Jomo Kenyatta Johnson grew up in Columbus, Georgia but tells me his parents named him after an African leader. He takes the message of leadership seriously, helping to form the Savannah Black Lives Matter group. We meet to talk about the protests turned riots in Charlotte and a lot of comments on social media that blame his organization.
“I think people already do judge but Black Lives Matter from the beginning has always stated that it’s a non violent organization, a non violent movement,” he tells me. “We wouldn’t justify any type of rioting or any type of protest that’s not peaceful, but you do have to understand the psychological aspect of it. People are frustrated and they feel powerless.”
Johnson talks about two killings this week, first in Charlotte and then Tulsa. “The situation in Charlotte you know what probably troubles me the most and troubles a lot of us is that this gentleman wasn’t the one police were looking actually looking for.” (Keith Lamont Scott was killed by police in Charlotte but police were in the neighborhood looking for a suspect that turned out not to be Scott. Police say Scott had a gun, but that is disputed by a witness who said it was a book.)
Johnson continued, “In Tulsa, Oklahoma the helicopter operator, you know, even before I think he knew situation said ‘he looks like a bad dude’, he kind of profiled him as looking like someone who was dangerous.” (Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by a Tulsa police officer after his vehicle was discovered in the middle of a roadway. That officer, Betty Shelby, was charged with first-degree manslaughter on Thursday afternoon.)
Several published reports say within the last month that 15 African American men have been killed by police departments across the country.
Johnson says that despite what critics say that Black Lives Matter was formed for one reason and one reason only, to seek justice for African Americans who feel they are treated differently and with indifference by the criminal justice system. Still, Johnson says violence in the way of protests is not the answer. “The best way is to organize, to plan and to prepare and I think it’s why we need leaders who are willing to speak up and to speak for the injustices that are going on, so this Sunday we’re going to gather here at the park.”
Johnson says on Sunday they will remember the two men who died this week and try to use their deaths as a call to action by the community and police. They will be asking all those interested to put their names to a letter they want to send to police departments throughout the country.
“I do commend the Savannah Police,” Johnson said. “Because any time we seek to have an event, they’re very cordial. they’re very proactive.”
He’s hopeful that Savannah will never experience anything like what is happening in Charlotte but believes that will continue to take work, understanding and cooperation. “So I would say think that even though Savannah is a unique place where racial harmony for the most part seems to be okay i think we still have to be on guard and be watchful that something like that in Charlotte doesn’t happen here,” he said.
“We don’t want to demonize police, outsiders shouldn’t demonize BLM or protesters. We should seek remedies to work together to communicate openly but most importantly to speak the truth,” he said.