A horrific case of injustice still haunts South Georgia, but the community continues to speak out and fight for justice. In 2013 Kendrick Johnson, just 17-years-old, was found dead by students at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia where he was a student. His body was discovered inside a tightly rolled-up gym mat secured by a strap.
What should have led to a deeper investigation into the mysterious conditions instead was ruled an accident by local and state investigators. On January 14, 2013, local Sheriff Chris Prine stated that “no indications of injury that would have caused the death of Kendrick Johnson were found,” and instead that Kendrick “either reached into the center of one of the rolled mats or fell into the center opening of the mat and became lodged.” The state investigators stated the cause of death was “positional asphyxia,” an inability to breathe, caused by the gym mat.
For Kenyetta Johnson, sister of Kendrick, it is obvious that this was not just an accident. Speaking to Liberation News at a recent rally she stated, “He definitely didn’t just fall into the gym mat. There was blood inside the mat. There was blood inside in his shoes.” The blood alone contradicts the state’s findings and would be reason enough to re-open the case. But more than that an independent autopsy sponsored by Kendrick’s family found that he died as a result of “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma.” With these facts in mind reopening the case is a critical demand and must be carried out immediately. Countless times in the South’s history, Black people have been murdered with no justice or legal recourse.
Other irregularities shroud this case. Most shockingly perhaps is the fact that newspapers were found in place of several of Kendrick’s internal organs. At some point between the coroner’s office and the funeral home, Kendricks’ organs had gone missing. When the family complained of the desecration they were told it was standard practice to replace organs with sawdust or newspapers. Kenyetta recalled, “His organs were stuffed with newspaper. They were not directed to do that and they did not inform us either. It took an independent autopsy to find out.’’
In 2015 Brian and Branden Bell came under investigation. The brothers, who are white, are the sons of an FBI agent who was also named in a suit against local authorities for a cover-up in the original investigation. They had their home, text messages, and computers searched by Federal Marshalls looking into potential witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Kendrick’s family has explained that Kendrick and Brian Bell had been in a fight previously and that they believe Kendrick was bullied and beaten by Brian.
On Saturday, June 27, community members protested in front of the Valdosta courthouse in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the reopening of Kendrick Johnson’s case. For the Johnson family there will be no peace until justice is delivered and a proper investigation carried out for their departed son. We call on all people to demand justice for Kendrick Johnson.
For more information you can visit the RIP Kendrick Johnson facebook page.