Vowing not to just “stand by and allow this to happen,” several elected officials and pastors stepped forward on Friday to back up Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, who has been targeted with threats.
“This is a message to the Black men of our communities. We have one job — and one job only — and that job is to protect the women and children,” said state Rep. Antonio Parkinson during a news conference held on the I Am A Man Plaza. “Commissioner Sawyer was threatened, not once, but multiple threats.”
Sawyer led the “Take ‘Em Down” Movement that galvanized public support for the removal of Confederate-era monuments from city-owned parks.
Earlier this week, a man singing “Dixie” and waving a Confederate flag was captured on television video hurling profanity and racially-coded threats of violence at Sawyer as she spoke to media regarding the beginning of the process to remove the remains of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife from what now is Health Sciences Park (formerly Forrest Park).
Subsequent to that unsettling encounter, Sawyer has shared through social media posts that she has been hit with numerous online threats.
On Friday, Parkinson, along with State Reps. Jesse Chism and Joe Towns Jr., the Rev. Charlie Caswell, the Rev. Dr. Noel G. L. Hutchinson Jr. and Memphis City Councilman Martavius Jones, teamed up in a call for law enforcement to “move hard and swift.”
“We’re calling on the police to make arrests,” said Parkinson. “She is a public official. We don’t mind taking heat, but when you threaten to do harm to me, you’re talking about removing my daughter’s father from her.
“I told Tami I was going to back up in her driveway and just post up. Thank God that Sheriff (Floyd) Bonner (Jr.) has provided her an armed security detail.”
An activist on several fronts, including Black Lives Matter Memphis, an undaunted Sawyer acknowledged through social media that the racist threats were disconcerting.
After filing a police report regarding the incident at Health Science Park, Sawyer identified George “K-Rack” Johnson as the man who threatened her.
Noting that Sawyer had been threatened online with rape and other physical harm, Parkinson also called for action by the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and at the federal level.
“These are threats against a Black woman and it is reprehensible, it is cowardly,” Parkinson said.
And, said Towns, “It’s not gonna be tolerated. There are some men in this community and people in this community who are not afraid and we know how to bring it if we need to.”
On Thursday, Sawyer posted a challenge to police to issue an arrest warrant in place of a “warrant to appear” for Johnson and prove that there are not two systems of justice: one for whites and one for people of color.
An arrest warrant charging Johnson with assault was issued Friday afternoon.
“There is finally an arrest warrant out for George K-Rack Johnson for assault against me,” Sawyer posted. “My family, friends, supporters and I had to kick up a lot of dust for this to happen. Three days. Three press conferences. Three visits to the police station.”
Speaking to a reporter, Johnson, who faces a misdemeanor assault charge, called the warrant fake news.
“No apologies whatsoever,” said Johnson, adding that he had no intention of turning himself in for a charge that “ain’t gonna stick in court…”
Viewing the threatening scenario in a nationwide context, Parkinson said, “white men are the reason there is a heightened state of anxiety. …
“There are serious, violent threats against African-American people. And I just want to ask a question: What is it that Black people have done that makes them so hated in America?”
Referencing “these white men,” Dr. Noel Hutchinson, founder of Greater Works Fellowship, said, “We are not beneath you. We are not less than you. And we have the right by law to say what we want to say and to believe what we want to believe.
“Threats should not be a part of your disagreement,” he said. “It’s time out for that kind of foolishness.”