Revolution #72, December 10, 2006


Atlanta: Police Gun Down 92-Year-Old Kathryn Johnston in Cold Blood

From a reader in Atlanta

An hour or so past sundown on November 21, three plainclothes narc cops cut through the burglar bars and battered down the door of a single-family home in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood. On the other side of that door, fearing for her life, was 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston who had a rusty revolver. After many rounds fired by the police, the three cops ended up wounded…and Ms. Johnston was dead from the police bullets.

The assistant police chief claimed that the three cops “did everything by the book. They had a search warrant, announced themselves and knocked first.” Family, friends, and neighbors are outraged. One man asked, “So if home-invading thugs yell ‘Police!’ before they kick in my door, I don’t get to shoot them?” “As far as I’m concerned,” said niece Sarah Dozier, “they shot her down like a dog.”

Kathryn Johnston had lived for 17 years in a neighborhood that is “in transition.” New homes are being built as older homes deteriorate, and there is plenty of crime. The houses on Ms. Johnston’s block are neat and well cared for, but all have burglar bars on the doors and windows. The elderly and folks like Ms. Johnston who live alone keep their guard up, especially after the sun goes down. From the neighbor who delivered her groceries to the man who tended her yard, all who knew her agreed that Ms. Johnston lived in fear behind those bars. The fear led her to keep a pistol—with a permit—close at hand.

Initially, neighbors thought the police must have raided the house by mistake. One young woman said, “I’d sooner believe that the world is flat before I’d believe that Johnston condoned drug activity in her house… She hated the drug presence in her neighborhood. She hated it.” As time went on, however, it has turned out that nothing was the way the police first told it.

The search warrant? The sworn affidavit behind the “John Doe” warrant claimed that a “reliable source”—who is not an undercover cop, contrary to what the police originally stated—had used city money to purchase crack cocaine “from Sam” at that house earlier that day. This “reliable source” allegedly turned over the purchased drug and informed the police that “Sam” had security cameras all around the house that he monitored constantly—a sure sign of illegal activity.

Trouble is, “Sam” doesn’t exist. “Reliable source” has now gone public, telling police investigators and the TV news cameras that he never went to that address and that there was no person named “Sam” and no security cameras. It was all made up. “Reliable source” now says the cops called him after the attack and warned him to cover for them, or else. It’s also come out that one of the narcs who swore out the affidavit is being sued for fabricating charges in an earlier case. Finally, investigators have now disclosed that the “narcotics” seized at the scene of the shooting were in fact a small amount of marijuana; the buzz is that they had found nothing at all.

The FBI is in charge of the “investigation” by the city along with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s office. An FBI spokesman insisted that there were as yet no findings and that nothing would be revealed before the end of the entire investigation. But a TV news report showed more than 100 bullet holes at Ms. Johnston’s house. And, according to a report on the local radio on Nov. 30, ballistics tests show that Ms. Johnston had fired only one shot before being killed, and that forensics evidence indicates only one cop got hit by a bullet—the others were wounded by shrapnel.

As of this writing, seven narcotics officers and a sergeant involved in the raid are on paid administrative leave.

Grieving relatives and people outraged at the killing have kept a vigil outside Ms. Johnston’s home. Spontaneous outpourings of anger have given way to organized protest and resistance. There have been rallies and public meetings—of 400-500 or more people at a time—to demand justice. Prominent among the organizers are the New Black Panther Party, FTP Movement, Malcolm X Grass Roots, and New Order Human Rights Organization. Present at one mass meeting were professor and Native rights activist Ward Churchill and former Representative Cynthia McKinney.

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