“And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.”
—Isaiah 59:14 (Bible, KJV)
Like a ghost from the Old South, where for decades murder, lynchings, and state-sponsored terrorism were the order of the day, an “intensifying universal cry for justice” continues as the unresolved deaths of two, young Black men, in two different states, are among the latest in a series of suspected murders, alleged cover-ups, and alleged complicity among local law enforcement.
Families, friends, and supporters of the victims are demanding federal investigations in both cases. The cases of Steven Lamond Johnson in Georgia and Rasheem Rayelle Carter in Mississippi are still a source of great pain for their families and supporters.
Rasheem Rayelle Carter, 25, a young entrepreneur and skilled tradesman, was reportedly turned away from the local police department on two separate occasions while seeking help. He told his mother by phone the day he went missing, that three pickup truckloads of White men were chasing him before the discovery of his dismembered body on November 2, 2022. He worked in Taylorsville, Mississippi, and was waiting for a ride before disappearing on October 2 (see The Final Call Vol. 42. No. 19).
“His family is definitely determined to get justice by any means necessary,” said Marquell Bridges, a Mississippi native who is both the president and founder of Building Bridges for Community Unity and Progress. “They’re vigilant, they’re encouraged and empowered, and they just want to ensure everyone that they’re not stopping.”
Marking a year from Rasheem’s disappearance and death, Mr. Bridges told The Final Call in a telephone interview that the family appreciated the love and support they have received from both activists and supporters around the country and during the October 14, 2023, march to the Taylorsville Police Department in remembrance of Rasheem’s life. He also said the Carter family is deeply disappointed over the lack of transparency in the investigation and that to date the cause of both his disappearance and death remain unexplained.
“Dealing with loss for anyone is tough and dealing with loss under these circumstances, and the not knowing and not getting any answers, just makes it extremely more difficult, and that much more weighing, and I always commend Ms. Tiffany Carter (Rasheem’s mother) for being so strong, but she and her family are definitely going through it,” Mr. Bridges said, calling on people of goodwill to uplift them in prayer.
On November 3, 2022, a day after locating the first set of Rasheem’s remains in a wooded area, the Smith County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post they had no reason to suspect foul play but have since amended their position. A photo from a deer camera dated October 2, 2022, captured Rasheem running shirtless and barefoot through a remote wooded area. As of Final Call press time, no further answers have been given to his family.
“(Taylorsville) is a sundown town, surrounded by two other sundown towns. It’s where the KKK have openly marched and terrorized Black people, and not too long ago, they found a Black man hanging in front of a yard, and nothing was done about that,”
Mr. Bridges said of a February 8, 2018, incident that found a young Black man hanging from a tree in Scott County, a neighboring jurisdiction about 40 miles North of Taylorsville. The death at that time was ruled a suicide by local law enforcement.
“That family won a lawsuit, but nobody ever went to jail, so it’s just a long history of racism and cover-ups,” Mr. Bridges said. “You get a bad feeling as soon as you get into (Taylorsville). It feels like you’ve walked back in time, and the Black people of the city just sort of keep their heads down and get along to get by.
But there’s no independent thinking, independent actions that stand against the racism, the racist laws, or the treatment of Black and Brown people by the Taylorsville police and community,” he explained.
Having retained the services of civil rights attorney Ben Crump in the wake of Rasheem’s strange and unusual 2022 death, family members maintain that the investigation is being sandbagged to prevent the truth from being known. Arthur Reed, an investigator for Atty.
Crump’s law firm, told The Final Call that over the year since Rasheem’s death, the firm strongly believes it was from homicide and that they are dedicated to seeing justice served.
“We have troubling relationships with Mississippi authorities when it comes down to people of color that die under suspicious circumstances, so we continue to try to unravel Mississippi as America has been trying to unravel the evil (in) Mississippi for years,” Mr. Reed said. He also described a deafening wall of silence surrounding both local law enforcement and residents in Taylorsville.
Speaking on behalf of Tiffany Carter, Rasheem’s mother, Mr. Reed said she is one of the strongest women he has ever seen and that she believes her son’s death is a murder where obstacles have been intentionally placed by unknown parties to protect the guilty. Mr. Reed also said an unknown hearse shadowed their every movement during the remembrance procession, often speeding by march participants.
“When it comes down to the community, it’s definitely been quiet,” Mr. Reed explained of what he described as a climate of fear and silence that continues gripping the town’s residents. “When we’re in Taylorsville, we get that old 1940s retrospect from individuals that live there: ‘Yall gonna go back home, while we’re still gonna have to be here,’
And we think that that fear has those individuals (uncooperative) because it’s almost like going to tell what you think happened, or what you may know happened, to the very people that you know are associated with the crime,” he explained. As of Final Call press time, a $50,000 reward hasn’t encouraged anyone to break the silence or come forward in the Carter case.
Contradictions and its fallout in Georgia
Regarding the bizarre disappearance and death of Steven Lamond Johnson, 24, who was on probation in Macon, Georgia, the month of October marked a time of intense sadness and cries for justice among his family. Constituting an endless looping nightmare over the last 23 years, his mother, Renee McGhee, told The Final Call that she left the city after her son’s death, and alleges that false narratives and corruption still surround what she believes was an “in-custody death” of her oldest child and father of her grandson.
