Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree ’78 testified before the House Judiciary Committee this morning about the hate crimes that occurred in Jena, La., last year and about federal intervention to prevent race-related violence in public schools. Ogletree urged Congress to investigate the events in Jena and to put procedures in place that prevent racial bias in public schools.
“The immediate lessons of Jena should be clear,” Ogletree said in his testimony. “A public educational system should not be allowed to punish anyone in disparate ways where it appears to have racial implications. The federal government should provide resources for states and localities to educate professionals about racial disparities and the bias and prejudice that likely plays a role in disparate treatment.”
Last year, protests erupted in Jena after a group of six black high school students were charged with the beating of a white student. The beating followed a number of racially-motivated incidents in the town, including the hanging of nooses from a tree outside the school by a group of white students.
Ogletree has recently spoken out about his involvement in the defense of the black students, five of whom were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The charges, which carried penalties of up to 80 years in prison, were recently reduced, but Ogletree says the government still needs to examine the role of race in criminal punishment in Jena and elsewhere around the country.
An expert on race and criminal justice, Ogletree is the founder and executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at HLS. He is the author of several books and articles, including his most recent book, “From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America.”