Photographs, illustrations and protest posters of RonnieMan Johnson cover the walls of Dorothy Holmes’s living room walls. RonnieMan was her only son. The Chicago Police Department killed him on October 12, 2014.
Ronald “RonnieMan” Johnson was born on December 14, 1988. “He was like the first grandchild in the house, first nephew, on my mom’s side,” Holmes explains. RonnieMan was Holmes’s only son and the oldest of her three children. “He was funny, spoiled … mostly everybody spoiled him,” Holmes says.
RonnieMan grew up on the South Side of Chicago, including in Englewood and in Altgeld Gardens. “He liked basketball, football, arcade games. He loved the animals,” Holmes remembers.
As a child, Holmes jokes, RonnieMan was a brat, but didn’t have many issues with other people and was well-liked. “He had a lot of friends, regardless of whatever neighborhood he moved in,” she says. He spent his free time going on camping trips and enjoying sports. As the oldest, and a lifelong protector of children, RonnieMan was very protective of his younger sisters, Billie “Tay Tay” and Rosalyn “Ra Ra.” He liked school, and had no problems with it or with his teachers until he got to high school.
He attended Corliss High School until his junior year, when he made the decision to leave school. “He started hanging with the wrong crowd, and he just stopped going,” Holmes says. “He was going to Kennedy-King College for his GED, but the gangs [nearby] were … out of control. So, he stopped going because he was catching the bus there,” Holmes says. RonnieMan occupied his time working factory jobs and spending time with his five beloved children.
“He was a good father. He babysat while [their] mother worked, so they didn’t need to find anyone to watch them, and he worked the night shift,” Holmes explains.
An adoring father, RonnieMan helped raise six children, five of whom were biological. “He liked doing stuff with his kids. Taking them out to Chuck E. Cheese’s … [his] nieces and nephews, he’d take them, too. He was good with them. All the kids liked [him],” Holmes says. RonnieMan’s oldest daughters, Ron’jonae and Ron’Niyaa, spoke of times he stayed up with them late, watching movies and exchanging kisses on each other’s cheeks.
On October 12, 2014, RonnieMan went to a party with friends at an apartment on 53rd and King Drive, across from Chicago’s Washington Park.
“His cousin picked him up to go to a party, and in the process of leaving the party, the car he was in got shot up and everyone in the car jumped out and ran,” Holmes says. Some people from the car ran back into the building, and some, Holmes was told, ran in between cars. RonnieMan ran to try to protect himself, to ensure that his beloved children had a father in the morning.
“The police chased him. He ran back to the party, but he couldn’t get the gate open,” Holmes says. At that point, RonnieMan ran toward the park, where he encountered Officer George Hernandez. In a video that went viral, one can see Hernandez get out of the back of a police car and shoot, killing unarmed RonnieMan.
“I got [a] call about 12:45 a.m. — Ra-Ra called…. Tay-Tay answered the phone, [for me] and [Ra-Ra] told her RonnieMan got shot on King Drive. My instinct is someone in Parkway shot him,” Holmes says. Parkway Gardens is a notoriously violent housing complex, located on King Drive, in which RonnieMan and two of his children resided.
“Then she said 53rd and King, so I jumped in the car and got from 122nd and Normal to 53rd and King in less than four minutes,” Holmes says.
By the time she arrived, RonnieMan’s body had already been removed. As family members began calling the Chicago Police Department (CPD), they were given the runaround and sent to various hospitals throughout the city, none of which had RonnieMan. Finally, Holmes learned that he had passed.
“[CPD] told me they took him to Northwestern … sending some people to Stroger, Mt. Sinai. Once I found out exactly where he was at [University of Chicago], everyone was just standing around,” Holmes says.
“They was gonna let us in, and the sergeant came out laughing, saying he was only shot but one time. That’s when everyone got trying to fight. [The sergeant] got in the car and left, and they called for backup and put the hospital on lockdown and said no one would identify him that night,” Holmes explains. Holmes’s family argued with the sergeant, who they felt had disrespected RonnieMan and their family by laughing at his death.
Holmes and her family stayed at the hospital until almost 3 or 4 a.m., until finally having to go home.
