Civil rights advocates issued a “call to action” Monday, urging people from Atlanta and other cities across the state to join a protest for justice Saturday in Sylvania. The “Justice Caravan for Julian Lewis” is to “demand the release” of police video and to bring awareness and change regarding police use of force. Lewis was killed Aug. 7 during a traffic stop by a Georgia state trooper who has been since fired and charged with murder.
Civil rights attorney Francys Johnson is slated to host a virtual press conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. with “community organizers, attorneys, faith leaders, and family members” announcing and discussing the event. However, Johnson and Atlanta attorney Mawuli Davis held a Zoom meeting earlier this week, livestreamed to Black Lives Matter and other closed groups, discussing the plans for the “call to action.” During that virtual meeting, Johnson urged “those who stand in solidarity” with Black Lives Matter and similar organizations to share the video and spread the word about the gathering “before you hear it in the news.”
Davis said he would lead a large caravan of protesters from Atlanta to Sylvania Saturday. Johnson said during the meeting that “all eyes are on Screven County,” while Davis said “all roads lead to Sylvania.” He said people from Macon, Augusta, Savannah, Brunswick and “all points in between” are expected to join the march.
According to a statement Johnson released Tuesday, the Zoom meeting is being held Wednesday to make people “aware of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Lewis’s killing on August 7 by State Trooper Jacob Thompson.” Thompson was denied bond 10 days after a bond hearing Sept. 1 in front of Screven County Superior Court Judge Gates Peed.
During the virtual meeting slated for today, Lewis’ family and supporters “will be demanding the release of audio/video footage” of the traffic stop that led to Lewis’ shooting and will call for “the adoption of a statewide standard for use of force,” the statement read.
Thompson tried to stop Lewis Aug. 7 for a broken tail light. When Lewis did not stop, instead motioning to the trooper and using both turn signals, gaining speed of about 65 mph, Thompson performed a PIT (pursuit intervention technique) maneuver on Lewis' car, causing him to crash into a ditch. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent testified during a bond hearing that “within one second of placing his patrol car in park, the trooper fired his weapon, striking Mr. Lewis in the forehead and killing him,” Johnson’s statement read.
“We welcome the support of Georgians and citizens across the country to South Georgia for this important gathering for justice for Julian Lewis. We look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with community members who want change in Georgia,” he said.
Johnson is serving as co-counsel for the Lewis family, along with Davis.
“This family, this community, this case deserves our attention, energy, and presence. We need to be in Sylvania, Georgia, this Saturday and going forward,” Davis said.
Both Johnson and Davis stressed during the video livestreamed Monday that the event is expected to be peaceful and “loving.” They also encouraged COVID-19 safety precautions.
“All participants are encouraged to wear masks and gloves and engage in social distancing throughout the caravan and rally,” Johnson said in his statement.
While local law enforcement expect the event to be peaceful, they are prepared in case anyone is violent, destructive or otherwise breaks the law.
“We have a jail and will put them in it,” said Screven County Sheriff Mike Kile.
He said he spoke with Johnson Tuesday and foresees no trouble. He said Johnson predicted a crowd of around 600 that is expected to go to Statesboro after the Sylvania event. The rally at the Sylvania City Hall at 1 p.m. Saturday will be followed by a sheriff’s escort to the Stoney Pond Road location where Lewis died. Then “they are headed to Bulloch County,” where another rally is planned at the Bulloch County Courthouse, Kile said.
Bulloch County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Bill Black said there will be extra patrol Saturday. Both Statesboro police Chief Mike Broadhead and Georgia State Patrol Lt. J. Lacienski said officers and troopers expect a peaceful event but will be alert in case of any disturbance.
Johnson did not return calls Tuesday from the Statesboro Herald seeking comment on the video meeting between himself and Davis that was livestreamed to select audiences Monday announcing the caravan “before you hear it on the news.”
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.