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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Billey Joe Johnson and Mississippi Justice

OK, This case is not about the Tasering. But it so so bad, that I had to post it on this blog.

Why are black bloggers, the afrospear, the afrosphere, black news outlets, black media, Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, Progressive White Bloggers, Black Journalist, Black Investigative Reporters, Old School Civil Rights Icons, Black Activist, The National office of the NAACP and yes, major news outlets not talking about or investigating the death of  Billey Joe Johnson, Jr.? 

Why is the U.S. Department of justice not investigating this 21st century Civil Rights Crime or better yet, human rights crime? Maybe if the family of Billey Joe Johnson had an open casket, and Jet Magazine had a copy of the photo in its magazine people would have been outraged. Yes, maybe a public funeral service with an open casket to show the world the brutality of the killing would have worked. But that didn't happen, there was not tens of thousands attending Billey Joe Johnson's funeral or viewing his casket and images of his mutilated body were not published in black magazines, black blogs and black newspapers. No, no rallying black support and white sympathy across the US for Billey Joe Johnson.

OK, well act like this picture is a picture of Billey Joe Johnson and not Emitt Till. But it's not 1955, this happened, yes, again in Mississippi in 2009. 

Picture of Emmett Till

This gruesome photo of Emmett Till helped spark the civil rights movement. It demonstrated the brutality of southern violence towards African-Americans, and created outrage across the nation. Emmett's mother, Mamie, insisted at his funeral that he be given an open-casket, so others could see what they had done to her boy. Photo Courtesy of the Chicago Defender

Today in Lucedale, Mississippi, hundreds of concerned citizens and community advocates rallied at the George County Courthouse to echo calls for the Department of Justice to bring charges in the death of Billey Joe Johnson, Jr. 

You remember the case of Billey Joe Johnson, Jr. REWIND  Feb 13, 2009, I reported about the case of Billy Joe Johnson on this blog. Here is what I reported back in 2009:

Billy Joe Johnson - A Foul Play? The Killing of Billy Joe Johnson in Mississippi

UPDATE: The Killing of Billey Joe Johnson in Mississippi

You remember the story about Billy Joe Johnson, star running back for George County High, Mississippi, who died on a December morning in deep Mississippi alleged by a "self-inflicted" gunshot wound during a traffic stop.

Billey Joe JohnsonAs reported by NCAA Foot Ball Fan House Billy Joe Johnson was considered one of the top high school football recruits in Mississippi, as well as the country, until his shocking death early Monday morning.

Johnson, hailing from Jackson, Miss., rushed for more than 1,500 yards his last season, totaling over 4,000 for his career, and received scholarship offers from a number of major schools including Alabama, LSU and Mississippi as a top-rated recruit by both
Scout and Rivals.

died of a (possibly self-inflicted) gun wound early Monday after being pulled by a sheriff's deputy. (UPDATE: The NCAAP, in an independent investigation, has ruled out suicide as the cause of death.)
It's not clear why 17-year-old Billey Joe Johnson was stopped in Lucedale, but authorities say the junior tailback shot himself with a shotgun after the deputy walked back to the patrol car to run a license check.

"The deputy was sitting in his patrol vehicle ... when he heard a gunshot and saw the victim laying on the ground by the driver's side door of the vehicle that Johnson was driving. A shotgun was lying on the victim," according to a statement from the George County Sheriff's Department.

Authorities would not immediately say whether they believed the shooting was a suicide or an accident.
The last portion of that quote is particularly perplexing, because it is hard to believe that Johnson would have attempted to pull a shotgun on police officers ...although equally confounding is the notion that Johnson would kill himself at what, according to all current reports, appears to be a basic traffic stop.

Nothing is ever certain, but this story appears to be so odd, at least in the manner of death, that it would be even more shocking if further details didn't at least emerge as to why the young man apparently panicked and pulled a gun that resulted in the tragic and early end to his life.
Many in the black community suspect foul play.


