- Mohawk Johnson and a rare Pokémon called Electabuzz
Isiah ThoughtPoet Veney and Jade Landon
Just before 8 AM on Saturday, February 13, Chicago rapper and comedian Jeremey “Mohawk” Johnson awoke to an e-mail from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. “You are in violation for an unauthorize [sic] leave,” it said. “Return home immediately to avoid return to Cook County Jail.” But when the message had arrived, about an hour earlier, Johnson had been in his Lakeview apartment—in fact, he’d been sound asleep in his bed.
“I can’t even sleep in my own fucking bed without getting accused of shit,” Johnson says in a phone video he shot within minutes of waking, his voice still groggy from sleep. “And I’m doing what they told me to do.”
Johnson posted the video to Instagram that morning. He used to use his page mostly for memes, homemade comedy sketches, and previews of his forthcoming music, but for more than seven months now he’s also been accumulating short videos documenting his ongoing issues with the GPS monitor the Cook County Sheriff’s Office has strapped to his ankle. He’s been under house arrest since August 20. He was arrested during an August 15 downtown protest calling to defund the Chicago Police Department and abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He’s been charged with aggravated battery of a peace officer.
Johnson guesses he’s made half a dozen court appearances since then, but he still has no idea when he’ll go to trial. He won’t comment on the specifics of the case, and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office likewise does not comment on pending cases. According to paperwork filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Johnson has no prior convictions of any kind. His next court date is April 20. “I’m probably gonna be here another year before anything happens,” he says.
In the meantime, Johnson can’t leave his apartment without permission from the sheriff’s office. He’s only been out to attend court and to buy groceries, and he’ll need approval to go get a COVID vaccine when he finds an appointment. He says a sheriff’s office representative has told him he’d break his house-arrest radius if he took out the trash.
Johnson was furloughed from his job as head of the dishwashing staff at Second City when the pandemic shut it down. He’s been receiving unemployment since then (aside from a week when he couldn’t certify for benefits because he’d been jailed), but his house arrest has made it difficult to apply for new work, much less accept it. Though he could leave home for a job with permission from the sheriff’s office, finding a job remains a big hurdle. “I can’t work, I can’t go anywhere,” he says. “Paying bills is becoming very difficult because I’m running out of my savings, because I can’t find work, because the police superintendent went on national TV and called me a violent monster. I can’t imagine that anybody’s super gung ho about hiring me.”
Between February 18 and March 21, Johnson posted seven Instagram videos that each document a false violation alert. On one of those occasions, he was getting groceries, after receiving approval from the sheriff’s office, but every other time he’d been in his apartment.
The electronic monitoring program of the sheriff’s office has grown by more than 50 percent in the past year, according to spokesman Matthew Walberg, with more than 3,600 participants at present. But at the same time, Walberg says, it’s lost staff, which makes it harder to identify persistent problems like Johnson’s monitor. “When it’s cloudy and it snows, it goes off,” Johnson says. His apartment is in the back of its building, which he suspects interferes with the signal. “I’ve had monitor issues since I’ve been on the monitor, and since I’ve been home. It has been a nonstop struggle.”
According to Walberg, Johnson received 55 alerts between October 16, 2020, and March 25, 2021. An actual violation can be used against him in court, so each time he has to call and report the false alarm so that an officer can confirm he hasn’t left his apartment. After a lengthy back-and-forth, the sheriff’s office finally installed a beacon to amplify the signal last week, but it’s still too early to tell if it’s working.
Johnson was arrested late in a season of unusually intense street protests and even more intense police action against demonstrators. The weekend of May 29 alone, 2,172 people were arrested in Chicago—70 percent of them Black—and that set the tone for the summer.
“In recent years, this is the highest number of mass arrests that we’ve seen—the last time that we saw anything remotely like this would have been during the Occupy Chicago and NATO years, and that was in the hundreds, not the thousands,” says People’s Law Office attorney Brad Thomson, who volunteers with the Chicago chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
The NLG sends legal observers in lime-green hats to protests in order to document arrests and other police conduct. They had their work cut out for them last year. “We also saw an excessive number of examples of police violence and brutality used against protesters this past summer,” Thomson says. “We saw a lot of tactics and weaponry that had not been used previously by the Chicago Police Department at demonstrations—or at least not used in decades.”
