Let's Get Michael Johnson Free: Give Toward His Legal Defense

For Immediate Release

Contact: Charles Stephens, charles.stephens@counternarrative.org

February 7, 2017 - As you read these words, Michael L. Johnson is sitting in prison under a discriminatory law that hurts many and helps no one. With your help, he could be free in a matter of months. To make sure that Michael has expert legal support when his case is again heard in court, we must raise $20,000 in 20 days. Will you give now to help secure justice for Michael?

In the fall of 2013, Michael Johnson was living his dream. He was a student-athlete at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, where he was a respected collegiate wrestler. He aspired to one day compete in the Olympics. He was also a sexually active young Black gay man living with HIV, in a state that makes that experience a crime. Michael’s dreams were shattered when, in October 2013, he was arrested for having consensual sex while living with a treatable, manageable health condition. He has been in prison, separated from his community of loved ones and friends, ever since. Can you donate toward the $20,000 goal to help fight Michael's unjust imprisonment?

As we recognize National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we also recognize the damage and pain that is caused by HIV criminalization laws, particularly in Black lives and in Black communities. Missouri is one of more than 30 U.S. states with laws criminalizing HIV-positive status -- laws that the American Medical Association, the U.S. Department of Justice, and many other organizations have stated must change. Emerging evidence suggests that, as in the larger criminal justice system, racism plays a role in HIV criminalization cases, leading to harsher sentences for Black men than their white counterparts.

The jury in Michael's trial, which was mostly white, also largely agreed with the idea that being gay is a sin, according to BuzzFeed. In May 2015, Michael was found guilty under Missouri's unfair, unjust HIV criminalization laws. His sentence was 30 ½ years. He was 23 years old at the time. Will you give today to fight laws rooted in anti-gay and anti-Black bias, HIV stigma and misinformation?

Remarkably, in December 2016, a Missouri appeals court reversed his conviction, calling his initial trial a "trial-by-ambush" and calling for a new trial. But Michael's freedom is still not guaranteed.

In order for Michael to get his life back, he urgently needs an attorney that can defend him and give him a shot at true justice. Michael must have the chance to work with a new attorney before a new trial date has been set, to be fully prepared at the time of the trial, which could be just weeks from now. This is where he needs your help.

In order to give Michael that chance, we must raise $20,000 in 20 days. This legal defense fund will be used to hire a private attorney that has the experience, background, and passion to help Michael fight Missouri's HIV criminalization laws.

Time is of the essence! We ask our friends, comrades, and community members who believe in justice to give what you can -- and to give as generously as you are able. Together, we will reach the goal of $20,000 before February 27: to fight laws that diminish community health; to get Michael L. Johnson closer to a truly fair trial; to reunite him with those who love and care for him, far away from prison walls. Please give toward his goal, share his story, and help support his quest for freedom.

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We are advocates, organizers, and community members committed to working toward the freedom of Michael L. Johnson, a young black gay student, respected college athlete, and aspiring Olympic wrestler who was arrested under Missouri's unjust HIV criminalization law.