Billey Joe Johnson Sr. has a difficult time accepting the police department’s explanation of his son’s death. “They must have tortured my baby,” he says.
(Dan Wetzel/Yahoo! Sports)

As reported by yahoo sports local authorities stopped Billey Joe for a traffic violation on the morning of Dec. 8, and they say the truck is simply the site of a terrible tragedy. But to the elder Johnson, it’s a crime scene. Nearly two months later, only one fact is certain: Instead of running out of George County as a football hero, Billey Joe was buried beneath it at the age of 17.

The George County Sheriff’s Department claims that on that fateful morning, Billey Joe attempted to break into the home of an on-again, off-again girlfriend in the nearby city of Lucedale. According to the sheriff’s department, he left the scene and ran a red light at 5:34 a.m. After a 1½-mile pursuit, Billey Joe got out of his truck, met sheriff’s deputy Joe Sullivan and handed over his license. Then Billey Joe returned to his truck, put a 12-gauge shotgun he used to target deer to his head and committed suicide. It was 5:40 a.m.
Sullivan’s patrol car was not equipped with a camera, and his is the only account of the event. Billey Joe’s friends and family don’t believe the story.

Billey Joe was black. Sullivan is white. The case, as such, is shrouded by race in this small community in the Deep South. Everyone wants answers. No one is getting them. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the local district attorney – the two bodies in charge of the case – have issued neither a ruling nor many pertinent details.

Tony Lawrence, the district attorney running the state’s investigation, met with the family Dec. 19 and urged patience.

“I have said from the beginning that this investigation will be exhaustive and not based on any timeline other than that which leads to the truth,” Lawrence said at the time. His office declined further comment this week.

With no answers and a state investigation that is dragging on, the region has descended into a cauldron of speculation, suspicion and conspiracy. Theories are easy to find, the truth all but impossible.

Johnson fixates on the truck that is stained with what is left of his son. The day after the incident, police returned it to the family as is. Rather than wash it, junk it or sell it, Johnson keeps it in a garage, driving it out to re-examine. He stares at it. He imagines his son.

He’s convinced someone forced Billey Joe on his knees, shoved the shotgun barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

“They must’ve tortured my baby,” Johnson says.

Here is what the police say about Billey Joe’s death: During a routine traffic stop, Billey Joe Johnson Jr. shot himself in the head.

Billey Joe’s truck had notes from multiple female admirers, and his friends said he enjoyed the attention offered to a star athlete. He’d already run for 4,000 yards in his high school career and helped make George County a state powerhouse. Everyone knew him. Many wanted to be with him.

One girl, whom Yahoo! Sports will not name since she is a minor, had been around the longest. It was a typical high school relationship – “they’d break up every day and then get back together,” said one of his friends, Drew Bradley. The fact that she was white bothered some people.