On August 15, CPD officers employed several forms of violence, including pepper spraying protesters at close range. “People were subjected to a lot of chemical weaponry, brute force of batons, violent arrests, and being knocked to the ground,” Thomson says. “There were also examples of kettling, which we hadn’t seen in Chicago since March 25, 2003—of police surrounding protesters on all sides, preventing them from being able to leave, detaining them on the street, and effectuating arrest.”
Johnson says he was arrested shortly after the police kettled the crowd. “I thought that they were gonna kill me,” he says. “I hadn’t been Mirandized. I wasn’t even told why I was under arrest. Four to five officers grabbed me and held me against the car before they handcuffed me, and didn’t tell me why. They kept yelling, ‘Don’t struggle, stop struggling.’ I said, ‘I’m not struggling, I’m just confused as to why I’m being arrested, because I was just told by the officer on the bike that I was allowed to go home, and now I’m not being allowed to go home. I’m getting conflicting information from people that I’m supposed to trust. It makes it difficult for me to listen to you when all of you are telling me different things. I just want to know what I need to do.'”
Johnson was arrested at 200 S. LaSalle, about an hour and a half after the alleged battery for which he was detained—and about a mile southwest of 109 E. Wacker, where the alleged battery occurred during an earlier confrontation between police and protesters.
CPD arrested 24 protesters that day. Johnson, 26, was one of four charged with a felony. He’s alleged to have struck an officer with a skateboard.
In a September piece fact-checking the claims made by CPD superintendent David Brown about the August 15 protest, the South Side Weekly noted that police had released video to support their claim that protesters “initiated a scuffle”—but that video (and several others) shows officers first grabbing umbrellas and bicycles away from protesters. “The video CPD released appears to show one protester swinging a skateboard at a helmeted officer,” wrote Jim Daley and Jason Schumer. “However, the video also shows that the confrontation appeared to have began when multiple police charged into the crowd to attack other protesters.”
Superintendent Brown singled out Johnson by his full name in a widely disseminated news conference on August 17, linking him to the alleged skateboard assault. He named no other arrestees. The day after Johnson’s arrest, CPD’s Twitter account posted his mug shot and his home block address. His roommates responded to this doxxing by seeking shelter elsewhere as a safety precaution—they didn’t return home for a few weeks.
Within days, Johnson’s friend Kim Whitfield had launched the Free Mohawk campaign, which has relied heavily on social media to spread awareness of his legal battle. The campaign’s Instagram and Facebook pages provide updates on Johnson’s sporadic court dates and encourage supporters to call or write elected officials and insist his charges be dropped.
The Free Mohawk Linktree collects links that allow supporters to help him in various ways: by e-mailing Governor Pritzker and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, for instance, or donating to his PayPal or buying his music on Bandcamp. (He’s timed several releases to arrive on Bandcamp Fridays, and he’ll appear on a single dropping April 2.) His musical collaborators, including a loose collective of producers and rappers who organize shows under the name Reset Presents, have helped spread updates via the #FreeMohawk hashtag.
Johnson is a multidisciplinary artist with a history in dance and poetry, but in recent years he’s done more comedy and rap. His music synthesizes his broad range of interests and talents: on October’s Fire-Type, he delivers a spray of comedic rhymes about Pokémon atop scorching, abrasive, dance-inflected beats. His arrest has inspired some viscerally political verses, including on the February EP 4Closure, where he collaborated with his roommates, rapper TYGKO and producers Cam Stacey and Jake “Ell!psis” Doan. On “Balance,” Johnson raps, “I don’t sleep at night / Because I replay what they did / They laughed when they beat us / Then they threw us in the clench.”
Politics run in Johnson’s family. His maternal grandfather, Charles Seavers, served as the Republican committeeman for the 21st Ward in the 2010s. Two generations earlier, Seavers had campaigned for Democrats. “He went to Jimmy Carter’s inauguration because he was a Democrat for a long time, of course, being in Chicago—he was a Democratic precinct captain,” says Karen Ford, who’s Seavers’s daughter and Johnson’s mother. “Then he switched parties somewhere along in the 80s and started doing work as a Republican. He worked on a number of Republican campaigns—he was a delegate to the national conventions.”
Johnson learned an appreciation for political engagement from his grandfather. “He grew up in a time where Black people couldn’t vote, or couldn’t vote without being tested—and I don’t think he missed an election after getting the right to vote unimpeded,” he says. “I think to some degree his understanding was, ‘If we can vote, we can control stuff, and then we won’t be in danger anymore.'”
