by Radley Balko.
P.S. Reynolds also reprints this portion of the Balko e-mail:
The prosecutor initially charged the six black kids with attempted murder. After some public backlash, he dropped them to felony assault with a deadly weapon (the weapons, as it turned out, were the students’ shoes). As I understand it, none of the six had prior records. The first to be tried–Mychal Bell– had his charges dropped to felony aggravated battery, but still received a 15-year sentence. An appellate judge just tossed that sentence out, ruling he shouldn’t have been tried as an adult. The rest have yet to be tried.
This quote remains as is, despite the fact that, as we will soon see, Mychal Bell has quite a history for violence. Now, Reynolds doesn’t hide that fact, but he doesn’t make it as clear as I think he should. Here’s how Reynolds presents the information on Bell’s record — and note how many clicks it takes for the reader to get the full facts.
Near the head of his post, Reynolds posts an update alerting readers that there is an “update and a minor correction at Radley’s blog.” No further details are presented. If you follow the link to Balko’s blog, you’ll see this:
I was wrong on one point. I said that all of the Jena 6 had no prior record. Mychal Bell does in fact have prior convictions. All were as a juvenile, but his record had been sealed until a bond hearing last month.
That does sound potentially minor — until you click through to the link and see the full extent of Bell’s violent priors:
In addition to Mychal Bell’s recent felony conviction, his criminal history was revealed Friday to contain four other violent crimes.
. . . .
Three months prior to [the “Jena 6”] attack, Bell committed two violent crimes while on probation for a battery Christmas Day 2005, according to testimony. . . . Bell was adjudicated — the juvenile equivalent to a conviction — of battery Sept. 2 and criminal damage to property Sept. 3, said Cynthia Bradford, LaSalle Parish deputy clerk.
As a prosecutor, I can tell you that the most important factors in the treatment of any criminal defendant are (1) the seriousness of the current offense, and (2) the nature of the defendant’s prior criminal history — with a special focus on similar actions.
It is not a “minor” detail that a person charged with a violent crime has a criminal history, including four previous violent crimes.
Nor should a reader have to click through two other sites to get the essence of that information.
UPDATE: It is classy of Reynolds to link this post even though it is mildly critical of a previous post of his. This, by the way, is fairly characteristic of him; even if I think he is, at times, somewhat reflexively anti law-enforcement, he gives voice to the other side — and I respect that.
By the way, the L.A. Times has been systematically distorting the facts of this case. More on that here.