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Forum for Athens Candidates Marred By Racial Slurs

Democratic District 117 candidate Mokah Johnson.

Several people disrupted an online forum for Athens-area state House and Senate candidates on Monday by shouting racial slurs at Mokah Jasmine Johnson, a Black Democratic candidate for House District 117.

From Zachary Perry, who’s running against Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) for the District 46 seat representing Oconee County and part of Clarke County:

Last night I took part in a candidate forum for HD 117, HD 119, and SD 46Unfortunately, this meeting was interrupted…

Posted by Zachary Perry on Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Johnson addressed the verbal attacks in her closing statement at the forum, which was organized and moderated by Oconee County journalist Lee Becker.

She also released a statement in response.

I jumped into activism because a bar in downtown Athens thought it was acceptable to put a drink name with a racial slur on the menu. When that happened, I had to stand up and demand better from the community where I chose to raise my children. 

My husband and I founded the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement. We led the effort to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance. We supplied our neighbors with resources to file discrimination complaints. And we continue to create forums for building unity and understanding.

But last night, I encountered the same brazen, racist hate again. At the start of a virtual public forum for Oconee County residents, an unidentified participant called me a “nigger” and told me to “shut up” before I was even introduced. I left the call briefly while the moderator dealt with the disruption. 

Racism and hate are part of politics. I know some people will not accept me or vote for me, just because I am Black. Some of my future constituents may think of me as nigger. But I am not afraid of this. I will not allow hate to stop me from standing up, from speaking out on issues that shape this community, such as protecting public education and demanding justice for Black lives.

This isn’t the first time I’ve confronted hate during this election. I launched my campaign with a rally to #UniteAgainstHate after my opponent voted against a bipartisan hate crimes bill. To make matters worse, he then voted to increase protections for Confederate monuments and block local governments from moving them. In response to the horrific killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, I led a peaceful protest in downtown Athens for thousands of people demanding justice for Black lives.

For months, I’ve been fighting back against racist and deceitful smear campaigns run by my opposition and his allies. I’ve faced racialized personal insults and birther attacks from people targeting me simply because I am a Black woman standing up for justice and seeking public office. I have asked my opponent to set the record straight and condemn these attacks from his supporters, but he has remained silent.

This isn’t just about someone disrupting a Zoom call. It’s about the integrity of our leaders—from Donald Trump to Houston Gaines—they fail us time and time again by remaining silent when their constituents are targeted with hate. They could make all the difference by speaking out, but instead choose to let racism fester in our society. 

I believe we deserve a leader who will prioritize human lives over monuments. A leader who doesn’t allow fuel to be added to the fire of division and hatred. A leader who will stand up to hate directed at the people they represent. 

Join me at the UGA Arch this Saturday at 12 p.m. for a rally to “Stand Up To Racism.” Let’s be clear that we will not accept vicious, hate-filled attacks in our community. Instead, we will continue to unite against hate, because the fight is not over.

Johnson’s opponent, state Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens), did not participate in the forum.