Seavers was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. His family moved to Chicago in 1942, during the Great Migration, and his father worked as an auto mechanic in Englewood. When Ford was a child, Seavers worked as a Cook County sheriff’s officer, quitting shortly after his wife died in 1963. “He recognized that he probably would not move up in the force,” Ford says. “I think he let himself understand that that was what it was going to be as a Black man in Chicago in the early 60s.”
Seavers told Johnson stories about his time as a police officer, but he left out important parts of them till his grandson was a little older. “He didn’t start talking to me about the severe racism he dealt with until I was about 12 or 13,” Johnson says. “It was just, you know, n-word this, n-word that, n-word this, n-word that. He was rarely called by his name while at work.”
Seavers also loved newspapers, which impressed Ford as a child. “I wanted to do two things,” she says. “I either wanted to be a spy, or I wanted to be a journalist.” As an adult, she’s become a member of the National Writers Union, the largest trade union for freelance and contract writers, and she’s freelanced for People’s World, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Parent, and the South Side Weekly. In 2000, when Johnson was five, she took a job at NWU headquarters in New York, so Johnson spent almost two years living in Brooklyn and going to school in Manhattan.
Ford was a single mom, and Johnson and Seavers were close. “My dad taught him how to tie his shoes, and my dad taught him how to shave,” Ford says. Her move to New York didn’t change things. “If I had to travel somewhere, my dad would come to New York and stay with Jeremey in the house so that Jeremey could be home,” Ford says. When they resettled in Auburn Gresham in late 2001, Johnson could again see Seavers every day. “Throughout my dad’s life, they were running buddies of the first order,” Ford says.
Ford would take Johnson everywhere when he was young, including to union actions. “Jeremey was with me, walking picket lines,” she says. “He was with my dad during political campaigns. So his bent for justice came very, very early.” As a seventh-grader at Luther South in Ashburn, Johnson campaigned to remove the building’s Coca-Cola vending machines due to reports of the company’s human rights violations at bottling plants in Colombia.
Johnson also got interested in theater, poetry, dance, and photography as he grew up. At Englewood High School he joined the school’s poetry team, Team Englewood, and during his senior year in 2012, they won Louder Than a Bomb’s Spirit of the Slam Award for a group piece he cowrote called “What Black People Say to Racist Republicans.” That April, his team performed at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. “Us parents were not allowed to go,” Ford says, “because security was intense.”
Many poets in Johnson’s circle also rapped. “I could kind of rap, but I didn’t do it often,” he says. “My friends would always tell me, ‘Bro, we could tell by the way that you do poetry, you probably rap really well. You should just do it.'”
In fall 2012, Johnson enrolled in Columbia College, where in 2014 he met producer and songwriter Naughta. Johnson’s interest in dance had already led him to Chicago footwork producers such as DJ tha Pope, DJ Nate, and RP Boo. Naughta’s music fuses neosoul sensuality with intense EDM production, and he expanded his friend’s horizons. “He exposed me to a lot of EDM,” Johnson says.
Johnson and Naughta became roommates in early 2018, around the time they collaborated on Johnson’s first recorded rap song. “Hush” combines biting verses about substance abuse and mental health with a visceral instrumental that ratchets up the intensity throughout.
A bad breakup the previous year was a big part of what motivated Johnson to start rapping. “I thought, ‘Oh, if I become a rapper, she’ll love me again,'” he says. “Instead of, ‘I have to take responsibility for the things I did wrong in that relationship, accept the fact that I probably helped destroy it, and change my behavior and move on.'”
Johnson says Naughta not only helped him unlearn bad behaviors but also introduced him to friends who’d push him to grow as a person and an artist. Among them was Cam Stacey, who recalls running into Johnson at dance shows before they properly met at an Albany Park house concert in summer 2018.
“It was one of Mohawk’s first live appearances rapping—until then, I really just knew him as an incredibly talented dancer who would just show up and tear it up at shows,” Stacey says. He was struck by Johnson’s set. “You can really tell he’s opening the core—baring himself, as it were—when he’s performing.” Stacey offered to help Johnson in the studio, and their first session produced five songs that Johnson released in September 2018 as The Relapse EP.
Stacey had just graduated from Loyola, where he’d been part of a dance-production collective called SoundAsleep, which was doing well enough to play the occasional show outside Chicago. They’d met University of Indiana student and producer Jake “Ell!psis” Doan at a Bloomington show hosted by electronic collective Home Planet, and Doan reconnected with Stacey after graduating in 2016 and landing a job in Chicago. When Doan met Johnson a couple years later, they hit it off immediately.
