Kendrick Johnson was found dead earlier this year, wrapped up in a wrestling mat at a high school in Valdosta, Ga. The young African American athlete had suffocated after falling head-first into the standing mat, officials say. Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, the deceased’s parents, do not accept the official report that their son’s death was merely an accident, however; they claim that there has been a lack of transparency and expediency in the examination of Kendrick’s death, and that protocol was not properly followed in the investigation. The family’s attorney has also suggested that a lack of professionalism in the investigation may be due to racial prejudice.
The 17-year-old died in January, but the final coroner’s report wasn’t issued until months later. Though Georgia law prescribes that the case’s coroner, Bill Watson, should be informed immediately, he was not notified of Kendrick’s death until six hours after it had been discovered. What’s more, the young man’s body had been moved before the coroner arrived at the scene. The Johnsons have expressed their frustration over these issues, and the coroner agreed that his investigation was compromised because of them.
Investigators concluded that the teenager accidentally fell head-first into the mat and died after the blood had rushed to his head. There were lacerations on Kendrick’s face, but officials say this was probably due to attempts that the young man may have made to get out of the mat. The local sheriff’s office maintains that their investigation was done thoroughly, concluding that there wasn’t evidence to support a homicide after interviewing more than 100 students at the high school. They also deny that race was a factor in the investigation.
Kenneth and Jacquelyn have begun rallying in their community, protesting that the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office mishandled the investigation of their son’s death. They claim that there should have been more thorough examination of the cause of death, which was pronounced to be an accident within one day of the incident. The family doubts that their athletic son died in this kind of an accident and suspects that it may have been a homicide. Several members in the community are rallying with them in their cause, calling it a fight for justice.
One would hope that prejudice did not influence the investigation of Kendrick Johnson’s death. Although times have changed and racial equality is now promoted in the public sphere, Georgia is no stranger to racial tension. Much of the south, in general, still lacks integration. Though there may not be ill-will toward one another, social gatherings and even churches are often predominantly comprised of people with similar ethnic backgrounds. This is sad to see, especially in the Christian community.
God rejoices in His creation, and is purposeful in all that He has made (see Psalm 139:13-16). He is glorified by the unique expressions of worship from people of every race who have been redeemed by His Son, and those in Christ ought to be the first to strive for unity and for diversity in their churches and communities. Revelation 7:9-17 paints a beautiful picture of Heaven, where believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation will rejoice together in the Lord for all of eternity. If Kendrick Johnson’s race influenced the investigation of his death, then his family’s fight for justice is a painful reminder that we aren’t there yet.