While Sheriff Scott Franklin of Jena, Louisiana says he is trying to rid his jurisdiction of drugs, critics say he has a vendetta against the town's black community for the local civil rights protests that won freedom for six black high school students who had been charged with attempted murder for a schoolyard brawl in 2009.
As reported in Race-Talk on July 9, 2009, over 150 officers from 10 agencies met and mobilized "Operation Third Option" with the goal of fighting drugs. Despite the fact that Sheriff Franklin spent massive resources for an investigation that lasted nearly two years, officers have yet to seize any contraband. Working with District Attorney Reed Walters, Sheriff Franklin has been seeking maximum penalties for minor offenses in a town that is 85% white with only 300 black residents. Thus far, their efforts have almost exclusively targeted African Americans.
Catrina Wallace, the sister of Robert Bailey, one of the "Jena Six," was a leader in the initiative to free the accused youth and organized protests and meetings for months. She and her children were awakened with guns pointed to their heads and were held on a $150,000 cash-only bond although officers found no drugs or contraband in her home. Furthermore, despite a lack of evidence, her car was also taken by police and never returned.
Samuel Howard was sleeping nude when police raided his home at 5:00 a.m. and tasered him three times. They took him out of his house to a baseball field while he was still nude, where he spent another hour without any clothes, standing among other arrestees. Howard said "The sheriff knows me. We went to school together. He knows I'm not a violent person." Howard's home was badly burned during the raid as a result of flares that police used inside.
Many of Jena's black residents claim that the DA, Sheriff, and editor of the local newspaper want revenge against black people who stood up and fought against unjust charges. The owner, editor, and publisher of the Jena Times, the town's only newspaper, is Sammy Franklin, father of Sheriff Franklin. A white-owned store near the courthouse sells T-shirts commemorating "Operation Third Option" with a design of a person behind bars. Black residents of Jena say that an earlier version of the shirt featured a monkey.
Marcus Jones, father of one of the Jena Six, has called for a federal investigation of the Sheriff's department and District Attorney's office. He said "This is racially motivated. It's revenge. Wouldn't none of this be going on if justice had been done the way it was supposed to have been."
IN THE COURTS