COMMENTARY: Former Gwinnett County youth leader Antoine Johnson was given a life sentence by Superior Court Judge Timothy Hamil for molesting two boys ages 13 and 14 and attempting to lure a third child in 2008. Johnson was a former intern and summer camp organizer at Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, Ga., the Gwinnett Daily Post reports. Judge Hamil characterized what Antoine Johnson did to these children was “absolutely diabolical.” The evidence included a taped interview, in which Johnson mimics the falsetto voice he used as “Kristen” while talking to boys, the newspaper reports. Many kids have been violated by people in positions of trust from as far back as I can remember. All through history from the days of slavery, when slave-owners raped women and girls, many being impregnated in the process, right down the line to present-day. It is sick and despicable and leaves a trail of mental anguish for many years to come.
On a personal note, I was called for jury duty on Monday and boy was I pissed off. Yes, I know that’s my civic duty as an American but I was more bothered that it would disrupt my daily life and could force me outside my comfort zone. That it did. As luck would have it, or the lack thereof, I was selected for a trial. I had no idea what type of case it was, but since it was a Superior Court case, I knew there was a good chance that it could be a criminal case and it was. When we entered the court room, the defendant and I made eye contact. He was a tall, strapping black man, who had a smug look on his face. I’m not sure if he was being cocky or confident. Don’t know, but I didn’t want to be on that jury. What I didn’t bargain for was the fact this case was about to stir up feelings of pain that I hid in the very fabric of my being for so long.
Judge Ural Glanville took the bench shortly after 3 p.m. and court was brought to order. He introduced himself and did some housekeeping activities before telling us what the case was all about. It involved a sex crime — the defendant had been accused of burglary and sodomy. Once I heard the word sodomy, I was gripped with fear because I would have to relive some painful memories. Right then I realized I was not the juror the prosecution or the defense was looking for. Why? I had been molested as a child by a woman and my father’s friend, Jimmy Harding, who has since died, tried but I was able to get away from him. I wasn’t the juror either side wanted and I knew it. It brought back a lot of memories for me and I was deeply saddened and troubled. You see, I never acknowledged what my father’s friend did to my mother until this year, when I turned 45. I haven’t told her about Althea and what she did.
Children are vulnerable and the people you least expect can try to take their innocence and send them in a tailspin for years. When I looked at the defendant, I saw the two people who victimized me and, boy did I hate him for nearly two days because of what he represented to me. I don’t know if this woman is alive or dead. I don’t even know if I could confront her about what she did when I was nine. I know it left me struggling with my identity for many years because I knew what she did wasn’t supposed to happen. It was wrong and I felt dirty, but I grew up in a society where children were to be seen and not heard. Discussions about sex were taboo in my household, so how could I have told my parents what happened to me. I went through life being seen and not heard. My parents and I didn’t have that “talk.” But that’s for another commentary.
As an adult, the past has had an impact on me. There were many times when I had something to say about a particular issue, and I just couldn’t bring myself to speak. I have kept so much inside that there were times when I felt I was going explode or implode, depending on the situation. Child molestation is real and it has far-reaching effects and implications for victims. I watch my kids like a hawk because I don’t want them to go through what I did. The incident and the pain that follows.
There are some things you remember vividly from childhood and I remember both incidents clearly. I blamed myself for a long time because I went to these people willingly. I went because I trusted both and never imagined in a million years that they would have taken advantage of me, a mere child. After all, Jimmy Harding was my father’s good friend. They used to go fishing and hunting together. We visited his home and he visited ours. Althea was also well-known to us. She was the housekeeper for our neighbor. We weren’t as close to her employer as we were to Jimmy Harding, but we knew them quite well.
During the jury selection process, I was asked by the prosecutor about my views on sex crimes. It took a lot for me to be candid. I told her I had been molested by a woman and managed to get away from a male family friend’s advances. Then she asked me if I could be impartial in the case against the defendant and I said no. I know people are wrongfully accused of crimes every day, some languishing in prison for decades, but I also know that many children, men and women are also the victims of sex crimes and their attackers are often people you least expect like Althea, Jimmy Harding, Jerry Sandusky, and Antoine Johnson. On that basis, I couldn’t sit on a jury and judge this defendant having been the victim myself. I don’t know what transpired after I left, but instead of feeling relieved I was dismissed, I felt sadness . I felt sadness at the memories of what happened to me as a child and how those acts shaped me as an adult on so many levels. Sadness at what this victim must be going through. Sadness indeed.
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