[News] Jena Sheriff Seeks Revenge for Civil Rights Protests

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 13 16:38:17 EDT 2010


Drug Bust or Racist Revenge?
By Jordan Flaherty

Sheriff Scott Franklin of Jena says he is trying 
to rid his community of drugs. Critics say he is 
pursuing a vendetta against the town’s Black community.

At four am on July 9 of last year, more than 150 
officers from 10 different agencies gathered in a 
large barn just outside Jena, Louisiana. The day 
was the culmination of an investigation that 
Sheriff Scott Franklin said had been going on for 
nearly two years. Local media was invited, and a 
video of the Sheriff speaking to the rowdy gathering would later appear online.

The Sheriff called the mobilization “Operation 
Third Option,” and he said it was about fighting 
drugs. However, community members say that 
Sheriff Franklin’s actions are part of an 
orchestrated revenge for the local civil rights 
protests that won freedom for six Black high 
school students - known internationally as the 
Jena Six - who had been charged with attempted murder for a school fight.

One thing is clear: the Sheriff spent massive 
resources; yet officers seized no contraband. 
Together with District Attorney Reed Walters, 
Sheriff Franklin has said he is seeking maximum 
penalties for people charged with small-time 
offenses. Further, in a parish that is 
eighty-five percent white, his actions have 
almost exclusively targeted African Americans. In 
a town with just over three hundred Black 
residents, he sent his 150 officers only into the town’s Black neighborhood.

Downtown Baghdad

According to a report from Alexandria’s Town Talk 
newspaper, LaSalle Parish Sheriff Scott Franklin 
prepared the assembled crowd for a violent day. 
"This is serious business what we're fixing to 
do," said Sheriff Franklin. "If you think this is 
a training exercise or if you think these are 
good old boys from redneck country and we're just 
going to good-old-boy them into handcuffs, you're 
wrong. These people have nothing to lose. And they know the stakes are high."

“It's going to be like Baghdad out in this 
community at five am,” he continued dramatically, 
explaining that their target was 37-year-old 
Darren DeWayne Brown, who owns a barbershop – one 
of the only Black-owned businesses in town – and 
his “lieutenants,” who Franklin said supplied 
eighty percent of the narcotics for three 
parishes. "Let me put it to you this way," 
declared the Sheriff, "When the man says, 'We 
don't sell dope today,' dope won't get sold."

Sheriff Franklin said that option one is for drug 
dealers and users to quit, option two is to move, 
and option three is to spend the rest of their 
lives in prison. And this day was all about 
option three. "They will get put in handcuffs, 
put behind bars today and never see the light of 
day again unless they are going out on the playground in prison,” he boasted.

At the end of the day, a dozen people were 
arrested on charges that ranged from contempt of 
court to resisting arrest to distribution of 
marijuana, hydrocodone, or cocaine. Despite 
catching the accused residents by surprise with 
early morning raids, in which doors were battered 
down by SWAT teams while a helicopter hovered 
overhead and then search teams were brought in to 
take houses and businesses apart, no drugs or 
other physical evidence were retrieved – other 
than small traces of marijuana at one house.

Virtually all evidence in the cases comes from 
the testimony of twenty-three-year-old Evan Brown 
of Jena, who also wore a hidden camera that 
parish officials have said provides powerful 
visual evidence. “We’re completely satisfied with 
the results,” said LaSalle Sheriff’s Department 
Narcotic Chief Robert Terral, who refused further comment on the operation.

LaSalle Parish is a politically conservative 
enclave located in northwest Louisiana. Former 
Klansman David Duke received a solid majority of 
local votes when he ran for governor in 1991—in 
fact, he received a higher percentage of votes in 
LaSalle Parish than in any other part of the state.

The Parish became famous in 2007 for the case of 
the Jena Six. In demonstrations that were called 
the birth of a 21st Century civil rights 
movement, an estimated 50,000 people from across 
the US marched in Jena – nearly twenty times the 
population of the town. They were protesting a 
pattern of systemic racism and discriminatory 
prosecutions. All six youths, who once faced life 
in prison, are now either enrolled in college or are on their way.

The Sheriff told the Jena Times that he began 
preparing for Operation Third Option in November 
of 2007, less than two months after the historic 
protests. The raid occurred just a few weeks 
after the Jena Six cases were finally settled.

A Terrifying Morning

Catrina Wallace, 29, was sleeping in her bed with 
her youngest child when her door was broken down 
and she awoke to the feeling of a gun to her 
head. When she opened her eyes, her small home 
was filled with police. “I never seen that many 
police at one time,” she recalled. “Everywhere I 
looked all I saw was police. There were six or 
seven just in my bedroom.” She says police 
pointed guns at her small children and wouldn’t let her comfort them.

Catrina Wallace is the sister of Robert Bailey, 
one of the Jena Six. Along with her mother, 
Caseptla Bailey, she was one of the leaders of 
the campaign to free the accused youths, and she 
organized meetings and protests for months. 
Wallace says her political activism made her a 
target. “I’m a freedom fighter,” she says. “I 
fight for peoples’ rights. I’ve never been in trouble.”

Police found no drugs or any other evidence of 
wrongdoing in Wallace’s home. Officers initially 
claimed they found marijuana on her kitchen 
table, but later discovered that they had 
collected broccoli stems, left over from dinner the previous night.

