Assault charge dismissed against confederacy supporter who harassed Black elected official, sang ‘Dixie’

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer of Memphis was repeatedly taunted by George Johnson, who allegedly harassed her at her home and threatened to beat her up.

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An assault charge against an open confederacy supporter who agitated a Black Memphis, Tennessee, elected official and sang “Dixie” as she addressed media last year have been dismissed. 

George Johnson was charged with harassment and faced a non-jury trial after an incident last June, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, in which Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer was giving remarks to the media about potentially exhuming the bodies of confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest. 

This photo from June 4, 2021 shows Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer (foreground) addressing the media while pro-confederate protester George Johnson (background) attempts to interrupt. (Photo: Screenshot/Twitter)

Sawyer, an activist elected in 2018 who has worked for years to have confederate monuments removed around the county, was taunted by Johnson, a well-known supporter of confederate history. 

Throughout the press conference, he stood behind her and loudly sang “Dixie,” the minstrel-era anthem of the South. Waving a confederate flag, Johnson also told Sawyer, “If you were a man, I’d beat your a**” and frequently called her a “communist.” 

On Thursday, Shelby County General Sessions Court Judge Dean Dedmon dismissed an assault charge against Johnson after the third request from defense attorney Steve Farese. Prosecuting attorney Andrew Haysaked had asked Dedmon to look at the totality of the case, including previous allegations of harassment. 

Sawyer maintains that Johnson has harassed her at her home. A January video shows Johnson and an unidentified person offering Sawyer’s address to individuals eager to mail her items linked to slavery, reported The Commercial Appeal.

Judge Dedmon noted that the case was a contradiction of Johnson’s First Amendment protections versus Sawyer’s “reasonable fear against bodily harm.” 

“The issue is, ‘What would show reasonable threat of imminent harm?” Dedmon asked in court, contending that what actually constitutes harm for each of them could differ. He also warned Johnson to keep his distance from Sawyer.

Afterward, Sawyer noted that the outcome of the case — which was conducted by a white judge, defense attorney and prosecutor — illustrated the need for representation in the legal system. 

“The question in America,” said Sawyer, “is can a white man understand what’s reasonable for a Black woman in the South? Is what happened today a win for the defendant? Sure. But it’s also proof about what it looks like to be a party in a system that doesn’t represent you.”

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