Militant Journalism

Ayesha Johnson dies in custody at Boston’s Suffolk County Jail, family demands justice

About 75 people demonstrated in front of the Suffolk County House of Corrections in Boston on August 5 demanding justice for Ayesha Johnson, a 35-year-old Black woman and mother who died in custody on July 28 after she was found alone and unresponsive in a holding cell.

One of the first chants of the demonstration was, “She wasn’t even supposed to be here!” Johnson was civilly committed — commonly referred to as a “Section 35” in Massachusetts — which is meant for people who need mental health support. 

In other words, she committed no crime and should not have been locked up. Massachusetts ended the practice of incarcerating women for civil commitments in 2016. Yet, instead of immediately being taken to a treatment program, Johnson was sent to jail. Johnson is one of three victims who died in Suffolk’s custody last month, and one of two victims who died within the same hour.

What happened to Ayesha Johnson?

This is the question her family is demanding an answer to. So far the jail has not released much beyond a statement from Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, who said he is investigating the deaths himself and does not suspect foul play. 

But the family and supporters of Johnson are not taking that for an answer. People chanted, “The cameras don’t lie! Show the tape!” and “Somebody know something!” as employees entered and exited the jail. Even when it began raining, the crowd did not let up on chanting, “Say her name! Ayesha Johnson!” and “What do we want? Answers! What do we want? Justice!” 

Family of Ayesha Johnson gather outside the Suffolk County Jail in Boston, August 4. They stand together and hold hand made signs with pictures of Johnson and slogans for justice.
Family of Ayesha Johnson gather outside the Suffolk County Jail in Boston, August 4. Liberation Photo

Family members of Johnson held signs that read, “Justice for my sister” and “Justice for my aunt.” One of her two daughters burst into tears and was consoled as the chanting grew louder, and more of her family expressed their pain and anger at the unexpected and suspicious death of their loved one. 

A history of ‘foul play

“Sexual assault, physical assault, verbal abuse all happens at the hands of guards,” Romilda Pereira told Liberation News. Pereira was formerly incarcerated in the Suffolk County Jail. She was a friend of Johnson and helped organize the protest.

“This isn’t the first person who passed away in here that we know. And this is what makes us angry. Because they continue to bring our bodies here. Every time one of our people die, they act like it never happened or it’s a first time thing. But it’s an ongoing thing.” When asked what should happen, Pereira put it succinctly: “This jail needs to be shut down.”

As one member from the community put it, “Someone came here to jail for a Section 35. It’s not a crime. Being depressed is not a crime.”

Ayesha Johnson’s family and community supporters demand:

Respond immediately to Ayesha Johnson’s family with information and why Ayesha was brought to jail.

No cops investigating cops. We want a private investigation into Ayesha’s death.

No person should ever have to go through what Ayesha went through or face death in jail. Stop incarcerating people who need mental health support and treatment. Jails are not treatment centers!

To support the fight for Justice for Ayesha Johnson, we encourage our readers to:

  1. Follow Justice4AyeshaJohnson on Facebook for updates.
  2. Email and call your representatives with the above demands.
  3. Call to demand answers from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office: (617) 635-1000 ext. 2100

Related Articles

Back to top button