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  • Sports > Columnists > Jason Whitlock

    Jason Whitlock  

    Posted on Sat, Sep. 29, 2007 10:15 PM

    Jena 6 case caught up in whirlwind of distortion, opportunism

    JENA, La. | Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and talk-show hosts certainly feasted on the racial unrest in this tiny central Louisiana town.

    But it would be unfair to claim they threw the match that ignited the Jena Six case into a global blaze of hostility and misinformation.

    That distinction belongs to Alan Bean, a 54-year-old white, self-proclaimed Baptist minister from Tulia, Texas.

    “Do I know him?” was LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters’ sarcastic and dismissive response when I asked about Bean during a 45-minute interview.

    “People are reluctant to say it,” said Craig Franklin, editor of the Jena Times, “but there is no doubt that Alan Bean created all of this.”

    This is different things to different people. To some, this is a long overdue civil-rights reawakening, which points out pervasive racism in the South and in our justice system. To others, this is a horrific public-relations crime against the white people of Jena and irreparable damage to race relations in the poor oil town. And to some dispassionate observers, this is an unfortunate situation being exploited by white and black racial extremists.

    On Sept. 20, when Jackson, Sharpton and Jena Six family members led competing rallies in support of six black youths accused of brutally attacking a white classmate, this — more than 20,000 marchers — was something no one in Jena could ever imagine.

    But Alan Bean could.

    Bean — the creator of Friends of Justice, an organization primarily dedicated to helping poor minorities victimized by our justice system — had warned prominent members of the Jena community as early as January that the town would be painted as racist by the national media if Walters didn’t back down.

    “I told them I was going to bring media attention to this situation, and it was likely the same thing would happen to them that happened to my little hometown,” Bean said by phone on Friday. “Tulia got a bad rap, a rap it probably didn’t deserve. But the media doesn’t do its job. It’s in the entertainment business.”

    “Tulia” refers to the case that made Bean and Friends of Justice a player in the world of American criminal justice. In the late 1990s, Bean exposed a corrupt cop in his hometown. More than a dozen drug convictions against minorities were overturned because of Bean’s work. Tulia was labeled as racist, and Bean became the person to call if you thought the police and/or a prosecutor were exploiting you.

    A lawyer in New Orleans put Bean and parents of the Jena Six in contact with each other in December. Within three months, Bean had researched Jena and the events surrounding the assault, and published a 5,400-word narrative titled “The Making of a Myth in Jena, Louisiana” and a 2,400-word, media-friendly narrative titled “Responding to the Crisis in Jena, Louisiana.”

    These two pro-defense narratives form the outline for most of the world’s understanding of the case. Bean connected the December assault on Justin Barker to the September noose hangings, to Reed Walters’ infamous “I can ruin your life with the stroke of a pen” statement at a hastily called school assembly, and to separate off-campus confrontations between Robert Bailey and white men on the Friday and Saturday before the attack on Barker.

    Walters said Wednesday he’d never heard that the attack on Barker had anything to do with the noose hangings until the defense filed motions in the spring to recuse him from the case.

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    To reach Jason Whitlock, call 816-234-4869 or send e-mail to