We Shall Not Be Removed: Black Gay Men Respond to the Sentencing of Michael Johnson

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May 15, 2015

Today at Michael Johnson’s trial, the jury recommended a 30 year sentence. Yesterday, after just a few days of testimony and only two hours of deliberation, a nearly all-white jury convicted Michael Johnson on one count of recklessly infecting a partner with HIV, one count of attempting to recklessly infect a partner with HIV, and three counts of recklessly exposing partners to HIV. We are saddened and enraged by what seems to have been a lackluster defense of Johnson, but ultimately we are not surprised. There are many people in this country who still believe, out of ignorance or cruelty, that people with HIV are pariahs who we all need to be protected from. But Michael Johnson is a part of our community and he is not disposable. Far too many young Black gay men receive an HIV diagnosis in this country, and nearly one in three can expect to in their lifetimes. And Missouri’s solution, to a problem they helped create, is prison.

Contracting HIV isn’t Michael’s fault. For decades, so few resources have gone toward a community based HIV prevention and treatment response for Black gay men. This has created a situation where contracting HIV feels almost inevitable. It is ironic that the state of Missouri would convict Michael Johnson of criminal transmission out of a claim of concern for “the public.” If Missouri has such concern about the health and wellbeing of its residents, why won’t the Missouri state legislature even expand Medicaid—a very easy way to ensure nearly all people with and at risk for HIV could have access to health care? After the trial is over, it is very likely that the young men accusing Johnson will continue living in a state that will do very little to ensure they have access to HIV prevention services and basic access to health care. Johnson will be in prison, and the accusers who are currently HIV negative will likely remain highly vulnerable to HIV infection. That’s the state’s fault—not Michael Johnson.

It is hard to ignore the racial optics of this case. A very muscular and attractive Black man stood accused by mostly white men, in a small county, and was tried in front of a nearly all-white jury. Whether in health care, or the courtroom, there is no justice for Black gay men in either location.

We want to reiterate that our support for Johnson will continue, whether or not he disclosed his status to the accusers, and despite whatever sentence he receives. We will continue to fight until he is released, and until all such laws are removed from Missouri and across the country. We will continue to work to support Michael through any appeals, and his time in prison, however long it may be.

But in the meantime, this is the agenda we will be actively pursuing:

1.Support Michael Johnson while he’s in prison, continue to raise awareness about his case, work to support any potential appeals or strategies to reduce his sentence or overturn this ruling altogether.

2.Continue to dialog with Black gay men around the country in person and through social media about the importance of opposing such laws.

3.Repeal of the laws that criminalize HIV exposure and transmission, in Missouri and nationwide.

4.Challenge our allies in Black progressive organizations, criminal justice reform, HIV prevention and treatment, and the LGBT movement to take more of an active role in challenging HIV criminalization.

5.Develop more capacity for Black gay men’s grassroots organizing.

We know that many people still remain incredibly frightened of an HIV diagnosis, which undergirds the logic behind many of these laws. We also know that this country has an all-too vivid imagination when it comes to ideas of out-of-control Black sexuality, and a commitment to prisons and punitive responses to challenges. This allows state actors to be absolved of responsibility for creating the conditions that lead many Black gay men to become HIV positive, or imprisoned, or both.

We will fight until Johnson is released, and until we are all free.

Sincerely,

Adrian Ogle

Akil Patterson

Alvin Agarrat

Amir Dixon

andré m. carrington, Ph.D.

Anthony Antoine McWilliams

Anthony Galloway

Anthony Thompson

Aunsha Hall-Everett

Brandon Dykes

Brian Alston-Carter

Bryan C. Jones

Bummah Ndeh

Charles Stephens

Corey Yarbrough

Cornelius A. Wilson

Cornelius Mabin

Craig Washington

Daniel D Driffin

Darius Bost

Darron Marble

Darwin Thompson

David Malebranche

David Roscoe Moore

Derrick D. Matthews

Derrick Merkerson

Devin Barrington-Ward

Devin D. Moss

Dr. Jeffrey McCune

E.Taylor Doctor

Eddie Wiley

eric o. reece

Ernest Hardy

Errol L Fields

Gavin Morrow-Hall

Geoffrey Winder

Isaiah Wilson

Jafari Sinclaire Allen

James Lester

Jonathan

Jonathan Jacob Moore

Justin Smith

Kali Lindsey

Keith R. Green

Kenneth LeBlue

Kenneth Moore

Kenneth Pass

Kenyon Farrow

Kevin Q. Ewing

Leo Moore

Marco M. Brown

Marquez Rhyne

Martez Smith

Mathew Rodriguez

Matthew Rose

Max Smith

Michael Blair Franklin Jr.

