Valdosta Daily Times

May 5, 2013

Sharpton joins ‘KJ’ rally

Urges community to come forward with any information

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — With supporters spilling out doors and windows and standing room only, the Saturday rally for Kendrick “KJ” Johnson at Serenity Church welcomed guest speaker Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network.

“We know what people are saying,” said Marcus Coleman, President of the Atlanta chapter of NAN. “Are those loud-mouth, ambulance chasers in this city? Yes, we are.”

On Thursday, the official autopsy released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded that the cause of Johnson’s death was “positional asphyxia” and the manner of death an accident.

“Do they think we’re stupid?” said Coleman. “That this young black child crawled into a mat and died?... I know the autopsy report came out and we don’t care what the GBI results say. We’re filing for an independent investigation with the Justice Department... It takes a little bit of time for an investigation. That’s not the issue. The issue is with the investigation itself.”

The formal request sent by Johnson’s parents, Kenneth and Jacquelyn, to the Justice Department cite three concerns: that Sheriff Chris Prine’s calling Johnson’s death an accident was premature, that Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson stated that Prine’s findings were premature and that the crime scene was compromised, and that there are “serious concerns about the objectivity and competency of those involved in this investigation.”

Before Sharpton arrived, the reverend of Serenity Church, Floyd Rose, cautioned the crowd of supporters that their fight could be a long one.

“I’ve come to welcome Al Sharpton and his people...After the celebrity wears off, I hope you understand that this movement has to stay alive,” said Rose.

Arriving suddenly to camera phone flashes and chants of “No Justice, No Peace” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!,” Sharpton spoke with the crowd.

“Seven weeks ago, we got the call about Kendrick Johnson,” said Sharpton. “We were told that the findings ... by local law enforcement were done under unusual circumstances.”

Sharpton said he was impressed with Kenneth Johnson and his quest for answers, vowing to help anyway he could.

“The story got stranger and stranger. I’m not a pathologist, not a coroner, not a doctor, but I do have common sense,” said Sharpton.

Sharpton recounted his problems with the investigation, restating the ones discussed in the request to the Justice Department and adding his disbelief that Johnson went to get his shoes from inside a wrestling mat before falling into one.

“And the blood they found on the wall away from him ... they say it wasn’t Kendrick’s blood. If there was nobody there but him, who did the blood come from?”

Before taking up a collection for the Kendrick Johnson Fund, Sharpton encouraged anyone who knew anything to come forward.

“When a black man will stand up for his son ... then I’m going to stand up with him until we get answers. If you know something, tell somebody. And if you’re scared, tell us, and we’ll protect you.”

“(The rally) unified the community,” said Serenity Church administrator Percy Chastang. “And it served to notify them that there are some questions about how it was handled. The community is uncomfortable with the process. And it spoke to a wider need for sincerity about the lives of our young people, regardless of color.”

“I think the statement was made by the number of people who showed up today,” said C. B. King, attorney for the Johnsons. “They’ve been watching. I think you can tell that the people here have an excitement and a growing intolerance.”