Our fallen Rattler: Jamee Johnson

Jamee Johnson is remembered as kind-hearted and driven. Photo courtesy of Jamee Johnson’s family.

Friends and family of Jamee Johnson want the world to know him as reserved, kind-hearted, and most of all a man of his word.

On the night of Dec. 14, the four shots that were fired on East 20th Street at Buckman Street in Jacksonville, Florida claimed the life of the Jamee they remember. In the blink of an eye, the 22-year-old senior Business Administration student became a state-wide headline. 

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) confirmed Johnson as a subject of a traffic stop conducted by Officers Graham and J. Gariga at 5:11 p.m.

Although the reason for arrest has yet to be released, JSO says Gariga attempted to escort Johnson for arrest and after a struggle ensued, Johnson returned to his car and accelerated the gas. JSO said when Johnson reportedly reached for his handgun, Gariga fired his service weapon four times.  

After performing CPR, the responding officers pronounced Johnson dead at the scene. JSO has denied Johnson’s family the chance to view bodycam footage in the fatal officer-involved shooting as Gariga’s camera was allegedly dislodged during the altercation. 

According to the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, over the course of a lifetime, Black men face a one in 1,000 risks of being killed during an encounter with police, a rate much higher than that of white men. 

Unfortunately for Jamee Johnson, he became the one. His life was reduced to a statistic, but that isn’t what his friends and family want him to be remembered for. 

Ty Cromer, who was close friends with Johnson, recalls all the times Johnson was there for him and his friend group. They spent many days and nights making memories in the halls of FAMU Village. 

“I remember our sophomore year we moved into the same community and he was the only one who brought up his car,” Cromer said. “Anytime I needed a ride or needed to go somewhere Jamee was always right there for me. It’s just hard to believe that his life was taken away, like it still doesn’t feel real.”

Cromer is glad that through everything, Jamee Johnson always stood up for himself. No matter his height he made sure to never let anyone diminish him.

“He would never back down from anything,” Cromer said.”The more challenges you put in front of him the more he’ll take it on. He was the smallest one, but he had the biggest heart.”

Family, friends, and fellow Rattlers hate the image the Jacksonville Police Department wrongfully painted of Johnson. They know who he was as a person and hope others will realize that too.

Russell Colburn, a reporter at Actions News Jax tweeted about the incident. Colburn’s tweets put Johnson as the sole aggressor, which created a social media outrage from the rattler community.

Many students began replying to Colburn’s tweet saying that his live-coverage didn’t show the full story. 

Jabari Prier, a recent FAMU graduate, wants to shift the narrative in the media to truly highlight the essence of Jamee’s character. Prier was a member of the 20th class of the FAMU chapter of Progressive Black Men Inc. with Johnson and wants to memorialize Jamee for the benevolent spirit he was.  

“Jamee was a college student; Jamee was going to finish from the school of Business; Jamee was active in the community throughout our organization,” said Prier when asked what the headlines should say about Johnson.  “He’s a standup guy. It is really frustrating that anyone could even formulate something out of their mouth about him looking like a suspect or doing anything wrong, because he didn’t.” 

Most of all, Prier believes that Johnson’s passing is a glaring indicator of how no one, regardless of an exemplary character, socioeconomic status, or friend group, is exempt from gun violence. He says the stereotype surrounding victims of police brutality as “thugs” doesn’t fit Jamee in the slightest as he did not have a criminal record and was “definitely never a troublemaker.” 

For those who knew Jamee, having something seen so often on television attack one of your own is incomprehensible, but many believe Johnson’s passing sent a reverberating echo on the brevity of life throughout the university.

The local Tallahassee community has rallied together for vigils at the eternal flame, protests at The Capitol, and community advocacy events in hopes to seek justice for Johnson and demand the release of the incident’s body camera footage.

The overwhelming support drew the attention of nationally acclaimed Attorneys Benjamin Crump and S. Lee Merritt who took on the high-profile cases of Trayvon Martin and Botham Jean, respectively. Both Crump and Merritt have joined forces to tackle Johnson’s case. 

Devan Vilfrard, the Interim President of the FAMU NAACP chapter, says the outpour of communal support surrounding this tragedy stems from how state-wide gun violence is closing in locally.   

Gun violence sent Florida into shock with the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. Later that year, the state made national headlines again as gun violence claimed the life of Jordan Davis. 

Soon after, FAMU experienced gun violence locally in 2016 when Quinton Langford, affectionately known as “White Boy Q”,  was gunned down during homecoming festivities. To Vilfrard, Johnson’s death is another reminder of how gun violence continues to hit closer and closer to home.

“These things have happened a lot in Florida, so to see it happen again to a rattler is a little jarring,” Vilfrard said. 

However, he believes for justice to be brought to the family of Jamee, rattlers must collectively continue to support the fight. Vilfrard says the university erupted in protest that, unfortunately, was short-lived.

“We can’t just feel sad and then not do anything about it,” Vilfrard said. “Within the first week, there was a lot of social media activism. To actually say, ‘let’s have a weekly or monthly town hall to see updates on what’s happening with our fallen rattler’ is needed.”