Michael C. Webb, Jr.

Michael Everett

Michael J. Brewer

Michael Tikili

PrestonMitchum

Raul Posas

Raymond Thomas

Reggie Dunbar II

Rev. Bertram Johnosn

Ricardo D. Wynn

Robert W. Williams, III

Ronald G. Murray,MPA, LSW

S.Wakefield

Stephaun E. Wallace

Steven G Fullwood

Tabias Wilson

Terence Pleasant McCune

Tyrell manning

Tyrone Hanley

For more info, contact: freeblackgaymen@gmail.com

Resources:

http://www.hivlawandpolicy.org/initiatives/positive-justice-project

http://www.amfar.org/heavy-impact-of-hiv-aids-on-black-gay-men-us/

http://thecounternarrative.org/2015/05/07/an-open-letter-to-michael-johnson/

UPRISING (1995)

gwinstonjames

By: G. Winston James

I want to start a campaign
One that gets homosexuals
To recall
What it means to be gay
A campaign that will scrape away
At millennia’s worth of stone
To unearth the legions
Of sissified warriors
Who lived, died,
And worked their magic
In, on, and about
This world.

I want to ignite a protest
To gather all the mystics
In one place,
That we might speak that one truth
Which will suck the moisture
From the air
And create oceans at our feet
That truth that will
Snuff out the light
And remind the Children
That we have been here
Since creation.

I want also to invoke the Bible
To say that in the beginning
Was the word
And that word shaped the Universe
Into a thing of so many wonders
That mortal man
Can only fail to see
Unless he admits that
He is as blind as the stars
And far less significant
Than the trees that have survived
For longer than he.

I want to summon
The truth of names
And the defining energy
That dwells within them
To let the mouths of our enemies
Show us that
They have always known
That we were defined by power
As the fairy’s magic lives
The flame of the faggot burns
The strength of the dyke holds
And the gaiety of the queer endures.

I want to ignite a blaze,
A conflagration of lesbians who remember
What it was like to watch
Their sisters burn in the night
Struggling against the fetters
That bound them
To be witching posts
And to the lies
And to the angry penises
Jealous of feminine power
So softly displayed like iron
At the hot core of the earth.

I want us to shatter the windows of heaven
With diamonds
To assemble before the throne of God
Dressed in the stars
And holding the planets in our hands,
Asking the angels simply:
Are we not beautiful
That the rivers and the wind
Sing our names and the gloaming?
If we not, then destroy the world
For you have put nothing marvelous
In it.

An Open Letter to Michael Johnson

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Dear Michael,

We, Black gay men, write this letter to you out of love. We can only imagine the burdens you have had to carry personally: experiences of isolation, shame, rejection and moral judgment. But we want you to know that in our lives we have had to carry those burdens as well.

We write this letter to you, understanding the actions taken against you have come at the expense of your humanity. And we write this letter to you, acknowledging that you are a part of our community. You are our brother and we support you.

There are less and less spaces dedicated to Black gay men. And our bodies are being beaten, policed, and pushed into prisons. Yet, we remain steadfast in the belief that our bodies, desires, intimate relationships and communities are not criminal. We are loving, living, and worthy Black people.

We are aware that you have been charged with felony HIV-exposure in Missouri for allegedly not disclosing your HIV-status to your sexual partners. However, we also know that HIV criminalization laws unfairly impact Black people and stigmatize people living with HIV. HIV criminalization laws push people living with HIV further and further away from HIV treatment and care and make HIV prevention efforts more difficult. As Black gay men, we are deeply impacted by HIV; and these laws harm us and damage our relationships and communities.

HIV criminalization laws are unjust to people living with HIV. Under these laws, people living with HIV are expected to share their HIV status, even though our society is one that stigmatizes and discriminates against people living with HIV. Through HIV criminalization laws people are forced to disclose and to not consider the serious consequences of disclosure.

HIV should be treated as a public health issue not as a criminal one. Legally requiring disclosure privileges the lives of White people not living with HIV over Black people who are living with HIV.

