May 28, 2019
John C. Barnett II lost a brother to violence in the streets. Confronting that reality, Barnett told the Forum Tuesday, led him to forgive his brother’s killer, to start writing men he did not even know who were being held in prison, and to advocate for those believing that they have been treated unjustly by the system. This self-employed advocate now travels many states to organize people to support their neighbors as they seek justice.
On Tuesday, Barnett was coming off a victory: A black Rock Hill man had been stopped for a seat belt violation. The police officer pulled a gun. Body camera footage later gave the lie to the officer’s tale of resisting arrest. Barnett accompanied the young man’s mother to see the police chief. After the chief reviewed the evidence, charges were dropped and the officer was fired.
Perhaps not all of the cases undertaken by this self-employed activist end on a note so favorable to the aggrieved. But Barnett’s takeaway: Have an advocate at your side when dealing with authorities. Barnett seemed particularly focused on having men in this advocacy role.
Forum regular Kimsioux Montgomery, whose lawyer husband Eric works with the S.C. activist, called Barnett “fearless.”
But Barnett’s work for people facing employment discrimination issues or contested arrests may be less remembered by Forum participants than Barnett’s opposition to saggy pants.
No issue discussed at the Forum raises voices and emotions as quickly as any discussion of the inclination of some young black men to wear their pants below their waists. And no issue as reliably splits the Forum along generational lines. Are saggy pants a moral abomination? A fashion statement? A declaration of independence? A pitiable escape into conformism? Barnett’s take is that pants pulled down has its roots in the visible subservience required of slaves by their owners. Pull up your pants, Barnett told young men, if only to honor your forebears who were denied the right to do so.
In the video below, presentations begin at minute 7:10. The Q&A begins at minute 39:10.