“He and I clicked on a lot of different levels,” Doan says. “Also lots of nerd stuff—he and I both appreciate Pokémon, Star Wars, and Marvel Cinematic Universe stuff. Pretty easy recipe for becoming really good friends.”
The musicians in Johnson’s circle tended to play mainly at DIY spaces, and Stacey sought to expand their opportunities at aboveground venues by launching the event-production group Reset Presents. Reset enlisted Doan to help book talent and organize events, and in February 2019 they threw their first show at the Throne Room in Lakeview, with Johnson among the openers for Georgia rapper-producer William Crooks.
“He was maybe second or third on the lineup,” Stacey says. “He showed up to the show, and he was dancing right up until he got up onstage. Spat for a good 20 minutes, and then hopped back off and kept on dancing.”
Johnson’s work with Stacey and Doan helped their creative community grow. “It definitely opened it up a lot more, I think,” Doan says. “Mohawk has always been very vocal about wanting to find more Black communities—for his own music, but also to inform our viewpoint and expand not only our reach but also our worldview.”
At a Reset gig in October 2019, Johnson befriended Doan’s cousin, Maria Koliopoulos, who’d recently moved to Chicago from Omaha to attend Loyola. “He actually got me out of my shell,” Koliopoulos says. “I’m not the kind of person to just walk up to people and talk to them—I’m pretty shy. He is not. He pushed me out of my shell, started talking to me, and then we really fell into a natural friendship.”
One night when Koliopoulos was on her way to visit Johnson at his old apartment by the Argyle Red Line stop, she noticed a group of men following her. “I had no idea what to do,” she says. “I was still several blocks away. I called him and quietly let him know what was going on. Within two minutes, he was at my side, walking me all the way back to his place.” When Koliopoulos returned home, Johnson walked her back to the train. “I knew we were friends before then,” she says. “But that’s when I knew that I could pretty much trust him with anything.”
- Mohawk Johnson with more of his collection: the Blue and Red Power Rangers, Grovyle, Marshtomp, Combusken, the Black Power Ranger, Mewtwo, and Naruto
Isiah ThoughtPoet Veney and Jade Landon
In October 2018, a few months into a job as a dishwasher at Second City, Johnson met a new coworker named Kim Whitfield, who’d moved to Chicago from New York to attend Columbia. During one of her breaks, while she was eating in the back kitchen, Johnson propped himself on a stool and began asking her questions; shortly afterward, he helped her get home after a shift. Whitfield describes herself as standoffish, but she says Johnson’s forthright appeal for friendship won her over.
“When he started coming over to my house, I was like, ‘I don’t let anyone into my home, because I’m such a private and protective person—I’ve just been through so much,'” Whitfield says. “I stated my boundaries early on. I was like, ‘I’m trusting you—I’m giving you something I don’t give a lot of people. You mess that up, I’m never gonna give it to you again.’ He took that to heart. I put him to task to just be a decent, kind, trustworthy human being. And he was everything above that, every single way. He just kept showing up.”
In fall 2019, Whitfield got the chance to produce an evening show at Second City and recruited Johnson to perform. “I know he definitely had a following at the time from his music, and I initially came to him because I wanted more musical acts,” she says. Johnson surprised her by asking to do a stand-up set instead. “I’m like, ‘OK, I thought it was gonna be music, but we could do stand-up,'” Whitfield says. “Lo and behold, it was freaking great.”
“I make jokes about and also rap about a lot of the same subject material—dating, politics, family,” Johnson says. “All of those things come from the same source, they’re just articulated differently.” He also aligns his comedy with his activism. “I try to make comedy that is politically charged, but in a way that does not step on the people who are being stepped on,” he says. “People go through so much daily. And then they come to me to make them happy, or they come to my shows or my art to bring them joy. Why would I write something or perform something to actively make their time worse? I don’t believe in that.”
Last summer, Whitfield began working on a documentary called We’re Here, interviewing Black Chicagoans in improv and stand-up. “We wanted to focus on and highlight their accomplishments, their achievements, and what their experience is like being a person of color trying to navigate this historically and predominantly white space that is Chicago comedy,” she says.
