Three months before Kendrick Johnson's body was found unceremoniously disposed of on January 11, 2013 -- as though his young, Black life did not matter -- in a rolled up wrestling mat at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia, Compton, California's Kendrick Lamar released his critically-acclaimed, now classic debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city. In the former of two title tracks, Lamar vividly articulated his experience coming of age amid the tripartite pressures of peers, police, and an ever-present societal insanity, which encompassed it all. In lyric, Lamar offered this disturbing revelation of his perceptions of self and security: "For the record I recognize that I'm easily prey." Near the song's conclusion, Lamar poignantly inquired of us, "Can we live in a sane society?"
In truth, there is but one word that can properly summarize the insanities that have plagued the investigation of Kendrick Johnson's death, one word that fully conveys the unyielding injustices done to the seventeen year-old's body and his memory: madness. The case has been similarly "mad" in its adjective state meaning "completely unrestrained by reason and judgment," "incapable of being explained or accounted for," even "disordered in mind." Johnson's body was discovered lying headfirst in the center of a 6x3 foot wrestling mat. An autopsy first conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded that Johnson died of positional asphyxia, and his death was deemed accidental by the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office. A private pathologist hired by Johnson's parents, however, arrived at a starkly different conclusion. After conducting an independent autopsy, the private pathologist noted "unexplained apparent non-accidental blunt force trauma to Johnson's neck."
Blunt force trauma was not the only disturbing discovery made by the private pathologist. Also discovered? Newspapers. Yes, newspapers that had been stuffed into Johnson's corpse. After the initial autopsy, Johnson's organs were claimed to have been naturally destroyed. The prosecutor made the determination to discard Johnson's organs before returning his body. Subsequently, the funeral home determined to fill the void left in Johnson's body with newspaper. Although the Georgia Secretary of State's official statement was that the funeral home failed to follow "best practice" with Johnson's body, and that there were other materials far more suitable for filling the body, they concluded that the funeral home did not break any rules.
What has yet to be discovered is where over an hour of video footage from cameras trained on the gymnasium's entrance at the time of Johnson's death have disappeared to. Also unaccounted for are over four hours of footage on two other cameras that might reveal who else might have entered or exited the gym. Grant Fredericks, a U.S. Justice Department consultant and FBI contract instructor hired by CNN to analyze more than 290 hours of footage from 35 cameras after CNN won a suit to obtain the videos concluded that the footage had "been altered in a number of ways, primarily in image quality and likely in dropped information" and "information loss."
There, too, is the Johnson family's legal team's conclusion that at least two of the persons responsible for Johnson' death, once school peers of Johnson, are the sons of a local FBI agent.
Then there's this, the official claim by authorities that Johnson met his demise attempting to retrieve an athletic shoe that had fallen into the mat. Such a pitiful insinuation of Johnson's death brings to mind the historic castigation of Black youth. The claim draws from the same poisoned well that depicted Black youth without wit in late 19th and early 20th century caricatures placing their heads directly into the mouths of alligators and lions.
There has been great cruelty in this madness.
All of the madness surrounding Kendrick Johnson's death has been maddening, for his family, for his friends, for all who seek justice and love mercy. It is this madness, the sheer insanity of this system of injustice, which includes his peers and the police alike, that has moved Kendrick's parents to engage in civil disobedience while seeking justice for their son, actions that have caused this grieving yet committed couple to be arrested. The hallowed words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. become imperative here: "An individual...who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."
We are in this family's debt. May God strengthen them in their resolve.
Kendrick Lamar's painful testament of being easy prey amid his peers, the authorities, and an overall system of injustice proves itself a parallel narrative for Kendrick Johnson. How daunting to be the prey of such powerful predators! Yet, when placed in its proper context, while maddening, the madness surrounding this case has not been surprising. For generations, Black people have often faced a dual injury, that which is first caused by their victimization and then advanced through fleeting justice within the justice system.
Thankfully, a new investigation has been opened into Johnson's death. Let us pray that in these new attempts to seek justice for Johnson, a mad system comes to its senses.
We must not lose anymore good kids.
This post is part of the "28 Black Lives That Matter" series produced by The Huffington Post for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will shine a spotlight on one African-American individual who made headlines in 2014 -- mostly in circumstances we all wished had not taken place. This series will pay tribute to these individuals and address the underlying circumstances that led to their unfortunate outcomes. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #28BlackLives -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.