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Mother on a Mission


Caption: Dorothy Holmes celebrates the life of her slain son through activism and community engagement.



Mother on a Mission



Every Mother’s Day, Dorothy Holmes is reminded that Chicago Police Officer George Hernandez snatched Ronald “Ronnieman” Johnson’s–her only son’s–life. All over the nation, people will be celebrating the holiday by taking their mothers to brunch, sending cards and flowers, visiting for the weekend, or even with simple hugs and kisses. Holmes will most likely wear a t-shirt bearing her son’s face, while spending quality time with her two daughters and grandchildren–Ronnieman’s kids.

“For Mother’s Day, my daughters will usually buy me something and my grandkids will call to tell me ‘Happy Mother’s Day!’  But it’s not the same,” says Holmes.

“There is still one person missing.”

Officer George Hernandez created that missing piece on the evening of Oct. 12, 2014.  Dash cam footage of the incident went viral. According to Holmes and police records, Johnson allegedly left a party with three friends when an unidentified person shot at the vehicle they were driving, causing Johnson and friends to pull over and park. Chicago Police and Holmes were divided on what occurred after this moment.

CPD claims that Johnson had a firearm when exiting the vehicle, got into a physical altercation with an officer while trying to flee, knocked the officer to the ground, and ran towards Washington Park where Officer Hernandez noticed Johnson’s gun before opening fire. Hernandez shot five times and hit Johnson twice. Johnson died at the scene.

Holmes has always contended that her son never had a gun in his possession.  However, former States Attorney Anita Alveraz declined to criminally charge any of the officers related to Johnson’s death. She said in a December 2015 press conference that evidence showed Johnson was armed.

“Based upon an objective review of the evidence and the law, we have determined that the prosecution could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of Officer Hernandez were not reasonable and permissible under the laws of the state of Illinois,” stated Alvarez.

In conjunction with Alvarez’s statement, authorities displayed a grainy blown-up image of what appeared to be Johnson wielding a gun as he ran towards the park. Alvarez said the enhanced video showed a firearm.

In late 2017, Grant Fredericks disputed Alvarez’s claim that the video showed legitimate evidence of Johnson being armed. Fredericks, a forensic video analyst, said the FBI doctored the image of a gun by expanding video pixels and told CBS 2 News that the image of Johnson with a gun is “…a false image.”

“Instead of them saying he had a gun in his hand, they should’ve said that they were not sure if he had a gun in his hand,” says, Holmes. “But either way it goes, that doesn’t give [Hernandez] an excuse to hop out of a police car and start shooting like that.”

A Freedom Mother

“For me, justice would be these cops–who are taking our kids away–being treated like we would be treated if we killed somebody.  We wouldn’t get a paid vacation. We wouldn’t get a desk job. We would be taken away from our families. So, why are they not treated the same? If I cut myself, I bleed red. If they cut themselves, they bleed red.”

The system has not given Holmes the justice she yearns for, and it may never will. However, Holmes is determined to continue breathing life into the name of Ronald “Ronnieman” Johnson through her community engagement and activism.  Holmes founded the “Ronnieman Toy-Drive,” an annual event during the holiday season where Holmes enlists volunteers to serve their communities by bringing the Christmas spirit to CPS classrooms and handing out free toys to the youth. Of course, her inspiration was her son.

“Even though he was grown, he loved Christmas and loved getting his gifts,” says Holmes. “I remember when I revisited the park where he was killed. The kids in the park saw me and asked me what happened. I told them that my son was killed by police. One kid said, ‘It’s ok. He’s not your only son. I’ll be your son. Can I have a hug?’ That broke me. They asked me what will I do for my son. His birthday was December 14th, so I thought of a toy drive.”

The “Ronnieman Toy-Drive” is nearing its fourth year. What began as an effort in the Washington Park, with Holmes and several volunteers, has now broadened to serving many locations in Chicago. Holmes and crew have played the role of community Santa to Black children in places throughout the South Side of Chicago. They have door-knocked with gifts in the Roseland and West Pullman neighborhoods, and even surprised classrooms at Dulles Elementary School in Parkway Gardens.

“When it comes close to that time of year, my mind is better,” says Holmes.

Holmes remains encouraged to be a positive force in the lives of others from the support of her loved ones, organizations she has collaborated with such as Black Lives Matter Chicago, and activists who take the extra step in checking-in on her like Aislinn Sol. Also, she established genuine relationships with mothers who are living through the same experience of losing a loved one to police violence. Lisa Sampson, who lost her son Richard Risher to police violence, has become a good friend of Holmes’ even though they are hundreds of miles apart.  In a Truthout article written by Tess Raser, Sampson reveals she talks to Holmes “…damn near every day.”

“We talked on Facebook first. The bond automatically clicked,” says Holmes. “We’re all fighting for the same thing and dealing with the same trauma of the police killing our children.”

Holmes plans to start a foundation in honor of her son, but such is expected from a mother who uses every day as an opportunity to bring forth justice for her son. If there is anything that Dorothy Holmes proves, it is that a mother’s love can be deeply eternal and persevere through the loss of her most beloved. But it also reveals that with a nurturing community, a woman can heal and be a beacon of light for others who can resonate with her pain.

“What I have learned since I lost my son is that the struggle is real,” says Holmes. But my life has changed a little bit. I’ve always said what was on my mind but I didn’t know so many people would fight with me. ”



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