Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Strange Fruit

"Strange Fruit hangin' from the poplar trees," sang Billie Holiday back in 1939.

Consider Raynard Johnson, killed in 2000. 17 years old. Said to be dating a white girl. Found by his daddy, a belt around his neck. His feet on the ground, his knees bent. Hanging from a pecan tree in the front yard. His body still warm.

"...the tree branch was not high enough off the ground for his six-foot, one-inch frame." say the United Methodist Women, who have been tracking these killings for years.

He was hung with somebody else's belt. Raynard had only one belt, and it was in his closet.

Raynard's death hit the news bigtime. Jesse Jackson came to Kokomo, MS. The FBI did, too. The FBI decided it was a suicide.

Here's what the FBI missed: (But the United Methodist Women didn't.)

The Tree where Raynard Johnson was found hanging, Photo: Sandra Peters"Police in Kokomo, Miss., were too quick to label the June 16 death of 17-year-old Raynard Johnson a suicide, say local organizers, including United Methodists, who are seeking investigation of what they say looks like a lynching.

The organizers, accompanied by United Methodist Bishop Jack Meadors of the Mississippi Area and two representatives of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, held a six-mile prayer-and-justice march July 7 in near 100-degree weather in an effort to bring the teen’s death to national attention and to give the boy’s family an opportunity to tell their story.

While official reports have focused on autopsy results and a statement from one young woman who said she ended a relationship with Raynard Johnson the day of his death, the dead teen’s family and neighbors say events leading up to his death need attention. Those events include:

  • June 14: Two white girls who were friends of Raynard Johnson were dropped off at the Johnson’s house by someone from the deputy sheriff’s office. Raynard took the girls home.
  • Also June 14: Raynard’s brother Roger Johnson heard dogs barking because someone or something was outside the family’s house. Roger said it was a dark night. He turned off all lights in the house then went outside, gun in hand and fired gun shots into the air.
  • June 15: The next night, another disturbance set the dogs barking. Neighbors reported seeing pickup trucks with only parking lights on driving slowly past the Johnsons’ house.
  • June 16: Just after 9 p.m., Raynard Johnson went outside. It was 9:30 p.m. when his father pulled up to the house to find his son’s body hanging from a pecan tree in the front yard. The boy’s knees were slightly bent and his feet were touching the ground because the tree branch was not high enough off the ground for his six-foot, one-inch frame.
  • Before the first autopsy was complete, the coroner ruled Raynard Johnson's death a suicide.
  • The belt by which Raynard was hanging was not his. The family said he owned only one belt, which was in his closet when he died.
  • Kokomo and the neighboring community of Columbia, Miss., have been areas of white-supremacist hate-group activities. Those who joined the prayer-and-justice march walked past a bridge where the words, "Kill All N________" had been spray painted. The words remained faintly visible though law-enforcement officials had had them painted over."

Offhand, it seems quite likely that an intruder put a gun on him. A second person pulled off his own belt and garrotted him from behind. Then they tried to hang his body from the tree. But he was too heavy and tall for them to do it realistically. So his feet were on the ground. And his knees bent.

Somebody in Kokomo, Mississippi, is missing a belt.

If somebody is missing a belt, could they also be missing a little bit of their DNA?

Can we please check the belt for DNA?


There are more...

"Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop."

- - by Abel Meeropol, 1937

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