“When I seen it on the news, they had said [RonnieMan] turned around and pointed a gun at the officer. I’m like, ‘That’s a lie,'” Holmes recalls. Shortly after, she was then accosted by media at her home, questioning her. She still hadn’t seen her son, and she still hadn’t learned that the police were the ones who had shot him.
“I’m like, ‘What did they kill him for?’ I know he had no gun on him. The gun they had, had no fingerprints,” Holmes says. Police continued to state that RonnieMan had pointed the gun at the officer. However, a video surfaced with a girl screaming, “They just killed him, and he didn’t even do anything.”
“I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute, they told me he died at the hospital, but in the video, why are they covering [his body] at the park?” Holmes says.
Holmes then went to Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) seeking answers. “They claimed they wrote a letter [to the State’s Attorney]. They said they had a video, saying they had dashcam footage,” Holmes says.
When Holmes left IPRA, she called her lawyer, who assured Holmes that they had dashcam footage and that RonnieMan was killed by CPD. Initially, Holmes refused to watch the video.
“Then I had my grandson, Karon [RonnieMan’s son] with me, to see the video. It was nothing like they said. Everything they said was a lie,” Holmes says.
The City waited to release the dashcam footage until after Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s re-election. Then, former State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez refused to bring charges against Officer George Hernandez, RonnieMan’s killer.
“[Hernandez] is back on the street, to my understanding,” Holmes says. Truthout contacted the CPD to confirm Hernandez’s employment, but the CPD declined to comment.
Since RonnieMan’s death, Holmes has had health issues, including high blood pressure and persistent headaches. RonnieMan’s children, nieces and nephews — some of them young activists in Assata’s Daughters, a collective of Black young people who receive political education and engage in city-wide campaigns — miss their beloved relative, and have become skeptical of the police.
“They know the police killed him, and they don’t trust the police. I’m not going to tell them no different because that’s how I feel, too,” Holmes says. “Why should I call 911, and [police] make it to the scene, and I be the one who end up dead?”
Two weeks before RonnieMan was killed, he had told a relative that, “he stay out of police way because they be killing everyone.”
Holmes has become an outspoken advocate for her son, seeking justice through her work in various organizations. She has worked with Black Lives Matter Chicago, Assata’s Daughters and is working to start her own organization, the RonnieMan Foundation.
“If the new state’s attorney bring charges against Hernandez, that would ease a little bit of pressure, but it won’t bring him back. That would make me feel better as a parent. That’s it. However long it takes, I’m willing to do that fight,” she says.
Because of her fight, Holmes believes the CPD is targeting her.
“[CPD] came to the house saying there was a stray dog wandering around the neighborhood, and they end up killing my dog,” Holmes says. Yet she still fights for her son, who she misses in every moment.
“I miss [RonnieMan] … calling … I miss him coming through the door and aggravating everyone in the house,” Holmes smiles.
RonnieMan’s favorite month was December. “My favorite memory is when my daddy built a gingerbread house with us,” RonnieMan’s second-oldest daughter, Ron’jonae says. “It had like those sour things on it, some sugar stuff and some icing.”
Three years ago, Holmes started the RonnieMan Johnson toy drive in her son’s honor, providing toys for Chicago’s children in need. “I started the toy drive in his name because December was his favorite month, because his birthday was December 14,” Holmes says. All the toys are donated or personally purchased by Holmes and her family.
“There wasn’t a Christmas my kids didn’t get something,” Holmes says. “Whatever we were going through, I made sure I provided for these kids. Now, my 12 grandkids, then for the Christmas drive, there’s a whole lot of them. This might be the only toy [the kids] got.”
RonnieMan would glow in December, and was always grateful for all that his family provided for him and all that he was able to provide for his children.
“I miss his smile most, his walk. He smiles like Ron’jonae,” RonnieMan’s eldest daughter Ron’Niyaa says.
Holmes’s toy drive is a labor of love and a suiting memorial for her son.
“The smile he got on his face when December came is the same as when these kids get their toys,” Holmes says. “I just like to see the kids smile, the way RonnieMan would glow.”
Toys are being collected for the RonnieMan Toy Drive until December 18 and can be purchased and sent through Dorothy Holmes’s Amazon Wishlist.