“It’s George County, it’s a little Southern town,” said Bradley, who is white. “You’ve got a bunch of racist people down here. You have people who hated on them because it was black and white.”
The alleged timeline of events on Monday, Dec. 8, 2008, leading up to the death of Billey Joe Johnson:
4:30 a.m. – Billey Joe Johnson Sr. hears his son showering and preparing to leave the family’s Benndale, Miss. residence. He believes his son plans to go hunting before heading to school.
5:34 a.m. – George County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Sullivan witnesses Billey Joe Johnson’s maroon Chevy Silverado run a red light at the corner of Church Street and Winter Street. He pursues the truck with his blue lights flashing and witnesses the truck running a stop sign at the 4-way stop of Winter Street and Old Highway 63.
5:37 a.m. – The Lucedale Police Department receives a 911 call from Esther Parker, who says her daughter called her and informed her that someone was attempting to break into a trailer where her daughter and ex-husband were living. Parker informs the LPD that her daughter is home alone.
5:39 a.m. – After a pursuit of nearly 1½ miles, Sheriff’s Deputy Sullivan witnesses the truck pulling into a service entrance near Benndale Carpet. Billey Joe Johnson exits the truck and informs Deputy Sullivan that he was on the way home “because his mother was sick”. Deputy Sullivan takes his license and instructs Johnson to return to his vehicle.
5:40 a.m. – While attempting to call in the license number, Deputy Sullivan informs dispatch that Johnson has shot himself and requests assistance.
5:40 a.m. – LPD Sgt. James O’Neal arrives at the trailer and secures the perimeter. He makes contact with Parker’s daughter, who informs him that the person who attempted to enter the residence was Billey Joe Johnson Jr. She says Johnson left before police arrived, but that she would like to go to the police station and “sign charges” against him.
5:48 a.m. – LPD Sgt. O’Neal departs for the police department, following Parker and her daughter in a separate vehicle. While in transit, he is informed by dispatch that Johnson had shot himself at service road near Benndale Carpet.
5:50 a.m. – LPD Sgt. O’Neal arrives at Benndale Carpet, where he observes the vehicle of deputy Sullivan as well as Johnson’s maroon Silverado, which is parked with the door open. As he pulls forward to make room for the pending arrival of an ambulance, O’Neal observes Johnson lying on his back on the ground, with his head pointed away from the open door of vehicle. Sgt. O’Neal observes a shotgun on top of Johnson’s body, and blood on the ground around his head.
5:55 a.m. – Paramedics arrive on scene. Dispatch is informed that Johnson is DOA.
UPDATE: Get this, A grand jury has ruled that his death was accidental. Many in the black community, including this AAPP still suspect foul play. What do you think?
AAP: That was then, thisis now: FAST FORWARD TO TODAY, Family members rallied hoping to encourage witnesses to come forward with evidence and testimony.  Billey Joe Johnson, Jr. was the highly recruited football star from Benndale, MS who was mysteriously killed during a traffic stop with a George County Sheriff’s deputy on December 8, 2008.  Even after independent investigations raised serious questions about the plausibility of Johnson’s wounds being self-inflicted, the local justice system ruled this incident an accident and charges have yet to be brought. READ MORE HERE

Community members are renewing their efforts because Johnson’s death and subsequent investigations leave more questions than answers.  Given the long history of corruption and cover-ups in George County law enforcement, many community members feel law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office colluded to execute a wide spread cover-up.  Community members also point to what they call a pattern of racial profiling and the use of fear and intimidation on behalf of law enforcement.  “Law enforcement’s investigation left a lot of holes and many of us believe there was foul play.  Because of the amount of discrimination we experience every day, we have little faith in the local justice system,” said Mr. Bobby Perryman of Immaculate Heart Community Development Corporation.

Johnson’s family calls on the Lucedale community to come forward with information about the case and believe many have stayed quiet for fear of retribution or being shunned by friends and family members.  “Nobody wants to tell on their neighbor, but the fact is that a young man was killed and his family and this community need closure,” said Pastor Garrett of Prince Garrett Ministries.  George County is a very small community and is still very segregated.  A few large families and their extended networks own most of the businesses and play influential roles in city and county government.  George County, where the incident occurred, is 89% white with very few Black residents. “We know there are good folks in George County who have knowledge about the incident.  We know you are afraid but we need you to come forward.  Black or white - none of us are free when there is a suspicion of murder,” Garrett added. 

“We are tired of the corruption, the cover-ups and the abuse we suffer at the hands of police,” said Ms. Lucy Wilson, President of the Human Rights Taskforce of George County.  The Human Rights Taskforce is one of key local organizations calling for the event.  It was established as a result of the travesty of justice felt by many around the Johnson case as well as growing tensions between the Black community and law enforcement.  The event is co- sponsored by George County Human Rights Taskforce, Immaculate Heart Community Development Corporation, George County NAACP, and American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.

Caravans of concerned citizens traveled from Atlanta, Jackson, Mobile and New Orleans.  Speakers at the event include Ms. Nsombi Lambright, Executive Director of the ACLU-MS, Ms. Lucy Wilson, President of the George County Human Rights Taskforce and a spokesperson for Billey Joe Johnson, Jr.’s family.

AAP says: I'm glad the family is taking a stand. Don't you think it's time America did? It's time for the Justice Department to get involved. That's my thought. Write the U.S. Attorney General and President Barack Obama, and let them both know how you feel.

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