An Inclusive Litany


When Raynard Johnson, a seventeen-year-old African American, was found hanging from a tree in his front yard in Kokomo, Mississippi, his parents declared that he had been lynched. Jesse Jackson came to lead marches in the area, and claimed that the honor student was killed by racists angry over his relationship with two white girls. Janet Reno called in the FBI, characterizing Mrs. Johnson as "a very courageous lady" for seeking justice in the case.

But state investigators and a nationally recognized pathologist had concluded that since there were no tell-tale marks of struggle on the body, the boy had committed suicide—the third most common cause of death for teenagers and young adults. Johnson had just broken up with his girlfriend. His parents prevented police from searching his hard disk in search of a suicide note or other evidence. The FBI agreed with local authorities that Johnson had almost certainly committed suicide.

The Washington Post's otherwise ample coverage offered only perfunctory mention of the official autopsy findings, followed by a discussion of President Clinton's proposals for new federal hate-crimes legislation. CBS referred to Johnson as "the victim" rather than using a more neutral term such as "the deceased," and aired groundless speculation from Johnson's friends on what the supposed killers' motives might be. ABC's "20/20" devoted a lengthy segment to the case, which mentioned the official findings only in its final seconds. Even then, that was followed by a new allegation from a family friend that he had seen a bruise on the back of Johnson's neck that might indicate strangulation. Though the report made much of the Johnson family's decision to request a second autopsy from an "independent" pathologist, it aired before the second autopsy confirmed the first's finding of suicide.

[Ed.: At about the same time, President Clinton awarded Jesse Jackson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In addition to all his other activities shaking down corporations and the Democratic Party, Jackson has befriended numerous dictators and terrorists, including Fidel Castro, Omar Torrijos, and Yasser Arafat. More recently, he has allied himself with Charles Taylor of Liberia and Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone, who unleashed gangs of murderous thugs on their people.]

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