These laws feed into stereotypes that assume Black gay men are irresponsible and hypersexual. For you, your accusers saw your Black and masculine body as a site of ultimate sexual pleasure, until they had to deal with you as a whole person. At that moment you became a problem and were disposable to them.

HIV criminalization laws burden people living with HIV to take on the sole responsibility of sexual encounters. Regardless of intention or disclosure, there is a shared responsibility among sexual partners. Opening up about your HIV status is a personal decision that should not be mandated or enforced. Disclosing your HIV-status should be about self-reflection and speaking your truth. Disclosure should not be about protecting people who are not living with HIV from transmission. And disclosure should not be about punishing people living with HIV who do not disclose.

We do not care about whether or not you disclosed, or any intention you may or may not have had. We care about you—your life matters. HIV is not a crime and you should not be in prison.

Until you are free, none of us are free. As you are impacted, we are all impacted. We see ourselves in you. Your story is connected to us all and is evidence that Black gay men need each other. Through all of the suffering, pain, and trauma, we need each other to heal and survive. We also need each other to share our joy, our laughter, and our beauty. Even as important, our community can only heal if you heal and survive too.

So we send you our love during your time of need. We want you to know that we are here in solidarity with you. We are sending you positive energy and universal force to act on your behalf. We will continue to send our energies to you with faith that you will be victorious throughout this fight.

Moreover, we are concerned about your health and well-being, how you are feeling, and how this has affected you. We are here for you. If there are other ways that we can provide you some support, please let us know. We want you to know there are people who care about what is happening to you. And we will continue to maintain contact with you, regardless of what happens with your case.

Therefore, while you have been in prison for over a year and half and placed in administrative segregation for over 60 days, we recognize these injustices and write this letter to you. While you are being framed as a monster, we continuously value your humanity and write this letter to you.

Lastly, we, Black gay men, write this letter in hopes that it gives you and others in our community the strength to work towards a world in which we are all free.

We are you and we love you.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Pass

Charles Stephens

Martez Smith

Darnell L. Moore

Craig Washington

Damian J. Denson

David Roscoe Moore

Tyrone Hanley

Tyrell Manning

Brandon Dykes

Kenyon Farrow

Jeffrey McCune

Steven G. Fullwood

Cory Bradley

L. Lamar Wilson

André Carrington

Clarence Singleton

Justin Smith

Vaughn E. Taylor-Akutagawa

Antoine J. Rogers

Anthony Thompson

Matthew Rose

Michael J. Brewer

Jonathan Paul Lucas

Jamie Allen

George Holifield

Bummah Ndeh

Marcus Lee

Ramon Johnson

Daniel McRath

Anthony Bond

Sean Sheppheard

Kieran Scarlett

Stephaun E. Wallace

Jamal Lewis

David J. Malebranche

Devin Barrington Ward

Blake A. Rowley

Mark J. Tuggle

Lamont Scales

Drew-Shane Daniels

Anthony Antoine McWilliams

Gavin Morrow-Hall

James Lester

Phillip Williams

Rodney A. Brown

Ricardo Wynn

Cornelius Mabin

Darius Bost

Shaun Little

Carl Graves

Darron Marble

Reggie Dunbar II

Jafari Sinclaire Allen

L. Michael Gipson

Christopher Moten

John Keene

Jonathan Moore

Derek Johnson

Brad Walrond

Seven Hobby

S.G. Richmond

Marvell L. Terry, II

Eddie Wiley

Isaiah R. Wilson

Alfred White

Max Smith

Preston Mitchum

Charles E. Matiella

Darryl Hart

Steven-Emmanuel Martinez

Akil Patterson

Johnnie Kornegay

Khalid Idawu

Justin T. Rush

Tabias Wilson

Lance Powell

Robert F. Reid-Pharr

Bryan Webster

Jason L. Walker

Rev. Rodney McKenzie, Jr.

Raymond Thomas

Shedrick Davis

JaMel M. Nelson

Adrian Ogle

Michael Tikili

Elijah Bell-Clarke

Maurice Franklin

Deontez Wimbley

Riko A. Boone

Monte J Wolfe

Raul Posas

Charles Nero

Joshua Johnson

Victor Scotti, Jr.

