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Activists decry Grandmaster Jay’s 7-year prison sentence

NFAC Grandmaster Jay
"Grandmaster Jay" John Fitzgerald Johnson, center, photographed with members of the NFAC on Justice Plaza on Sept. 4.

Activists are criticizing the prosecution of John F. Johnson, aka “Grandmaster Jay,” on weapons charges, saying they are politically motivated. 

Johnson was sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison last week, after a jury in Louisville found him guilty of one count of assaulting, resisting or impeding officers and a separate count of brandishing a firearm in relation to a violent crime. As the founder of the NFAC Black militia, Johnson led a group of more than 200 armed individuals who participated in the 2020 protests calling for justice for Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her home by Louisville police earlier that year. 

Prosecutors said during a protest on Sept. 4, 2020 Johnson pointed a flashlight at federal agents and Louisville Metro police officers who were staged on a rooftop near Jefferson Square Park downtown. The flashlight was mounted on rifle and officers were concerned Johnson could either accidentally or intentionally fire his weapon. None of the officers drew their weapons in response. 

Johnson was arrested in Ohio months after the incident.

K. A. Owens, a co-chair of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, also participated in many of the 2020 protests centered around downtown Louisville. He told WFPL News on Monday it was unfair of prosecutors to assume any of the demonstrators knew who was perched up on rooftops. Owens said he believes prosecutors should have never filed charges against Johnson.

“Black people in America have the right to assemble and the right to bear arms,” he said. “This frightens a lot of white people to see large numbers of Black Americans. It visually threatens a lot of white people.”

Owens said many people have mischaracterized the goals of Johnson’s militia, the “Not F***ing Around Coalition.” Owens said the entire purpose is to assert Black people’s First and Second Amendment Rights.

“It is not the same, in no way as, the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, the Klan,” he said. “I think some people want to define the NFAC as some version of that. It’s not set up as a violent organization.”

Court documents show that Johnson met with city officials and local law enforcement prior to the Sept. 4 demonstration. They discussed “logistics, the route, weapon safety, etc,” according to prosecutors, and officials described him as respectful and polite.

In interviews, Johnson has said the purpose of his organization is to educate Black Americans about their rights

Following his sentencing, former Louisville Urban League president Sadiqa Reynolds posted to social media saying she believes the prosecution of Johnson is a case of “buck breaking.” She posted a definition of the term — which is used to describe the act of publicly punishing an enslaved person — along with her statement.

“This is how the government silences a community,” Reynolds wrote. “You find the one with the courage, the following, and the voice, then you break him for the world to see.”

“Shame on the DOJ,” she added.

Prior to sentencing, Johnson faced up to 20 years in prison for the charges against him. Court records show he received seven years and two months in prison for brandishing a firearm in relation to a violent crime, which has a mandatory minimum of seven years set by Congress. He received an additional two months for the other count.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.