Johnson was among Whitfield’s interview subjects. “Literally in our last two weeks of filming, that’s when Mohawk was arrested,” she says. “The minute we wrapped, it went straight to the can, and I went all hands on deck with everything involving Mohawk. Anything and everything for Mohawk.”
- Mohawk Johnson released the Mojo EP last month.
In 2014, Johnson was running to catch a bus for work, heading east along 87th Street near his old Auburn Gresham home. He’d just missed the bus at Sangamon and hoped to catch up at Vincennes, but then a police car pulled in front of him. “One of them hops out the car and he’s like, ‘Are you running from us?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m trying to catch that bus, I’m gonna be late for work,'” Johnson says. “Then they grab me, search my ID, take my bag, search my bag for weapons, look at my face.” Johnson kept his hands on his head as the cops searched his belongings.
He says he tried to report the incident to the police, but he got nowhere. His luck wasn’t much better with his fellow students at Columbia. “I tried to bring it to the attention of the people around me on my campus,” he says. “And it was, ‘Well, you shouldn’t have looked suspicious.’ Or ‘You shouldn’t have been running.’ I don’t know how to justify ‘I’m leaving my house and going to work’ to anyone, and arguably I should never have to.”
Johnson had an even more frightening encounter with police three months later, during a power outage. When he went outside to investigate, along with his partner and a friend, he saw a car slow down in front of his house. “It’s the police, and they hop out of the car and they yell, ‘Stop breaking into that house!'” Johnson says. “Then one of them yells, ‘Drop the knife,’ and starts going for their gun. The knife is my house keys.”
Johnson says the cop who reached for his gun was the same one who stopped him on his way to work. “So this officer has now put me in danger twice in front of my house,” he says. “For nothing.”
Those experiences helped spur Johnson’s activism. “For a long time I was a bystander in the conversation about racism,” he says. “I had been angry, but I didn’t know what to do, and then it happened to me twice within one year. And I’m like, ‘Well, I gotta figure out what to do, ’cause I don’t know how to organize, I don’t know how to plan.’ I could at least look up when protests are happening and show up to them. And that’s what did it.”
Around 11 PM on Saturday, August 15, Doan received a Twitter DM from a friend who’d heard Johnson had been arrested. Johnson’s roommates tried calling his cell but couldn’t get through. Around 12:30 AM, Doan and Stacey arrived at CPD’s Second District station at Wentworth and 51st on a tip that it’d be a good place to check. They waited close to 45 minutes before finding a National Lawyers Guild attorney, who told them Johnson was at the 11th District in Homan Square.
Doan and Stacey arrived at the 11th District headquarters around 2 AM. An officer at the front desk confirmed that Johnson was being held there but said he was with detectives at the time. On their way out, Doan and Stacey passed four cops who knew the two of them had come to look for an arrested friend. “One of the cops muttered under his breath something about a skateboard, like, ‘Here’s to hoping he never gets out,'” Stacey says. “And then he said something about antifa and slow-clapped us all the way around the block.”
The morning of August 16, Doan and Stacey got conflicting information about Johnson’s whereabouts from CPD. As they worked to locate him, Whitfield and other friends from Second City also began calling various precincts. Whitfield spearheaded fundraising efforts to get Johnson a lawyer, and Stacey hacked into Johnson’s Twitter account to let his followers know he’d been arrested. Johnson’s supporters began to protest outside the 11th District headquarters that afternoon, where they were told he’d been moved to Cook County Jail near 26th and California.
Ford had moved to Mississippi with her husband in 2018, but she found out her son was arrested after her husband’s relatives saw his mug shot, which CPD had made public on Sunday. “If my husband’s relatives had not called us and told us that they saw him on TV, I never would have known,” she says.
When CPD doxxed Johnson, it also posted a video that allegedly showed him assaulting an officer—though it’s difficult if not impossible to positively identify the person of interest in the clip. Whitfield says that during a court date on September 9, which she watched on Zoom, Judge Edward M. Maloney admitted that he couldn’t tell whether the man wielding the skateboard was Johnson. A representative of the Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County responded to a request for comment from Maloney by confirming that he could not speak publicly about a pending case. But in a transcript of the session obtained from the court reporters’ office, he makes statements in both directions. “I have seen the video of the incident, counsel points out, maybe it’s difficult for me to see if it’s the defendant,” Maloney says. Later he refers to what he saw on the tape as “a very violent act on the part of the defendant.”
