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Car caravan protesters mourn police killing of Mychael Johnson

Demand justice, transparency, community control of police
By Satya Stark-Bejnar |
April 26, 2020
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Car caravan protests police killing of Mychael Johnson
Car caravan protests police killing of Mychael Johnson (Fight Back! News/staff)

Tallahassee, FL - A caravan of nearly 20 vehicles circled the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) Headquarters, April 25, to demand transparency and justice for the March 20 killing of unarmed father of four, Mychael Johnson, 31, by Tallahassee Police Department officer Zackri Jones, who is now a two-time killer cop. Officer Jones’ first killing in Tallahassee was in 2015, and he serves under recently-appointed Chief of Police and fellow killer-cop Lawrence Revell.

The safe-distance caravan protest was organized by the Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC) and attended by local members of Dream Defenders, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Gender Odyssey, New Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, UPS Teamsters, and Young Democratic Socialists for America with the blessing and participation of friends and family of the deceased.

TCAC organizers of Saturday’s caravan protest, have maintained their local organizing during the coronavirus crisis by pivoting from twice monthly in-person meetings to weekly conference calls. They emphasized safety and social distancing in the Facebook event details and over megaphone at the staging ground while cars lined up for the caravan. Attendees wore masks and maintained safe distance from people outside their pre-existing household clusters at the staging area before and after the caravan. They used their vehicles to display messages of solidarity and demands for justice and transparency including: Black lives matter; community control of police; indict killer cops; justice for Mychael Johnson; justice, not just another grand jury; release the March 20 tapes; transparency now, and others.

Consistent with other recent killings by police in North Florida, TPD has yet to release any body cam, dash cam, or other footage related to the killing of Mychael Johnson, and Officer Jones has not been indicted. A grand jury is expected, but timing is unclear because courts have limited functions during the COVID-19 global pandemic, and locals have little faith that justice can be achieved through a grand jury process.

“In Tallahassee, our racist criminal justice system has time and again sided with police when they have killed and assaulted Black people. In Florida, the so-called Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights allows police to investigate themselves and handpick evidence and witnesses. The grand juries are run by prosecutors close to TPD who collaborate to create fraudulent justifications of criminal violence by police,” said Zachary Shultz, local Teamster and UPS preloader who photographed the protest from a sidewalk along the caravan route.

Family members of Mychael Johnson say that they have received no apology or explanation from TPD, only intrusive inquiries into Johnson’s character. Mildred Richardson, sister of Mychael Johnson, questioned TPD’s eagerness to emphasize Johnson’s record. “It’s crazy because at the time, before he got killed they didn’t know who he was…they had no clue of who they were even killing… and now, to have them assassinate his character by his rap sheet, I don’t think it’s right. That was my butterfly; he was so free! He was a good person… they took a part of my heart. That’s what they took from his family, from my nieces and nephews. He was special… so sweet; he would give the shirt off his back.” She continued, “Everybody, as a community, we need to stick together, we have to stick together to get something done; we will not make a movement unless we stick together.”

In the interest of sticking together and getting things done, the Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC), with the participation of the community at large, has already won family-centered (not just police narrative) local news coverage and the release of the names of the involved officers by circulating an initial Fight Back! article, collecting online petition signatures, and initiating targeted call-in and email actions. TCAC is also raising funds for Mychael Johnson’s family so they can recoup their savings that were wiped out by paying out-of-pocket for arrangements, and hire a lawyer to get answers and pursue a wrongful death case against the city of Tallahassee.

Paula Hill, great-grandmother, New Black Panther, returning citizen, local Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) chapter leader and TCAC member is angered but not surprised by TPD’s latest killing. “I told people months back this would continue, even get worse if they put killer cop Lawrence Revell in as chief of police. We know him. He and his Alpha Squad terrorized our neighborhoods back in the 90s. Revell shot and killed Lil Nuke (George Williams) right after telling his mother that her son would come home in a body bag, and let me tell you - that killer cop has been rewarded ever since. You think he’s gonna keep a leash on his department when it comes to killing Black people? Obviously not. Jones needs to be indicted; Chief Revell should be removed; and that corrupt-as-hell city manager, Reese Goad that installed him, can go, too.”

Hill is not alone in her concerns about police ability and willingness to police themselves, and many share her distaste for the city of Tallahassee’s management of its police department. TCAC, along with other groups and individuals including at least one city and one county commissioner, vigorously protested City Manager Goad’s opaque selection process last winter that resulted in Revell’s appointment as police chief, have consistently demanded the removal of both, and are part of a growing movement calling for community control of police through the formation of elected civilian police accountability councils; entities that would have the ‘teeth’ to investigate and discipline (up to and including firing) officers who misuse their badge and endanger the public.

Regina Joseph, TCAC president, summed up the protest’s purpose, “We are here to demand justice for Mychael Johnson, yet another unarmed Back man killed by police. Police try to be gatekeepers of information, of answers, using the excuse of ‘ongoing investigation’ to give only radio silence. We are here to open those gates with a flood of media attention and demand answers, demand the release of the tapes, demand the indictment of Officer Zackri Jones, and build long-term for community control of police.”

Police did not interfere with the caravan protest, and there were no arrests.

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