Just two days after the May 25 killing of George Floyd, Amaurie Johnson was harassed and assaulted by La Mesa police in San Diego County while waiting for his friend to pick him up. In cell phone videos that went viral, Amaurie Johnson was assaulted by now former officer Matt Dages.
A call for justice by Johnson then sparked a protest on May 30 in which thousands of San Diego residents rose up against the La Mesa Police Department. While using her phone to record the protest on May 30, 59-year old Leslie Furcron was shot between the eyes with a “bean bag” round by Detective Eric Knudson of LMPD, resulting in significant injuries. Countless others were also teargassed, shot, or otherwise brutalized by police that night. This violent police repression caused countless more protests to erupt across the county.
All charges against Johnson, who is 23-years old, were dropped on June 5. On July 29, Amaurie Johnson filed a suit against the city of La Mesa, LMPD, Matt Dages, and six others individuals. Like much of the country, San Diego County was embroiled with protests numbering in the thousands by August 7, when it was announced that Matt Dages was fired. After trying for months to appeal the decision, a city review panel upheld Dages’ dismissal.
Liberation News sat down with Amaurie Johnson to discuss the status of his situation and the denial of Dages’s appeal. The conversation has been edited for clarity.
Liberation News: Can you comment on how the public has supported you this far, as was exemplified by the La Mesa Uprising on May 30?
Amaurie Johnson: Great, because of the positive reaction — obviously there’s good and bad — but I am very thankful for the people who have felt strongly about my situation and decided to use their voice to try to make a change. Without them, none of the ensuing things that have happened since then would be possible, so I am very thankful for that.
There’s been numerous things that people have done in regards to my situation and in regards to activism — furthering people’s civil rights. People standing up and opposing prejudice and people being treated unfairly. Specific moments — I’m sure you can kind of guess what I’m referring to — but humbling stuff like seeing people on the freeway protesting and stuff like that. Knowing that many people care and want to see change happen is very inspiring to me, and it’s also very humbling. And it lets me know that when I do these things or when I talk, I’m not just talking for myself, I’m talking for other people as well as far as people can kind of relate to what happened with me, and see my situation and they’re using the situation to kind of create change, so that’s very inspiring.
LN: On May 30, Leslie Furcron was shot in the head by a police officer. Do you see your struggle for justice overlapping with Furcron’s and if so how?
AJ: Kind of expanding on what I said earlier, I relate to her 100 percent wholeheartedly. Her pain is my pain kind of. As in — seeing what happened with Leslie Furcron — on that night I was sent the video of her getting shot in between her eyes. And knowing that she was just protesting not necessarily even on behalf of me, but knowing that Leslie Furcron has children and she’s protesting because she wants to have a safe environment for her children as well. Not only protesting for what happened with me, but also protesting for her children, and George Floyd, and a litany of other things.
Seeing that really struck a nerve in me and it made me want to keep fighting even more. Especially after seeing how the police department responded to her situation, that being, they just made excuses and said that they were investigating. Well, we didn’t get any answers at all.
To answer your question, seeing what happened with her really bothered me a lot and it bothered me even more than what happened with me just because I see that as in, I see that could be my mother. I would never want that to happen. I actually met her children, her sons, and just to see their pain and what they were going through, nobody should have to go through that. And it wasn’t right, and just to see that the police department in La Mesa is still not trying to hold the people accountable or hold anybody responsible is disgusting to me.
LN: What would justice look like for you?
AJ: As far as justice goes right now, I can only do what the legal system allows. So we’re going to take those steps necessary to go ahead and create change in a positive direction. That being, laws, getting some infrastructural change in the police department would be great. Those are some goals. Obviously, I would like for people responsible to be held accountable to the furthest extent possible.
The prejudice and inequality: that’s overall what I want to see changed. We’re trying to take those steps in that direction.
In regards to Leslie Furcron specifically, I would definitely like to see the police that shot her charged, some laws changed, just responsibility and accountability held and then for them to look at themselves and what the police are asked to do, and what they are doing — as far as how they treat the public. There’s no reason why there’s police officers out there that should be willing and ready to shoot a however-old-lady in the face. That’s not okay. If you’re a police officer, I don’t believe as though you should have that in your morals, in your being, that you can shoot a lady in the face who doesn’t have a weapon, isn’t threatening you, anything like that. It’s just not okay.
So, there’s a lot of things that I want changed — a lot of things that a lot of people want changed — and we’re just going to go ahead and take those baby steps in the right direction. And we’re not going to stop — I’m not going to stop until I’m dead, personally — but we’re just not going to stop until those changes are made.
LN: Can you comment on the denial of appeal for now former officer Dages?
AJ: I’m happy about his appeal being denied. As far as the La Mesa Police Department goes, I haven’t even been in contact with them. They haven’t reached out to me at all so that’s a little discouraging on that front, but I am happy that the courts decided to go ahead and uphold their decision to have Dages not be a part of the police force anymore, because he should have never been a police officer in the first place.
LN: As the struggle for justice continues, how can the public support you?
AJ: The support I’ve received is more than I ever could have imagined possible. I don’t necessarily want for anything. The only thing I would actually ask for the public is to keep the same energy that they’ve had throughout 2020 and let’s carry that onto 2021. Let’s keep protesting and using our voices in a positive light.
And if we have to, yeah, let’s hit the streets and let’s protest on the streets. But just overall activism, I would like that to continue and for people to still feel as strongly about these things come next year. I don’t want it to be just a fad or something that comes and goes. I want people to still feel strongly about equality, Black lives, peoples’ safety, all that good stuff going into the next year.
LN: Is there anything else you want to say about your situation?
AJ: The only thing I’d like to say about my situation is that the situation is unfortunate and people always want to ask me the questions, put me under the microscope, and hold me accountable for what I did. Which is understandable right? A civilian would automatically put themselves in a civilian’s shoes. But at the end of the day, if you go ahead and look at the actions of the officer, it will be obvious to you that he just didn’t handle himself with any class, or as somebody who’s in a position of authority should be acting.
Also, the whole thing of “this is a new movement” as far as civil rights and people being vocal about their rights and how they should be treated: this is nothing new. This isn’t a new battle. People have been fighting this battle for more than 100 years now. The Civil Rights Movement goes back at least 50 [years]. Before people act like this thing is a whole new fight or whatever, it’s the same fight just being carried on many years later —decades later. Whereas, people beforehand who have fought the fight might not still be around or might not be even in the right condition to fight that fight.
So don’t get it confused, this is nothing new. We’re fighting a battle that was fought by our ancestors, our brothers, our sisters, and we owe it to them, in my opinion, to keep it going until we get to where we want to be at. And it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be fair a lot of the times, but you just got to keep moving forward. And as long as we keep moving forward and use our voice as one — stay unified — as long as we stay unified we’ll be moving in the right direction and at some point we’ll be able to get where we want to go.
Feature image: Amaurie Johnson. Credit: Amaurie Johnson’s Facebook account, used with permission.