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Is Michael Johnson's Life a Black Life That Matters?

May 1, 2015

Fresh off of the heels of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the death of Michael Brown, Jr., the nation was left with the question of whether black lives matter. Institutional systems such as local government law-enforcement education and so forth had proven that black lives did not matter as much as white lives. Unfortunately more young men of color have lost their lives senselessly at the hands of law-enforcement over the last several weeks. As we speak, Baltimore is experiencing civil unrest as their response to the death of Freddy Gray is beyond palpable; the demand for justice is being heard.

As the nation struggles with the question of whether black lives matter, a question that I see is -- which black lives matter? Are the black lives that assimilate into white culture the ones that matter? Are the black lives that follow all social protocol, all criminal law and does not make white people uncomfortable the lives that matter? Last year, a Lindenwood wrestler from St. Charles, Missouri by the name of Michael L. Johnson was arrested and accused of exposing and infecting men that he had sex with with HIV. From that date to now, Michael has sat in a St. Charles County jail cell awaiting his day in court. That trial is due to start over the next few weeks, however there has been little-to-no public outcry on his behalf until recently.

As an activist who is Missourian and also works on a national level, I must ask myself why other social inequality issues have not been widely adopted under the umbrella movement of black lives matter? Why are people not screaming to the top of their lungs that the highest rates of new HIV infection or among young African-American men who have sex with men ages 13 to 24 and young Latinas ages 13 to 24? As a society are we relegating our communities of color to live in viral ghettos?

Where is all the attention for a young black man who has fallen victim to a system that has failed him? Does Michael Johnson's life matter? Johnson will soon find himself in a court of law that is weighted against him. If justice is what he is hoping to find, it will not be in a court of law.

Michael's case raises questions about how services are provided to communities of color. Who is controlling the narrative and what is being talked about? As we have conversations about this case we must ask ourselves whether or not race plays into the prosecution's decision to charge him and whether it possible for this young black man to get a fair trial. There have been and will be more Michael Johnsons in the United States. Heavily prosecuting men of color is nothing new. The difference this time is that this prosecution and trial are happening on the back porch of Ferguson, Missouri. In the end, this writer is left with the question of whether all black lives matter or only when it makes a good media story?

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