Cleveland to pay $225K to 2016 RNC protester Gregory Johnson

Press Statement by Gregory “Joey” Johnson



Joey Johnson read this statement at a press conference on June 11, 2019 at the Chandra Law Firm in Cleveland, where the settlement was announced. See video on this page of the entire press conference.


I was the named defendant in the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case, Texas v. Johnson where I fought to establish that burning the American flag in protest was constitutionally protected speech.  

We are here to announce a settlement of my lawsuit against the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Police Division, holding them accountable for what happened here during the Republican National Convention in 2016.

As Trump was delivering his fascist message of white supremacy, “law and order,” scapegoating of immigrants, disgusting misogyny, and naked “America First” chauvinism to the Republican National Convention—outside, up against all this, the Revolution Club linked arms and I stood in the middle of the circle and lit the red, white and blue rag of imperialism on fire.  Our message to the world—“America was NEVER great!  We Need to Overthrow this System.”

Cleveland police along with other state and federal agencies launched an unjust, vicious police assault to break up our protest.  I was put in a chokehold and dragged to the ground.  Others were knocked down.  Altogether 16 Revolution Club members and other protesters were brutally arrested, dragged off to jail, and held for more than 24 hours until the RNC was over. The police repeatedly lied to the mediachanging their story about why we were arrestedin spite of videos that show clearly it was the police that assaulted and endangered the protesters.

Besides the arrest of myself, two of the arrested faced serious felony charges and years in prison and more than a dozen others faced multiple misdemeanors.  After more than a year of fighting these prosecutionsall the charges against us were either dropped or dismissed.  In fact most were dismissed after a judge held an evidentiary hearing and found that we were engaged in a lawful protestand he specifically cited Texas v. Johnson as the authority for his ruling.

Now the city of Cleveland has been forced to settle the lawsuit I brought in the wake of winning our criminal cases.  While the city has tried to minimize and deny its liability, this settlement of almost 1/4 million dollars speaks much louder than their denials.  The city settled this case because they knew our arrests and prosecution was an assault on a Supreme Court precedent that I won 30 years agoburning the American flag in protest is constitutionally protected symbolic speechin my case expressing unmistakable contempt and revulsion for what this country and government stand for.  The City was afraid to have all this come out in a trial, so they have settled.

What we did in burning the flag outside the Republican National Convention in 2016 was not only our rightit was the righteous thing to do.  I burned the flag at the RNC because it is wrong to close our eyes to the history of genocide and slavery; the wars of empire, invasions and occupations, the coups and tortureall the atrocities the U.S. has committed here and around the world.  I really believe as Bob Avakian, the leader of the revolution says, “American lives are NOT more important than other people’s lives.”

I and others in the Revolution Club—and we urge others to join with usare urgently working for the day when this empire can no longer terrorize and oppress the people of the world.  I plan to donate generously to ways that will further bring that closer.

I want to thank all the attorneys involved in this case, who from their own perspectives saw this case as an important fight to take up.  The National Lawyers Guild, (their coordinators Jacqueline Green and Sarah Gelsomino), who together with the NAACP organized 40 volunteer attorneys that represented the RNC16 defendants, my criminal defense attorney, Andrea Whitaker, and of course the attorneys who brought this suit from The Chandra Law Firm, Subodh Chandra and Patrick Kabat.  And I am also encouraging others arrested with me at the RNC to also file suit against the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Police Division.


Press conference at Chandra Law Firm in Cleveland on June 11 to announce the settlement






Subodh Chandra, civil rights attorney:

“Instead of protecting RNC protestors’ constitutional rights, Cleveland police stalked them, literally extinguished their speech rights, and then arrested and prosecuted them—violating 30-year-old Supreme Court precedent taught to school children.”

Jacqueline Greene, partner at the law firm of Friedman & Gilbert and co-coordinator of the Ohio Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild

Jacqueline’s statement detailed how in preparation for the 2016 RNC in Cleveland, the Ohio NLG organized 100s of volunteers, people from Cleveland, the state and across the country.  She described how over 40 lawyers from the NLG, from the Cleveland branch of the NAACP, and from private practice worked hard for over a year to defend against the sham prosecution of Joey Johnson and the RNC 16.  Jacqueline concluded:

“And as we stand here today, it’s clear that the charges against the RNC16, including Joey Johnson, were politically motivated. The Ohio Chapter of the NLG stands with movement workers, activists, and demonstrators, who exercise their constitutionally protected rights, and remains committed to defending those who are falsely charged for exercising those rights, as Joey was.  Cracking down on people who express dissent is an egregious attack on democracy that cannot be tolerated.  This settlement in Joey Johnson’s case represents a clear acknowledgement that the arrests, jailing and prosecution of the RNC16 were illegal.

“The Ohio NLG congratulates Joey Johnson and thanks him and his attorneys and all of the RNC16 for their dedication and hard work in holding the city of Cleveland accountable.”


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