I remember the story quite well – a big, splashy Sunday spread that dominated every other article of the day. It was about a slick young man, described as being bright and intelligent, and his passionate quest to graduate from high school instead of following both his father and grandfather as acknowledged drug dealers.
“I want to walk across the stage and feel good about myself and do something with my life,” Jumoke Johnson Jr. told a reporter from the Chattanooga Times Free Press in the May 6, 2012 edition, who next wrote, “But six days before graduation, he sits behind bars after being sent to jail Friday by Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge Christine Mann Sell, who was convinced by prosecutors that Jumoke is a danger to society.”
The rest of the story? Earlier this week the same Jamoke Johnson Jr., just six weeks after his 20th birthday, was among “the worst of the worst” when 32 people were indicted on federal charges in Chattanooga on a wide-ranging host of felony charges. Jamoke Johnson has appeared in court so many times since the glowing Sunday article appeared 18 months ago his current tab in the Criminal Court Clerk’s office is now over $5,300 and counting.
Judge Sell was roundly criticized by the media when she doubled Johnson’s bond before he graduated but she explained it was mandated by state law. She was also not surprised he was constantly in trouble, his Jekyll-and-Hyde personality shielding a very violent string of assault charges, selling crack and cocaine, and constant rumors of gang leadership.
Understand, I am not second-guessing anyone nor am I pointing a finger at a soul. Hindsight is always 20/20 but after another article appeared in the same newspaper this week, evoking public pity for another of the “worse of the worse” for his brokering of a short-lived truce between gang members who shoot one another, it may be time for the courts and those who deal with criminals to do what they do best instead of listening to the bleeding hearts who claim they “only want to help.”
Jumoke Johnson, Jr., has faced at least 18 different felony charges since the big Sunday article appeared, according to court records, but now it is believed the federal charges, involving firearms violations and conspiracy charges, will put him and other criminals away for some time. And with the mayor’s office pressing his High Point Initiative, police officials have indicated more indictments and arrests are almost a certainty.
"These are not first-time felons, these are people who are involved, and that's why I'm excited to get them off the streets," said Mayor Andy Berke. “Either they get out of a bad lifestyle or they choose to continue committing crimes. If they commit violence in our society, they're going to be punished for it."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Poole said that most of those indicted would be off the streets for some time. "It will depend on each person's criminal history, but it's at least 10 years to life if convicted as charged," he stated.
Police Chief Bobby Dodd explained under federal law, "The sentencing is stronger and then you're going to do 85 percent of that as well. We're hoping the immediate impact of those 32 people coming off the street is going to be amazing to the safety of Chattanooga," adding that more arrests will come. “It's a follow-through. It's one of the first steps we're taking in tying this in with the High Point Initiative.”
As the new methods of enforcement and cooperation between agencies are enhanced, quicker arrests, trials and jail sentences will make the city even safer. Jumoke Johnson Jr. and others like him should have been put away long ago.