The House Judiciary Committee's hearing on Jena 6 marks a turning point in the federal government's response to hate crimes and race-related school violence. The witnesses included:
- Richard Cohen, president and CEO, Southern Poverty Law Center
- Rev. Brian Moran, pastor, Jena Antioch Baptist Church, and president, NAACP Jena Chapter
- Charles J. Ogletree Jr., executive director, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School
- Rev. Al Sharpton, president, National Action Network
- Donald Washington, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana
The hearing was a study in contrasts. On one side, Democrats, led by Chairman John Conyers Jr., voiced outrage at the double standard of juvenile justice and the Justice Department's cavalier response to allegations of hate crimes.
It's important to note that no one condones the beatdown. Instead, the issue is the "two-tier justice system." The black teens were "dramatically overcharged" – attempted second degree murder – for a school fight that should have been handled by the school system.
Rep. Dan Lungren asserted a relationship between "family structure" and juvenile delinquency. Lungren used "single parent family" as a proxy for race.
Prof. Ogletree flatly rejected Lungren's claim:
It's not the structure of the family. It's the structure of the criminal justice system. It's too easy to say "family structure" is the cause and consequence of the problem. It's bigger than that. You must also look at disparities in punishment and charges.
Later on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation, Ogletree said:
A noose is a hate crime. The government chose not to prosecute them…That's what makes people so upset. Why is it that one set of conduct which violates the law was prosecuted. And another set was handled within the school system. It's a disparity. It's based on race and it's hard to justify under these circumstances.
To read the witnesses' prepared testimony, click here.