Stacey saw clearly that the way the cops were presenting information about his friend played into stereotypes criminalizing Black life—and CPD incurred harsh blowback for its behavior. Alderman Bryan Sigcho-Lopez demanded that the department “stop doxxing my innocent-until proven-guilty residents” (Johnson isn’t in his ward, but some arrestees whose info was posted did live there). Within days, the police deleted most of the offending posts.
In their own effort to counteract CPD, Stacey and his friends began posting silly photos and videos of Johnson to help round out the public picture of his character. But everyone who lived with Johnson had other pressing issues after police shared their home block address on social media.
“Our concern wasn’t people affiliated with the police department coming to harm us or damage anything in the house,” Stacey says. “Our concern was primarily more extreme people who might want to come and do as they please.”
On Monday, August 17, Judge John F. Lyke ordered Johnson be placed on electronic monitoring. The court’s pretrial public safety assessment of Johnson had recommended he be released with no conditions, according to paperwork filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County. A 2017 Injustice Watch report on rules changes at the county’s felony bond court notes that during a month of observation by the group’s reporters, Lyke instituted electronic monitoring in roughly one-third of his cases—and in about two-thirds of those, the court’s pretrial services department had not recommended it. (The other three judges observed used electronic monitoring about one-fifth of the time.)
Lyke added the condition that Johnson not skateboard or have a skateboard in his possession, and set his bond at $20,000. The Chicago Community Bond Fund paid Johnson’s 10 percent bail deposit later that day.
It would be three more days till Johnson was released from Cook County Jail. Doan heard from him the morning of Thursday, August 20. “I got a call at eight or nine in the morning,” Doan says. “I was in tears to hear my friend’s voice, and to hear from him that he was OK, and was tested for COVID and didn’t have it. He seemed pretty hopeful that he would be released very shortly. The call cut off about a minute and a half in.”
Ford felt similar relief when she was finally able to talk to her son. She’d spent the days leading up to Johnson’s release calling anyone in her network who could provide insight on her son’s legal situation—including, fruitlessly, a cousin who’d formerly served as a Cook County police officer. “This was the first time I’ve had to deal with the criminal justice system,” Ford says. “And it has been a rude awakening.”
On October 6, the night before Johnson’s 26th birthday, his friends helped him throw a fundraising telethon with live music and comedy. “A Fire Type Telethon” riffs on the name of the album he’d released at the beginning of the month, which he’d been working on for a year and dreamed of for longer. “I’ve had the idea for a long time, ’cause I’m a nerdy dude—I like nerdy stuff. But I didn’t think I had the skill yet,” Johnson says. “So I waited about a year and a half into my music career before I started rapping about Pokémon.”
- “A Fire Type Telethon” riffs on the name of an album Johnson dropped in October.
In November, Johnson began streaming sessions of Pokémon Sword and other Pokémon video games on Twitch. He uses his streams to present more than just gameplay—he addresses politics there, just as he does in his music and comedy, talking about topics such as patriarchy and toxic masculinity. “I try to use my Twitch to have conversations about how to unpack that stuff,” he says. “Like, where body standards and beauty standards come from, our definitions of gender and where we got the binary from, and how those things are antiquated. How not to be harmful—stuff like that, ’cause I feel like I’m in a particular position where I can just reach a lot of people. I want to be able to do good while I can.”
Johnson can’t participate in further protests, of course—not while he’s still on house arrest. And his case proves that not everybody sees protesting as “doing good” anyway, no matter how worthy its aims. The city and CPD consistently frame protest as malicious and deserving of a harsh response—no amount of pious official rhetoric can erase their violence toward protesters or their attempt to publicly condemn Johnson long before his trial. “This is happening everywhere,” he says. “People are being put away for years, are being charged with felonies and being threatened with their livelihoods, or being put on probation for long periods of time, to serve as examples to other protesters to deter them.”
But Johnson knows that protests won’t stop until the injustices that provoke them finally disappear. The stakes are simply too high. “The people are hurting, and it seems like the people in charge of doing right by them are the ones who have dedicated themselves to harming them the most on behalf of capitalism, on behalf of racism, and on behalf of the status quo,” he says. “The city is not stuff, the city is people, and we are hurting our people right now on purpose to keep them quiet. There won’t be a city left if we continue.” v
Update on April 1, 2021: This story has been amended to reflect the response of the chief judge’s office to the inquiry about Judge Maloney.
Update on April 1, 2021: This story has been amended to clarify that Johnson could receive permission from the sheriff’s office to work outside his home.