Lee Brown

Bryan C. Jones

Marlon M. Bailey

Derrick D. Matthews

Francisco L. White

Anthony Charles Galloway

Brian L. Alston-Carter

Michael Lawrence

Daniel Driffin

Leo Moore

Robert W. Williams, III

Cornelius White

Devin D. Moss

Derrick Merkerson

Michael Ward

Jason Saunders

Kenneth LeBlue

Rev. Bertram Johnson

Marco M. Brown

Michael Franklin

Kevin Q. Ewing

Antoine Craigwell

This Week at Counter Narrative

1. Community meeting about New Schools at Carver. 

Two black gay boys report being attacked last week. We are meeting in Atlanta to discuss community response. 

When: Wednesday April 29th at 7pm 

Where: Phillip Rush Center (in the main building/conference room)

For folks calling in to the meeting. Here is the call info. Just make sure you get on the line by 7pm:

Dial-In Number: 712-775-7031 Meeting ID: 242-816-477

2. Michael Johnson Messaging Strategy Meeting

Greetings all. Our next Michael Johnson Advocacy Messaging Strategy Meeting will be Thursday April 30th at 7pm EST. 

Here is the call info:

Dial-In Number: 712-775-7031 

Meeting ID: 242-816-477

3. (NEW) Michael Johnson Info blog 

check it out! 

https://freemichaeljohnson.wordpress.com

Media Roundup Carver High Attack

Atlanta police: Fight at Carver school not hate crime (April 23, 2015 7:05 pm)

http://thegavoice.com/atlanta-police-fight-at-carver-school-not-hate-crime

Atlanta students face charges for fight with gay classmates (Updated: Apr 23, 2015 7:23 AM EDT) http://www.cbs46.com/story/28874631/atlanta-students-face-charges-for-fight-with-gay-classmates#ixzz3YB6t69Kf

Gay Teen Speaks Out After Being Beaten And Slashed In The Face With Screwdriver At School While Principal Watched http://bossip.com/1133808/gay-teen-speaks-out-after-being-beaten-and-slashed-in-the-face-with-screwdriver-at-school-while-principal-watched-video

No arrests in beating of two gay Carver HS students (5:56 a.m. April 23, 2015) http://www.11alive.com/story/news/local/2015/04/22/crime-atlanta-police-carver-high-school/26198233

Gay student attacked at Atlanta school says he’s victim of constant bullying (April 22, 2015 6:53 pm) http://thegavoice.com/interview-gay-student-attacked-at-atlanta-school-says-hes-victim-of-constant-bullying

Police: ‘Mob beating’ of gay teens didn’t happen 4/22/15 5:50pm EST http://www.projectq.us/atlanta/Police_Mob_beating_of_gay_teens_didnt_happen?gid=16771

Atlanta gay teens attacked by large group of classmates (GA Voice) http://thegavoice.com/atlanta-gay-teens-attacked-after-school-by-large-group-of-classmates

APS, Atlanta police investigating attack on gay students at Carver (AJC) http://www.ajc.com/news/news/aps-atlanta-police-investigating-attack-on-gay-stu/nkzSw

2 gay students attacked, beaten at Atlanta school (Project Q) http://www.projectq.us/atlanta/two_gay_students_attacked_beaten_at_atlanta_school?gid=16767

Essex Hemphill Twitter Chat/Thursday 7pm EST

Essex_Hemphill

“Who dares tell us that we are poor and powerless? We keep treasure any king would count as dear.”

-Essex Hemphill

Thursday April 16, 2015 will mark the 58th birthday of poet, essayist, and activist Essex Hemphill. Join Counter Narrative for a twitter chat to discuss his work, impact, and lasting influence. The hashtag we will be using is #DearEssex  Some of the topics we will discuss include: 1) What blueprints are provided through Essex Hemphill’s poetry and essays to help us resist current manifestations of anti-blackness and the violence being committed against black bodies? 2) What are the implications of Essex Hemphill’s poems like “For My Own Protection,” and “The Occupied Territories,” in thinking through the particular forms of state violence committed against black gay men such as HIV/criminalization? 3) How has Essex Hemphill’s work impacted our current artistic and political landscape? 4) How can Essex Hemphill’s poetry be used to combat HIV stigma? 5) What does Essex Hemphill and his work mean to you? 6) How does the work of pro-feminist black gay men like Essex Hemphill provide tools for us to think through challenging patriarchy and masculine hegemony today? Please join us for what will be an incredible discussion. Hashtag: #DearEssex Date: Thursday April 16, 2015 Time: 7pm-8pm EST Click here for tips on participating in twitter chats: http://goo.gl/2fzQMp