Advocates rally in San Jose over SJSU student’s 2008 death

Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — To kick off election day — a group managed to block off a section of 11th street in downtown San Jose Tuesday night calling for justice in the death of a former San Jose State University student. 

Nearly 100 activists and supporters took over a section of 11th street — lining up large Uhaul moving trucks at the corners of East San Antonio and East San Carlos streets near San Jose State University.

Organizers say they are using the presidential election to bring awareness to the death of Gregory Johnson Jr, who was found dead at the Sigma Chi Fraternity House basement in 2008. 

“We are using the power of the election and the uncertainty people feel to kind of channel everyone together and have this moment where we are out here for Gregory Johnson, something tangible for San Jose residents, something we can all band together locally and say we want this to happen,” said Kiana Simmons, president of HERO Tent. 

“Things are really uncertain right now, we will not know the election results tonight, we may not know next week, so it’s going to be very hard the next few weeks … who knows what will happen.”

Johnson’s death was ruled a suicide after fraternity members say to have found his lifeless body in the basement of the house — but family and activists say Johnson was murdered. 

At the time university officials concluded Johnson’s death was caused by “ligature hanging.”

An FBI investigator who worked alongside the family on the case said it was being investigated as a hate crime given the fact Johnson was the only Black fraternity member living at the house at the time.

This generated a 300-page report only for the Johnson family to be barred from receiving a copy due to national security concerns, that investigator said.

Now — the case has regained notable attention with the on-going national outcry over the shootings of unarmed Black men at the hands of police officers. 

Organized by Black Outreach SJ and HERO Tent — two groups that were formed this summer in the wake of the death of George Floyd — marking Tuesday night the second demonstration at the fraternity house in the last several weeks. 

The fraternity house is now covered with large pieces of plywood all around the house for safety and security reasons — as protesting has only intensified leading up to the Election Day.

“Basically why we’re out here tonight is for Gregory Johnson and for Denise Johnson, she needs to know that there are people who care about what happened and people who want to find out the truth,” said Simmons. 

“What we really want to do is just spread the awareness more, we want more people to look into this, we want as many people as possible to think… that just doesn’t make sense.”

Sigma Chi Fraternity house located on 10th street near San Jose State University in San Jose, Ca.

Simmons tells KRON4 News the groups reached out to current fraternity members to try and engage in conversations over the details in the death of Johnson and to see if the members wanted be a part of their efforts.

“I think it’s really important for all of us to know that they’re not the villains, especially these current members, they were not the ones who did this to Gregory, however, they have the responsibility to make it right,” said Simmons. 

Throughout the entire event several current Sigma Chi Fraternity members joined in on the demonstration — including painting an extensive mural to commemorate Johnson. 

A mural of Gregory Johnson Jr painted by current Sigma Chi member Cody Millard.

“It’s something that a lot of us kind of had ideas about for a long time and I figured If I am going to be here right now, I might as well be on the right side of things and try and contribute the best way I know how and art is one of my passions,” said Cody Millard, current Sigma Chi member. 

“It’s definitely tough because I see their frustration and I see the emotion and I don’t have all the answers, that’s what they want …  it is hard to look somebody in the eye especially with a tragic loss and not have the answers to the questions that they are asking,” Millard added. 

“A life was lost and I’d like to send my condolences to the family, anybody that was affected by it, I wish I could see more from their perspective but I can’t because I wasn’t there, but I am wishing all the best in that this brings some sort of piece to some minds.”

In the end — the event aimed to create a community-friendly environment to take people’s mind off the stress of the election as live music, food and speeches from the community continued well into the night on Tuesday. 

“We want to take the stress of the election away a little bit and just focus on something that we can tangibly change ourselves,” said Simmons.

“The election is not something that we can change especially in California.”

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