According to documents obtained by The Final Call, probation officers Roger Stembridge (now deceased), and Dale Freeney said in a Community Corrections Division Incident Report, dated October 11, 2000, and affirmed by Chief Greg Jones of the Macon Probation Office, October 20, 2000, and submitted to Internal Investigations within the Georgia Department of Corrections, October 23, 2000, stated that Steven Johnson tested positive for marijuana and was immediately arrested inside the probation office.
The accompanying memo and incident report said Steven Johnson was searched, handcuffed, and taken to a state vehicle “to be transported to the local jail” when he broke free and ran away. “A search was made of the area with the help of police,” their statement read in part (see The Final Call Vol. 43 No. 6).
Mr. Johnson’s handcuffed body was later found in the Ocmulgee River near downtown Macon, on October 16, 2000. He was reportedly serving the last day of a six-month intensive supervision probation program the day he allegedly fled from custody. Officer Stembridge’s written statement, signed October 11, 2000, said he escaped after 5 p.m., October 10, 2000, but witnesses, including former Macon police officer Joseph Calloway, who participated in the search, said a fellow officer, Chris Bartlett, announced over the radio that Steven Johnson was apprehended around 2:35 p.m., that same day. Mr. Calloway’s statement also said, “about 15:15 hours (3:15 p.m.), the radio room operator announced that all officers that were not involved with the incident, to leave the scene and make way for the coroner.”
As documented in a private investigator’s affidavit, another witness, claiming to be 20–30 yards from Mr. Johnson’s capture, said he saw several officers savagely beating a prone and handcuffed Steven Johnson until he stopped moving and was thrown into the river. Mr. Johnson’s reported marijuana use, facilitating his arrest and subsequent death, was proven false on October 17, 2000, when the official toxicology report, conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Division of Forensic Sciences, said Steven Johnson tested negative for drugs.
“The date that Roger Stembridge came to my house and stated that he’d lost my son downtown in handcuffs, was October 10,2000, around 6:15 p.m.,” Ms. McGhee told The Final Call in a telephone interview. She also stated that she has never forgotten the call she received when his body was found in the river, Monday, October 16, 2000. “When I went to the area, the first thing I was told was that they found a body, and it was Steve,” she said.
“It’s a hemorrhage, it’s like you’re still bleeding, it’s like you bleed for years and it doesn’t stop,” Ms. McGhee said of the pain of not getting answers over what really happened to her son 23 years ago. “It’s a wound, a wound unhealed because there is no justice, so how can you heal when you’re still shedding blood for justice for your child?”
Ms. McGhee, also said her grief was doubled when her grandson, Rashaad Jones, 26, Steven’s son, was killed in late January in a purported car accident after fleeing the Georgia State Patrol. In a media release, dated January 25 this year, the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office said the driver disobeyed a “no turn on red sign” around 12:46 a.m., and after refusing to stop, led the deputy on a brief vehicle pursuit where he lost control, went airborne, overturned, and struck a tree before being pronounced dead at the scene. Ms. McGhee said the statements of Bibb County officers have no credibility in her eyes and alleges that her grandson was targeted and killed as her son was targeted and killed.
Where to turn for justice?
Jonathan R. Burrs is an advocate for Renee McGhee. He became acquainted with her through the Kendrick Johnson Foundation (no relation to Steven Johnson, see The Final Call Vol. 43 No. 2) and told The Final Call that most of what he has heard regarding law enforcement in Bibb County is that of abuse and corruption, tolerated from the highest levels of state and local government. He also said this was the basis for forwarding the Steven Johnson case and others to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“I feel like it was important because there is an ongoing pattern in the United States and in these Southern states primarily,” Mr. Burrs explained. “You have these egregious cases, outrageous horrific cases, of police murder and cover-up, throughout law enforcement and the judicial system, and Georgia and Mississippi just seem to be two of the states (where) there is so much evidence of corruption, and there doesn’t seem to be any accountability. You can go back 70 years and it’s the same pattern, so to me, that’s policy in the United States, it’s not just a one-off or a two-off, it’s policy,” he insisted.
During the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours’ Day Convention, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan in his keynote address, “The Intensifying Universal Cry for Justice,” webcast live from Christ Universal Temple in Chicago, on February 22, 2015, said that divine judgment was upon America because its wickedness was no longer confined to itself, creating near 100 percent dissatisfaction among the people of the earth.
“As it was, Matthew 24:37 teaches, in the days of Noah, so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man,” Minister Farrakhan said. “Is it like that today? What was it like in the ‘days of Noah?’ The scripture teaches in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 6, verse 5 that ‘every imagination of the peoples’ hearts was to do evil.’
How about America today? A robbery every 15 seconds? A murder every 30 seconds? Murder, robbery, rape and racist killing, and our own fratricidal conflict killing one another: This doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus! It doesn’t have anything to do with Prophet Muhammad,” the Minister said in part.
“The Will of God is not being done today in any country, including the holiest places of Christianity and Islam, and Judaism; so, we can go from Jerusalem to Mecca, to Medinah, to Rome—to wherever you think is a ‘holy place,’ it has been defiled,” Minister Farrakhan explained.
“And those of us who think that we are ‘holy’ because we like to put on robes, and strut like peacocks in front of the ignorant as though we are ‘holy’: You have never been holy! Even if you tried, you haven’t made it! So let us disabuse ourselves of the arrogance of self-righteousness, and the hypocrisy of it! There is none righteous, no not one. That’s what the Book says!”