MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An arrest warrant was issued late Friday afternoon for the man seen on camera yelling profanities and insults at Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer while waving a Confederate flag.
George Johnson is wanted on a misdemeanor assault charge, but when he spoke with WREG, he didn’t seem terribly concerned and initially labelled the warrant “fake news.”
“You want to write up some false [expletive] warrant and some b* charge that ain’t gonna stick in court, go ahead,” Johnson said.
Johnson was part of a volunteer crew that was dismantling a pedestal that had supported Nathan Bedford Forrest’s statue before it was removed in 2017. Crews were also removing the remains of the Confederate general and former Ku Klux Klan leader.
Johnson claims that Tuesday’s hostilities were sparked by Sawyer when she removed several of his Confederate flags from some fencing and tossed them on the ground. WREG’s camera started rolling after Johnson says this happened and shows him calling Sawyer a Communist and using an obscenity. A short time later, the video shows Sawyer grabbing a Confederate flag and tossing it over the fencing.
“We were there to honor a great man and do what the city wanted us to do in a respectful way and she came up there with full-fledged disrespect and I gave it right back to her,” Johnson said.
“I have no apologies whatsoever for what I did because this is my heritage,” he added.
Sawyer posted about Johnson’s warrant Friday afternoon, initially saying it wasn’t for an arrest, but for a court summons. Later Friday evening, the arrest warrant was issued.
Sawyer reacted to the change on social media.
Several elected officials in a press conference Friday afternoon called for Johnson’s arrest by Memphis Police and the Shelby County District Attorney General.
State Rep. Antonio Parkinson asked police and the DA to arrest people who made threats, the TBI to investigate, and Congressman Steve Cohen to investigate at the federal level. Parkinson said Sawyer had also received threats of physical harm and rape online.
“These are threats against a Black woman and it is reprehensible, it is cowardly,” Parkinson said.
“It’s not gonna be tolerated. There are some men in this community and people in this community are not afraid and we know how to bring it if we need to,” said State Rep. Joe Towns.
Sawyer, prior to her election, was an activist whose group Take ‘Em Down 901 drew attention to Confederate statues in two public parks in Memphis.
Police confirmed Thursday that they were investigating the matter.
“When you come at me with these violent and racist attacks, and you call me names, and you tell me to watch my back and you threaten to do disgusting things to me, that’s when we’re going to take it seriously,” Sawyer said Thursday.
Johnson said Sawyer has no reason to fear him because he is “not a violent man.” He also said he doesn’t understand the assault charge because he said he had no physical contact with Sawyer.
“I was nowhere near her. The whole thing, I was behind a six-foot fence,” he said.
Asked what he thought about the threats against Sawyer, Johnson said, “I don’t think it’s right for anybody to make threats to anybody whatsoever but this woman is wanting a man’s grave dug up.”
Johnson says he has no plans to turn himself in.