Father of Jena Attack Victim Speaks Out Student Justin Barker was beaten up by six black youths in Jena, La., last year. Now his father David talks about his son, the Jena Six case and race relations in the rural Louisiana town.
NPR logo

Father of Jena Attack Victim Speaks Out

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/14589819/14589805" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Father of Jena Attack Victim Speaks Out

Father of Jena Attack Victim Speaks Out

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/14589819/14589805" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Alex, we're going back to Jena, Louisiana now.

Today, there's a hearing in the case of Mychal Bell, one of the six black students who beat up a fellow classmate. Mychal Bell, who is 17 years old, was convicted for that beating. His conviction was thrown out, but he's still in jail pending an appeal.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Jena yesterday, demanding that Bell be released. Meanwhile, Justin Barker, the white student who was beaten by Bell and the others, is at home avoiding the spotlight. We reached his father this morning just before he headed out to the courthouse to attend Mychal Bell's hearing. And I asked David Barker about what exactly happened to his son Justin last December at Jena High School.

Tell us the nature of the injuries that he sustained. In press accounts we have heard that he was knocked unconscious, and that he was badly bruised, but that two hours later, he was back at school.

Mr. DAVID BARKER (Justin Barker's Father): Well, no, he wasn't. He was knocked unconscious and repeatedly kicked by at least six or seven of these students. He had several bruises and his eye had swollen shut, and bleeding from both ears. And he was released and we went home until about, I guess it was 6:00 o'clock and he had a ring ceremony to go to; it was his junior year.

BRAND: This was a school ceremony?

Mr. BARKER: Yes, ma'am. One of the kids that was involved in this was at this ring ceremony. And not long after he got his ring on stage, we had to take him back home. You know, he was still bleeding out his ear, and was, you know, really in a lot of pain. And so we took him back home. And no, he did not go back to school. I don't know where that come from.

BRAND: Does he have any lasting injuries?

Mr. BARKER: Well, he still complains a little bit of headaches, but I mean he's doing pretty good, but it's having an affect on him and the family.

BRAND: What triggered this fight?

Mr. BARKER: Well, I really don't know. You know, all you hear is these three nooses that were hanging in the tree about three months prior to this had triggered this. But I don't - honestly I don't believe the noose incident started this. It may have had a little effect on it, but these kids were involved way before this noose incident.

BRAND: But with your son, what triggered his - the fight between your son and the six others?

Mr. BARKER: Well, no one knows that. I mean, they were...

BRAND: Have you asked Justin?

Mr. BARKER: Oh, yes. Yes.

BRAND: What did he say?

Mr. BARKER: Well, he don't know. He would like to know. I mean, he has repeatedly told us he didn't do anything to provoke this. (Unintelligible) they were in gym and when the bell rang all of the black students ran to one side and some of these kids knew something was up because of that. And when they went out, they run around to the other couple of doors where some of these kids were coming out. And when my son come out, he told his girlfriend to turn left so they wouldn't have to go through them. And when he turned left, one of them hit him from the back and knocked him unconscious. And that's when they begin kicking and stomping at him.

BRAND: So you're saying he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Mr. BARKER: Well, apparently so. I mean, they were after someone and just apparently he was one at that time, you know?

BRAND: So they didn't know who he was or...

Mr. BARKER: Yes, they knew who he was, because I mean he's a junior and he's been going to school with these kids. All these kids knew each other.

BRAND: Mm-hmm. So they weren't friends before?

Mr. BARKER: Yeah. Yeah.

BRAND: They were friends?

Mr. BARKER: Yeah. They had no altercations prior to this that's been spoken of, you know?. Yes, he had been through, you know, ballgames. You know, 60 to 70 miles away (unintelligible). And I mean, I honestly don't know, you know, what triggered this.

BRAND: How long have you lived in Jena, Mr. Barker?

Mr. BARKER: All our life.

BRAND: And so you went to school there at Jena High School?

Mr. BARKER: Oh, yeah. Yes, I went four years there myself.

BRAND: How would you compare the state of relations between blacks and whites from when you were in school there to now when your son is there?

Mr. BARKER: Well, I don't hear it a whole lot, you know, myself because I don't go there. My kids do, but they don't say a whole lot about stuff that's happened. But if it was really bad, you would hear a whole lot, you know? I don't know. I mean I don't know how to answer that.

BRAND: Do blacks and whites socialize? Do they get along? Or is it...

Mr. BARKER: Yes. Yes, they get along. I mean, even in the town, they're making us look like a real racist town, but it's not. I mean, prior to this, I speak to these - some of these kids' daddy and shake their hands. Even today, I still do. I mean if we were that bad, you know, we wouldn't be doing that.

BRAND: How do you feel about your son being in the center of all this?

Mr. BARKER: Well, I wish he weren't. But I mean, he is and, you know, we have no choice. I do believe if it weren't him it would have been someone else.

BRAND: And does he feel that he can lead a normal life in Jena now? Or is he...

Mr. BARKER: Well, you know, I don't know. It's a long way to go. It's hard to answer that. But I would hope so. Like I say, I've been here, you know, over 40 years, and I'm hoping he can.

BRAND: You know, a lot of the protesters are saying it's unfair that Mychal Bell is still in jail. He's been in jail since December...

Mr. BARKER: Yeah.

BRAND: ...for this, and it was really nothing more than a schoolyard fight.

Mr. BARKER: So - let's back up. These young men can hit him from behind, knock him unconscious. And kick - knock him - he'll fall on the ground and they repeatedly stomped and kick him. Is that a fight? I mean, he was defenseless. If he was able to get up and fight, I can say it may be a fight. But this young man had no chance at all. And that is not a fight.

BRAND: What would you like to see happen to...

Mr. BARKER: Well, I would like to see these kids brought to justice.

BRAND: And what does that mean?

Mr. BARKER: Well, I believe they should spend some time for this. I mean, who - what's next, if they don't stop these kids? You know, I mean, the next one may not be as this lucky as this - as my son was. I mean, they started out doing minor stuff and misdemeanors and stuff and they got to this point. So who's to say what - what will be next? It's probably for their own good too, plus the community's.

BRAND: That they spend some time in jail.

Mr. BARKER: Yes. And maybe learn something out of this. And I'm not saying how much time. I'm just saying some time.

BRAND: Well, David Barker, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. BARKER: Yes, ma'am. Thank you.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.