This interview is being co-published with The TRiiBE, a digital media platform that is reshaping the narrative of Black Chicago.
After enduring pretrial electronic monitoring (EM) for more than 22 months, Jeremey “Mohawk” Johnson is no longer on house arrest. A Cook County judge released him from EM on Tuesday, June 28. Johnson is still awaiting trial.
I first interviewed Johnson in January 2021, five months after he was arrested at a defund CPD and anti-ICE protest in the Loop. I’ve spoken to him off and on in the ensuing months as he waited for his case to go to trial and struggled with a plethora of EM problems that had the potential to put him in prison—including a faulty GPS system that frequently lost track of him as he slept in bed and sent hundreds of false alarms.
Even as Johnson faced the possibility of prison time because of a faulty ankle monitor, I could always count on him to talk about his EM experience—or his life, or Pokémon, or whatever else was on his mind—in great detail. I’d never heard him as quiet and disconsolate as I did when I spoke with him Friday, July 1, three days after he got off EM. I interviewed him briefly for this story, and our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You had court the other day and got off EM. Why did the judge let you off?
He said that he was working with limited information when he put me on house arrest.
How are you feeling now?
I don’t feel good. It feels like I’m supposed to be happy, but I’m not.
How’s it been the past few days?
I’ve been deeply overwhelmed.
It feels like . . . the world kind of moved on without me, which it’s gonna do, regardless—like this shit’s gonna keep spinning whether I die or not. So many people have just moved on. I feel very left behind, about a lot.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know. I lost two years, and all they had to say was, “We were working with limited information. Oops.” They took two years from me off of an “Oops.”
Is your monitor gone?
Oh, it’s just gone. I paid my bail at the beginning of this, so the monitor is just gone. I still feel it sometimes—like, I check my leg all the time, still.
What other lingering effects of being on EM are you dealing with right now?
I’m still afraid of my phone vibrating, because my monitor would beep and do other stuff, and sometimes make noises I had never heard it make before while I was at the house or at work. Whenever I hear a new noise, like a new alarm or something, I assume it’s them, and I don’t do well in those moments. I still don’t know how to sleep comfortably, fully, because I’m used to having to sleep half-upright with my leg hanging down from the bed, that way it doesn’t get covered with anything, or no part of the bed. Even, like, accidentally rolling over and laying on it would block the signal, and then you get a violation or it’d go off, because it’d lose you when you were asleep, and I’d toss and turn. So I’ve gotten used to sleeping very still and keeping my leg off of the bed. I don’t really know how to sleep comfortably, again.
Your case is still ongoing, what’s going on with it?
I don’t really have much to say about that, it’s just still going.
Two years of your life gone to house arrest—what do you want people to know about what you’ve been through?
It’s not any of the stuff that they say it is.
They tell us that the GPS works, and it doesn’t. It just doesn’t. I’ve had phone conversations with people at the call center—and even with sheriffs—and they said that if I have the proof I should just bring up the proof that my monitor doesn’t work, because they’ve said personally that my monitor doesn’t work.
The day that I got released from house arrest, the prosecutor again tried to argue violations from 2021 that got cleared up the day they happened. She mentioned dates that I specifically have videos of—of people at the call center saying, “That cleared up,” or “We’ll let the sheriff know that you didn’t leave and that you were indeed inside.”
She said that I only had nine alerts, and we know that I have hundreds. We know that I had at least 20 in the last week and a half. So when we got into court, she was like, “Yeah, you had nine alerts.” And I was like, “Nah, it’s way more than that, so something about that information is off, because my monitor went off more than nine times.”
I got called more than nine times—there’s a week period where they were giving me, like, two or three in a day. I had at least, like, 15 in the last week. She was like, “Yeah, he has nine,” and I’m like, “Nah, I’ve got way more than nine, I’ve got damn near 20 for the last week, and I’ve got video of all of those—I’m in the house.”
This is the second prosecutor that tried to use false violations to keep me on house arrest, so that’s just something they do. That’s just something they do to people. The sheriff will look you in the eye and tell you, “We know the monitor isn’t working,” and a prosecutor will go into court and tell a judge, “This guy snuck out” anyway. Because they can, and because it’s easy.
Anything you want to add?
Everyone kind of expects me to be happy, and all I feel is loss.
Ankle-monitor alerts garner phone calls and visits from sheriffs officers—but more than 80 percent are bogus, according to a University of Chicago analysis.
Jeremey Johnson has chronicled nearly two years of pretrial house arrest.
CPD has tried to turn rapper and comedian Mohawk Johnson into a cautionary example to social justice protesters. He has other plans.
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