This past Saturday, dozens of people protesting inequalities in Chicago were arrested downtown. The arrests were made after the Chicago Police Department (CPD) used a dangerous and unconstitutional tactic called “kettling”. Kettling is when police force protestors into a confined space, tell the protestors to dismiss or else they will be arrested, except protestors are now trapped and can’t leave. This tactic was used by CPD during protests against the Iraq War in 2003 and resulted in the City paying out $6.2 million dollars to protestors who were kettled.
Most of the people who were arrested this past Saturday, using this kettling tactic have now been released. One person that is still being detained is my former student, Jeremey (Mohawk) Johnson. Jeremey or how he now prefers to be called, Mohawk is charged with aggravated battery to a police officer. CPD claims Mohawk attacked an officer with his skateboard, unprovoked and that he hit an officer wearing a helmet three times. Many media outlets conveyed that same message and then showed the incomplete video of the alleged incident put out by the Chicago Police Department.
It is important to point out that Chicago Police have an extensive and proven history of harming Chicagoans and lying about it. This history of lying and use of excessive force is so egregious that the U.S. Department of Justice issued a whole report about all the ways that Chicago Police harm citizens in Chicago.
Based on the history of Chicago Policing, I am always skeptical of the stories told by CPD. The story CPD tells about Mohawk is very personal to me. I started teaching Mohawk in the fall of 2008 at TEAM Englewood Community Academy. Jeremey (the name he used then) like most 14 year old freshmen, was awkward. He was also very intelligent, funny, and looking to make friends. Jeremey joined the poetry team that my mentor Melissa Hughes and I created. Through poetry Jeremey started to find his place and gain confidence. I spent hours upon hours with Jeremey during his high school years through poetry. You can see Jeremey performing with our amazing poets in the TEAM Englewood group poem his senior year.
After Mohawk graduated from high school he went on to college. We stayed in contact with each other. One day I had a meeting downtown when Mohawk (Jeremey) Johnson was at Columbia. So we planned to hang out and I was gonna buy him lunch. He adamantly refused and told me lunch was on him and then made this creepy face for our post lunch picture.
Mohawk has always been vocal about the need to improve society for all people, but to help Black people specifically. While in college he wrote an article for Huff Post about the frustrations he was having with white people who weren’t truly trying to understand racism in America. My classes were coincidentally doing a unit about race in America and I asked him to come speak. I try to have many guest speakers throughout the year and Mohawk was one of the best. In a short time he managed to share stories, answer questions, and build connections with the students.
After the protests on Saturday, when Mohawk’s friends all found out he had been arrested we started calling the precinct where he was being held asking for his release. People calling in were told by CPD answering the phone a few different things. Some people were yelled at by the officer who answered, when they asked for Jeremey Johnson to be released. I was hung up on as soon as I asked for his release. Others were told that Mohawk was not there. This last statement was the most frightening. The Chicago Police Department has an extensive history of making people disappear. Eventually, it was confirmed that Mohawk had been moved to Cook County late Saturday night.
On Monday, Mohawk had his bond hearing early in the afternoon. I listened in on the bond hearing and it was incredibly frustrating. The Judge John Lyke took the Chicago Police Department’s representative account of the incident with Mohawk, as if it was holy scripture. Since this was the first time Mohawk has ever been charged with a crime and he’s fully employed, Mohawk’s lawyer asked for an I-bond. An I-bond is a contract with no payment stating that Mohawk will return for all his future court appearances.
The judge however laughed and issued a $20,000 bond, which included house arrest and electronic tethering to track Mohawk’s location. After the judge issued Mohawk’s bond, he dismissed everyone. Immediately after the dismissal the judge then wanted Mohawk’s lawyer put back on the Zoom call to gleefully give one final restriction that he had thought of, which was to forbid Mohawk from riding or touching a skateboard.
Mohawk’s bond was financially met right after the hearing by the help of the Chicago Community Bond Fund but Mohawk was not free to leave. Mohawk was detained in Cook County so his electronic tether could be set up, which according to Cook County, “could take days”. Mohawk was forced to sit in Cook County, at one point this spring one of the country’s Covid hotspots, waiting to be electronically tethered, as if the city doesn’t tether people all the time.
On Tuesday, Mohawk’s lawyer was denied access for hours, but was eventually allowed in to see him, as the jail cited “Covid restrictions”.
On Wednesday, Mohawk was still not released. It was brought to my attention that keeping people after their bonds have been paid is the standard and illegal practice of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
As I am writing this, it is Thursday morning. Mohawk is still in jail. Mohawk made bail on Monday. Tell me that CPD and the city aren’t trying to make an example of him. He’s not been convicted, not had a trial. Sitting in Cook County, bond fully paid.
Mohawk should be home. Please call Cook County at 773-674-7100 to ask for his release. Also follow these action steps to contact your Alderperson and for other ways to help.
UPDATE: After intense pressure, Mohawk was finally released Thursday night.