Jamal Johnson, 61, a Philadelphia native and U.S. Marine with 10 years in the service, is spending his August walking on foot from New Jersey to Washington D.C. with one, simple demand: "stop killing us."
It may be short and simple, but it is still painfully necessary. As national attention shifts from one eye-grabbing scandal to the next, killings by police of unarmed black and brown men continue. Johnson previously walked from Philly to D.C. in 2017 to deliver his demands to the Justice Department; this year, he'll be delivering them to the Congressional Black Caucus.
"Our demands are for policing standards we would like them to consider that would hopefully minimize police brutality and the killing that exists in these communities right now," Johnson said on Aug. 4, shortly after beginning his march in Vineland, New Jersey, at the site of the July 14 killing of Rashaun Washington.
Washington, 37, was fatally shot by police after he reportedly told them he had a bomb wrapped in a shirt. Cell phone video taken prior to the shooting shows Washington, shirtless and mumbling while standing a dozen feet away from officers with their guns out. After an approximately half-hour-long standoff, he rushed police, before being fatally shot. NJ.com later reported that he had garden shears in the shirt. The shooting is under review by the New Jersey Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office.
"I felt that maybe if they had someone there from crisis intervention, maybe a mental health therapist, they probably could have helped that young man, instead of him getting shot," Johnson said as he began his march. "Same thing in Dorney Park" – referring to the July 28 fatal shooting of Joseph Santos, 44, by South Whitehall Township Police. Cell phone video showed Santos acting erratically and climbing on the hood of a police car before approaching an officer on foot with both hands out and being shot several times. The shooting is under review by Lehigh County prosecutors.
In another incident Johnson is marching for, on June 17, Antwon Rose, 17, was fatally shot in the back by East Pittsburgh Police while unarmed and running from police. The officer who shot him has since been fired and charged with murder.
Johnson's goal is legislative action to create new guidelines for law enforcement nationally that can address some of the systemic injustices. The demands are all based on Johnson's reading of U.S. Constitution, specifically the 4th, 5th, an 14th amendments. They include abolishing 'no-knock searches,' independent civilian review boards for every municipality, and strict prosecution of any officer who engages in excessive force. Johnson knows achieving his goals won't be easy, or even likely.
"To me, success would be when all of us that feel this way about these killings all rise up and demand that something gets done. That's success. It has to happen with us first," Johnson said. "Even if I'm out here by myself, that's still one person saying something. ... If one person sees me and says 'Huh, let me look into what this guy is talking about,' that makes it all worth it. No doubt."
Stop Killing Us
Johnson, 61, has protested police killings around the country to build national unity, he said.
He plans to walk for 21 days to Washington D.C., inviting anyone who wants to join to walk with him, and sharing his message with the communities he passes through.
While Johnson, a former Marine, said he respects law enforcement, he also has experienced rough treatment from police during his own lifetime growing up in Philadelphia – some of which he said he deserved, but most of which was not.
"Because of the Rizzo regime, it was crazy. Cops would frisk us on sight, beat us down, I got beat a few times by the police," he recalled. "You talk about police brutality, we didn't know what that was. It was just a word. 'Oh, we get beat today? What else is new?' That was just how it was, that was Philly."
Watch Johnson discuss his march on a Facebook Live video below.