Trigger Warning for graphic descriptions of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and police violence.
In Illinois, a sheriff’s deputy for Lake County has been arrested on charges of attempted sexual assault while armed and false imprisonment while armed, in neighboring Kenosha County. Both crimes are felonies. Jack Johnson (left) allegedly harassed, sexually assaulted, and physically restrained an ex-girlfriend while she was at work. He is currently on administrative leave and in jail with $5,000 bail for his alleged crimes:
According to a criminal complaint, Johnson went into the cell phone store in Twin Lakes about 10:45 a.m. to talk to the clerk, a former girlfriend.
The woman said Johnson had called earlier about a broken cell phone, but when he came into the store he insisted they resume their relationship, despite his marriage and her engagement.
“What’s it matter? It’s just a piece of paper,” Johnson reportedly said.
The woman said Johnson repeatedly asked her to kiss him and promised to leave if she just “gave him what he wanted.”
After suggesting a coin toss to settle the matter — “heads he gets what he wants, tails he’ll leave me alone,” the woman told police — but finding he had no coin, Johnson allegedly suggested a game of rock, paper, scissors, then said he’d leave the woman alone if she hugged him, the complaint says.
Johnson then admitted to “stalking me for months,” the woman said, including stopping at the store for weeks to try to see her; she was not there.
When Johnson again promised to leave in exchange for a hug, the woman said she hugged him briefly. Johnson, who was wearing his deputy’s uniform, including a bulletproof vest and gun, then asked to use the restroom. As the woman tried to get back to work, Johnson said a pipe was broken in the bathroom.
When the woman went to investigate, she said “he grabbed both my wrists up by my chest, blocking the doorway.” He also exposed himself, the woman said.
After Johnson let the woman out of the bathroom, she said he grabbed her and tried to put his hand down her pants. He also said he wanted to handcuff her.
Surveillance video reportedly shows Johnson opening and closing handcuffs and grabbing the woman’s hair.
Yet again, we have a case of a police officer using his status as a cop to bully, harass, assault, and detain a woman whose body he feels entitled to. If anything is unusual about the story, it’s the fact that the victim felt safe going to the police with a complaint of sexual assault by another officer, and was seemingly taken seriously and actively encouraged by investigators throughout the process. It’s of course good and important that they did so, but the fact remains that by the time the victim was filing a report, anything the officers did at that point was harm reduction. Damage had already been done on the force’s behalf. Responding appropriately is vital, but it’s not enough on its own.
I feel like I have been writing an awful lot, lately, about police officers using their positions of authority as a means to commit abuse, and specifically with regards to sexual violence. I’m not actively seeking out these stories — they’re finding me, whether it be through links that people send to me, or what comes up when I look for the latest news stories about gender-based violence. I choose to keep writing about them not because they’re fun or because I really enjoy repeating myself, but both because I think it’s really important to emphasize the magnitude of the problem, and because a couple of really important things need to be made clear.
Firstly, the issue of police violence is not one that should be centered on individuals. The individual police officers who commit violence are always 100% responsible for their actions, and deserve to be held accountable just as much as anyone else. Indeed, I actually think they have more accountability, due to the power that was abused as a part of their crimes. Further, some abusive police officers undoubtedly would have abused regardless of whether or not they ever wore a badge. Johnson here, particularly, strikes me as someone who likely would have engaged in harassment and assault whether or not he was in uniform, and then proceeded to use his role as a police officer to his advantage.
But a good number of abusive police officers — again, who are entirely responsible for their violence against others, no matter what their reasons for committing it — probably didn’t join the police force because they actively desired to beat or kill black men, or sexually harass and threaten and assault trans women, or use violent force against people with disabilities. Systemic problems within the force, combined with social oppression and prejudice that is present virtually everywhere, taught them that these things were acceptable, or even necessary. The gift of state power combined with public reverence for it has taught them that they have a right to abuse the same marginalized people they are supposed to protect. And taking one cop who took those lessons to heart out of the force is important, but it won’t solve the problem — because there will always be another officer who has been trained within that same system to take his or her place. Bigger things, much bigger things, need to change.
Secondly, while there are many, many systemic problems that work to create abusers, it’s important to remember that a good number of abusive officers were already abusive when they became cops. Plenty abused prior to joining, or had plans to use their state power to abuse from the very beginning. Yet, while the law enforcement system did not create these abusers, this is still a systemic issue for law enforcement.
I’ve made it clear in the past as well as in this post that I don’t buy into the “rotten apple” theory of police violence. I think it’s false, deliberately misleading, and incredibly dangerous. But if we were to ignorantly accept it as fact — and insofar as it is true that many abusive cops would have turned out to be abusive people regardless of whether or not they ever joined the force, or joined the force specifically to have an opportunity to abuse — we really need to acknowledge why exactly it is that so many individuals who want to commit violence are gravitating towards a career in law enforcement. We need to recognize that this is not an accident, and that it’s about more than access to a gun, but also about access to extraordinary, unquestioned, and undeserved power. It’s also about expanded access to a litany of excuses and justifications for their violence. We have to take notice of the fact that when so many abusers want to work for your institution and use it as a cover-up for their violence, you are doing something wrong. You are doing something to attract them, and to tell them that with you, they will be safe and supported.
This isn’t about rotten apples. Jack Johnson is not an abnormality, and neither are his crimes. This is about our system of law enforcement, and the violence, unquestioned authority, and sense of entitlement that it breeds among officers as an implicit part of the package.
Thanks to s.e. smith for the head’s up.