City of Birmingham

“FunnyMaine” Charged With Inciting a Riot Over May 31 Incident

Jermaine “FunnyMaine” Johnson at a May 31 protest in downtown Birmingham. (Source: Tom Gordon)

Jermaine “FunnyMaine” Johnson, the Birmingham comedian who spoke at a rally in Kelly Ingram Park and told protestors he was headed to Linn Park to “tear something down,” has been charged with inciting a riot after that demonstration escalated into violence and vandalism.

The charge is a Class A misdemeanor, which could carry a jail sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $6,000. According to media reports, Johnson surrendered to Birmingham police, posted a $500 bond and was not imprisoned.

Emory Anthony, Johnson’s attorney, told reporters that his client was not guilty.

The Mayor’s Office of Social Justice and Racial Equity and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute organized a May 31 protest that started at Kelly Ingram Park as the “Birmingham the World Is Watching Rally for Peace and Justice.”

The rally later moved to Linn Park at Johnson’s insinuated request, where the crowd tried to tear down the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument.

“I’m not telling you to tear something down in Linn Park,” Johnson told the crowd gathered in Kelly Ingram that Sunday night. “I’m not telling you I’ll be over there.”

“What I meant was, I’m not encouraging people to do anything,” Johnson told WVTM the next morning. “But if you just so happen to do certain things or take down certain monuments, I will stand with you. My comments were sincere.”

Demonstrators did attempt to take down a certain monument, chipping at its base with shovels and attempting to pull it down with a rope and a pickup truck. Mayor Randall Woodfin appeared at the scene and, after talking with Johnson, took a bullhorn and promised to have the statue removed.

Johnson called for the crowd to agree to the mayor’s compromise and said, “but if that shit ain’t down by Tuesday morning, I will see y’all here at 12 o’clock noon Tuesday.” He asked for 24 hours and we’re standing in solidarity and giving it to him. The clock is [expletive] ticking.”

Despite Johnson’s calls to stand down, protestors eventually spread into the surrounding downtown area, where some began smashing windows, setting fires and breaking into businesses.

“I don’t bear any responsibility for that,” Johnson told BirminghamWatch days later. “They did that (on their own), from the time they walked blocks over from that park, they made that decision to cause this havoc over here … . They did it because they want to do it, and we need to make sure that it never happens again.”

The city did take the statue down the follow day. But in a press conference on Monday morning, Woodfin hinted that Johnson might be held responsible for the riot.

“Everyone is not the same,” Woodfin said when asked about Johnson’s role. “Certain people in this community would be deemed as influencers. When they speak, people listen to them. When they act, people follow them. They have a responsibility with that type of power. If anyone abuses that power, they not only need to take the time to check themselves, they may need some assistance in being checked. We will be following up on any information anyone would like to share about anyone who was inciting anything. If in our power and we have enough evidence, we will bring charges.”

Johnson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.