Despite the lack of evidence, and the fact that 
she has lived her whole life in Jena and is 
raising three small children, she was held for a 
$150,000 cash-only bond. Her car, a 1999 
Mitsubishi Gallant, was also taken by police, who 
continue to hold it in an impound lot, along with 
about fifty other vehicles seized that day. If 
she wants it back, Catrina will have to pay 
twelve dollars a day to the lot for every day 
since July of last year – an amount already larger than the value of the car.

Tasered and Traumatized

Samuel Howard was sleeping in his bed, naked, 
when police broke down his door at five am. 
Howard says police tasered him three times, twice 
in the back and once in his arm, and pointed guns 
at his three kids. They took him out of his house 
still naked, and brought him to a baseball field, 
along with the other arrestees from that 
day.  There he says he spent another hour without 
any clothes, standing with the other arrestees, 
until police brought him an orange jailhouse jumper.

“They treated us like we was hard core killers,” 
says Howard, who says that in a small town like 
Jena where everyone knows each other, such 
violent tactics are uncalled for. “The sheriff 
knows me,” he says. “We went to school together. 
He knows I’m not a violent person.”

Howard is being charged with three counts of 
distribution of cocaine. His trial is scheduled 
for May 24 (Catrina Wallace’s is scheduled for 
the same week). As with the other defendants, the 
only evidence against him is the testimony and 
video from the police informant. Howard, who has 
seen the evidence, says he is not implicated in the video.

His home was badly burned up that day, apparently 
from flares that police fired inside, and his 
windows were all destroyed. Howard, who does some 
auto repair work, says his four vehicles – 
including two older cars that don’t run - were also seized by police.

Racially Motivated

Many of Jena’s Black residents say that the 
town’s white power structure – including the DA, 
Sheriff, and the editor of the local paper - 
wants revenge against Black people in town who 
stood up and fought against unjust charges. They 
complain that in a town that is mostly white, all 
but two of the people arrested were Black, and 
the only arrestees pictured in the town’s paper were Black.

The sheriff “Just wants to humiliate people,” 
says Caseptla Bailey, Wallace’s mother, 
“Especially the African Americans.” The editor 
and publisher of the Jena Times, the town’s only 
paper, is Sammy Franklin, who has owned the paper 
since 1968. His son is Sheriff Scott Franklin.

A white-owned store around the corner from the 
courthouse in downtown Jena 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 behind bars. They say that 
white residents of Jena have gloated about the arrests.

Four of those arrested on that day have pled 
guilty. Chelsea Brown, who was arrested for 
contempt of court, received a sentence of 25 
days. Devin Lofton, who pled guilty to conspiracy 
to distribute, received ten years. Adrian 
Richardson, 34, who pled guilty on April 23 to 
two counts of distribution, received twenty-five 
years. Termaine Lee, a twenty-two-year-old who 
had no previous record but faced six counts of 
distribution, received twenty years.

Some of the accused have hired attorneys, while 
others have had public defenders appointed. 
However, all involved say they doubt they can 
receive a fair trial in LaSalle. They say that 
white defendants with similar or worse charges 
received lower bonds, and face lesser sentences. 
“It’s crooked,” says Howard. “They ain’t playing fair down here, that’s all.”

Marcus Jones, the father of one of the Jena Six 
youths, doesn’t mince words. “This is racially 
motivated,” he says. “It’s revenge.” He says that 
the problem is that while the Jena Six youths 
were freed, there were no consequences for the 
Sheriff or DA. “Wouldn’t none of this be going on 
if justice had been done the way it was supposed to have been,” he says.

Jones was not among those arrested, but in a 
small town like Jena, he knows everyone involved. 
He says he was shocked at the resources the 
police brought in. “Why did you need helicopters 
and military weapons?” he asks. “I could see it 
if you were going to arrest Noriega or the Mafia, 
but these are people with kids in their homes. 
The Sheriff’s department never had any violent 
run-ins with any of these people.”

Jones believes the entire campaign by Sheriff 
Franklin has been a gesture of asserting control 
over the Black community, and he calls for a 
federal investigation of the Sheriff’s department and DA.

Samuel Howard says that now he mostly stays home 
with his three kids, ages 12, 14, and 15. He’s 
afraid of the Sheriff’s office arresting him if 
he leaves the house, and he wants to stay close 
to his kids, who were traumatized by his arrest. 
“It scared them to death,” he says. “They still talk about it to this day.”

“They know they’re wrong,” said Howard, referring 
to the Sheriff and DA, “You can’t tell me they don’t know.”

Jordan Flaherty is a journalist, an editor of 
Left Turn Magazine, and a staffer with the 
Louisiana Justice Institute. He was the first 
writer to bring the story of the Jena Six to a 
national audience and audiences around the world 
have seen the television reports he’s produced 
for Al-Jazeera, TeleSur, GritTV, and Democracy 
Now. Haymarket Books will release his new book, 
FLOODLINES: Community and Resistance from Katrina 
to the Jena Six, this summer. He can be reached 
at <mailto:neworleans at leftturn.org>neworleans at leftturn.org.

Marcus Jones, Catrina Wallace, and others in Jena 
are available for interviews.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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