Law enforcement addresses expected protest at Lowndes Co. graduation

Law enforcement addresses expected protest at Lowndes Co. graduation
Brian Childress
Brian Childress

VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - Protesters were, as of Thursday, expected to be back in Valdosta demanding Lowndes High School give Kendrick Johnson a posthumous diploma at the 2015 graduation ceremony.

Johnson was found dead in a rolled up gym mat at the school in January 2012.

Five members of "commUNITY Atlanta" were arrested for criminal trespass in April after coming to the school to protest and subsequently refusing to leave the board of education office.

As of Thursday, members of that Atlanta group and others planned to be back at the school Saturday morning. Law enforcement leaders planned to treat this protest like they did the flag demonstration at VSU in April... with a large presence of officers.

Plastic orange construction fencing surrounded Lowndes High School along Norman Dr. Thursday, part of law enforcement's preparation for the expected protest during Saturday's graduation.

"We've sat down and looked at the possibility of the potential for events and we've got contingency plans in place," said Lowndes County Sheriff's Office Lt. Stryde Jones in a phone interview with WALB.

The group wanted the school to issue Johnson an honorary diploma since 2015 is the year he would've graduated. They also want his sister, Kenyetta Johnson, to be allowed to walk at graduation. She was not allowed to walk at her own graduation because she wore Kendrick Johnson memorabilia on her graduation robe.

The protesters also wanted the school to hold a four minute moment of silence at the ceremony in honor of the four days they spent getting to the high school in April.

"We would certainly hope that everybody would respect the graduation ceremony," Lt. Jones emphasized. "There's a lot of seniors that put a lot of hard work to lead up to this day."

The Valdosta Police Department and Georgia State Patrol also planned assist with security.

Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress said he understands that many people are upset by the protest, but he said it must be allowed by law and officers were working to minimize the potential for any incidents.

"I don't care. That's a public right of way. As long as people are out there and they're peaceful, I'm going to allow it," Chief Childress explained.

Law enforcement planned to be out there as soon as graduation starts at 8 a.m. and be out there as long as necessary.

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