The case of the 17-year-old high school student found dead in a wrestling mat galvanized people to demonstrate in Atlanta.
The case of Kendrick Johnson, the young Black man who was found dead in January in a rolled up wrestling mat in a Georgia gym, is gaining increasing national attention as the teenager’s family continues to call for additional investigation.
This week, hundreds of people gathered at the Georgia state capitol in Atlanta to ask the governor to conduct a new investigation into the death of the 17-year-old high school student. The demonstrators included elected officials, prominent ministers and Martin Luther King III, the son of the civil rights icon.
Raphael Warnock, the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and a speaker at the rally, said that the Johnson case should be important to a national audience because it represents indifference on the part of authorities to the life of the teenager.
“There are a set of underlying questions that demand better answers than we have received so far,” Warnock said, in an interview with BET.com. “He went to school with a book bag and ended the day in a body bag. And the explanations defy common sense. His parents deserve better answers and we as Americans deserve better answers.”
Johnson, a student in Valdosta, Georgia, was found Jan. 11 stuck in an upright mat propped behind the bleachers inside his high school gym. The investigators in the local sheriff’s office concluded that his death was the result of a freak accident and ruled it as an accidental death. The family is vehemently protesting that ruling.
"Clearly something has happened here that needs to be looked into more deeply," said Andre Dickens, who was recently elected to the Atlanta City Council, in an interview with BET.com.
“This is a situation that should attract the attention of everyone in this state,” Dickens said. "Once again, the eyes of the nation are on the Deep South for another tragedy dealing with the death of another young Black man. This needs to change. We have to figure out how we better value life and avoid these kinds of situations."
Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the Johnson family, said that they are calling for a coroner's inquest, effectively opening a new investigation after the one conducted by officials in Lowndes County.
The first investigation, he said, determined that Johnson suffocated while trying to get a shoe that had dropped on a mat. A second autopsy revealed that a number of Johnson's organs had been removed from his body, which had been stuffed with newspapers.
"We’re calling for a coroner’s inquest to get to the bottom of that happened with this young man," said Crump, speaking with BET.com. Crump is also the lawyer of the family of Trayvon Martin.
"Like the Trayvon Martin case, the more people find about the details of this Kendrick Johnson situation, the more the case becomes bigger and bigger in the national attention it gets. It seems like something is being covered up."
The march in Atlanta had some emotional moments, most notably remarks by Johnson’s father, Kenneth Johnson. The elder Johnson maintained that the explanation by the local authorities could not be taken seriously.
"How in the world can a student go missing during school and be murdered at school?" Kenneth Johnson said, speaking to the crowd. "His vital organs were missing. From the top of his head to his liver was missing."
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(Photo: Justice for Kendrick Johnson via Facebook)