On bicycles, skateboards, roller skates, and on foot, supporters of Jeremey “Mohawk” Johnson braved harsh weather in the Loop on Thursday, October 1, to demand the State’s Attorney drop charges against him stemming from an August 15 protest.
The afternoon began with spotty showers, howling winds, and even a brief hailstorm. Supporters showed up for the Freedom Ride anyway, clad in black hoodies emblazoned with the hashtag #FreeMohawk, and determined to demonstrate community support for the young musician and activist, who is on house arrest.
“Everything since the beginning of his arrest at this point has just been flagrant injustice and mistreatment,” organizer Kim Whitfield said.
Activists say Johnson has become a symbol of just how far CPD is willing to go to make an example of protesters. After the protest on August 15, CPD shared footage that allegedly shows him striking an officer with his skateboard, which brought Johnson no small amount of media attention. After reviewing video and protesters’ eyewitness accounts, the Weekly determined that the narrative police presented carefully omitted their own agitation and conflict escalation. In the hour or so before Johnson’s arrest that night, CPD repeatedly assaulted activists and aggressively seized their belongings.
Currently on electronic monitoring and banned by a judge from using a skateboard as transportation, Johnson has now been charged with felony aggravated battery of a peace officer.
“This is a gross use of the justice system,” Whitfield said. “To intimidate and stifle protests in general in the city…everything he’s going through, he’s not the only one.”
Tiffany Leard arrived on a hunter green mountain bike, and her colorful outfit stood out even in the intermittent storms.
“I haven’t had a chance to physically come show support yet,” she said. “I wanted to remind myself people are still out here fighting.”
Comedian Aidan O’Connor joined on roller skates. She said she has never met Mohawk Johnson—who does stand-up at open mics—but has heard about him from others in the comedy community.
After a short rally at the site where the Christopher Columbus statue once stood in Grant Park, the crew hopped into the westbound lanes of traffic on Roosevelt Road.
They were followed closely by police, but interactions with officers were minimal－aside from a brief plea on the part of Lieutenant Michael Neckermann to leave the street.
On Dearborn Street, a man on a Divvy bike with a barking dog in tow shouted at protesters unprovoked, but was admonished by police. The group of around fifty continued alternating chants of, “Free Mohawk!” and “Free Them All!” as they headed toward Daley Plaza and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
At the plaza, protesters took turns holding umbrellas for one another when rain started pouring again.
Donna Marie Gary spoke to the crowd about the importance of court support not just for Johnson, but for anyone facing criminal charges in Cook County.
“When people don’t show up to court support, the judge uses that as an excuse to do whatever they want with this person, to disappear them into the system,” she said.
Criminal judges do often use a person’s ties to the community—or lack thereof—to weigh the severity of potential charges, determine bail, or in some cases, issue less severe charges.
Friends and activists have made an ongoing commitment to attend every one of Johnson’s court dates. Throughout the summer in Chicago, organizers mobilized to provide both jail and court support to detained protesters, assembling wherever they are held by police or have a trial date to provide moral and material assistance. Facing the criminal justice system can be a daunting experience, and having allies waiting outside is often deeply meaningful to those arrested and charged. Even something as simple as a pair of shoelaces—which lockup guards routinely confiscate—can be met with joy outside police station doors.
On October 2, Johnson was formally indicted on charges of battery of a peace officer. Afterwards he addressed smiling supporters beneath clear blue skies outside the courthouse. “Black lives matter, as always,” he told the crowd.
“I’m not the only person that’s being charged with felonies,” Johnson said. “We just need to make sure that y’all keep showing up, and I also want all of you to do everything you can to show up for everybody else that has felonies” stemming from the August 15 protest. “We shouldn’t be locking people up for their First Amendment rights.“
His next court date is October 14.
Raven Geary is a freelance writer and visual storyteller. She last wrote for the Weekly about police violence during a protest of femicide at the Mexican Consulate.