Fri | Jul 19, 2019

George Davis | Did James Johnson deserve to die?

Published:Tuesday | September 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM
James Johnson (right) listens as attorney-at-law Pearnel Charles Jr addresses a Mona Campus Youth League (MCYL) panel discussion on 'Dancehall and the Anti-gang Legislation' on February 12, 2014. File

So James Johnson has left this earth, pushed into the netherworld by the force of a gunman's bullets. His 29-year-old frame was hit not once, but seven times, like a paper target at one of the gun ranges he used to frequent.

James was indeed a licensed firearm holder. Reports are that he was carrying at the time. But given that he was attacked from behind, James never got a chance to even draw his gun.

Investigators say his gun is missing, even as the killer left behind his laptop, contents of his wallet, and a $1.2-million cheque he had at the time of his murder. It was a specific and familiar numbness that gripped my body as I read the WhatsApp message that James had been shot and killed. And as the shock subsided, the first thought that ran through my mind was, 'Look how di ooman pickney lef country come a town come dead!'

I knew James Johnson as 'Shane' and first made his acquaintance from he was in high school. Like many country boys, he was hooked on radio and, partly because of the taste of others in his household, had a particular liking for Nationwide News Network (NNN). He spoke a lot about his mother and her struggles to send him to school, always promising to repay her for the sacrifices she had made for him and the one sister with whom I was familiar.

Shane was zealous about journalism and was always calling me to ask if there wasn't a space available for him in the NNN newsroom. To be fair, and I did say this to him, Shane was just short of the newsroom standard. He accepted that verdict graciously and vowed to work on his deficiencies. Not in the usual way to prove anybody wrong about his abilities. Just in the way where he could prove to himself that he could land a job among the reporting staff at an influential radio station.




He improved over time, and while he didn't quite get a permanent job at NNN, he did have several stints with us as an election-day reporter. Indeed, in the 2016 general election, under my watch as news editor, I dispatched him to South East Clarendon to serve as one of NNN's reporters covering the battle between the PNP's Patricia Duncan Sutherland and JLP veteran Rudyard Spencer.

Listening to people talk about Shane and the way his life was snuffed out, I've had reason to question, but not doubt, what I knew about him. There are whispers about various things, even as those whispering the strongest have no more facts than the persons they are whispering to.

Speculation has been wild, with some of it so grotesque that it must be gravely troubling for his family and loved ones. But as ever in this country, when someone is killed, people paint a picture of a sinner largely as a way of indicating to the bereaved that the deceased was no saint.

But let us just think for a minute that Shane did something wrong. Are those peddling the worst of the rumours suggesting that whatever deed he may have done justifies him being shot down on the compound of a church? Are they suggesting there are misdeeds and transgressions for which any person, Shane included, should be attacked from behind by a gunman without a chance at self-defence or self-preservation?

So if these things are indeed what are being suggested, what do the rumourmongers believe should be the punishment meted out to those found guilty of some of the most heinous crimes on the books, including murder, rape, sexual assault and mutilation?

Shane and I spoke in late August after I assumed the presidency of the Press Association of Jamaica. He called to say congratulations and joked that he hoped I would now become more active on social media. I would sometimes see him at Charmaine's Day Spa and Barbershop at Mary Brown's Corner where he would 'play-cry' to the proprietor, asking her what he must do to get his picture placed on the wall of distinguished male customers.

At 29, he was shot seven times. Now his mother's only son is gone.


- George Davis is a broadcast executive producer and talk-show host. Email feedback to and