Comrades, Members and Supporters of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement,
On the date of May 6th, USM member and cadre organizer of the African People’s Solidarity Committee, Johann Bedingfield, was attacked by a driver of the CareRide wheelchair transportation company named Michael Sullivan.
Johann has been a member of APSC and the Uhuru Solidarity Movement for 5 years and is known in the movement and the community at large for his powerful, uncompromising stance of solidarity with the African community’s right to self-determination, economic development, and freedom.
Johann Bedingfield has cerebral palsy and relies on CareRide for transportation. On the date in question, he was on his way from his home in Largo to the Uhuru Radiothon at the Uhuru House in St Pete, the international headquarters of the African People’s Socialist Party.
The driver Michael Sullivan’s hostility first became apparent months earlier on the date of March 1st. As Johann’s in-home support provider and fellow USM organizer Jesse Nevel was assisting him in exiting his house, Sullivan said, “Just drop him on the ground and let him roll around like a wheel barrel.” During that car ride, he said, “I wish I had a sight on my windshield so I could aim my gun and shoot old women off their wheelchairs and steal their wheelchairs and sell it for drugs on south St Pete.”
Johann did not see Sullivan again until the morning of May 6, 8:30 AM, when he came to pick him up from his house and transport him to the Uhuru House where the Uhuru Radiothon was being broadcast and in which Johann would be participating in carrying out the radiothon to support the independent media apparatus of the African People’s Socialist Party. When he first got on board the vehicle, after he strapped the chair down, Sullivan wrapped the seatbelt around Johann’s throat and said, “How would it feel if I choked you?” Johann reported that he felt terrified for his life and threatened by Sullivan’s actions.
During the car ride, on the way to the Uhuru House in the African community of south St Pete, Sullivan said, “I wish I could blow away all them niggers and Mexicans.” At this point Johann requested to cease the conversation, but Sullivan proceedd to taunt him for the rest of the car ride with questions such as, “What’s the matter? You’re awfully quiet back there, aren’t you?
When Johann called to report these remarks and Sullivan’s physical attack to CareRide, the Supervisor, by the name of Vince Cocks, defended the driver, saying “I’ve known him for ten years” and made a veiled threat to Johann, saying “We try to protect our drivers. And I don’t want anything to happen to Johann.” When asked, “What would happen to Johann?”, Cocks replied, “I don’t know…”
When it was clear that Cocks was interested only in protecting the white nationalist driver who had threatened violence towards our comrade, Johann decided to report the incident to the CareRide administrator, Douglass Johnson. Similarly, Johnson accused Johann of “exaggerating” and said that it was unlikely that Sullivan would be fired for what he had done, instead he would more likely be subject to a “sensitivity training.”
At this point, Johann reported the incident to the Largo Police. The police said they would not do anything because there was “no proof.” The officer also dismissed Johann’s suggestion that further measures should be taken by CareRide to ensure the safety of their customers such as installing surveillance cameras. “Yeah, they’re not going to do that,” said the cop.
Johann has filed a written complaint to CareRide, PSTA, and to the Pinellas County Commission. This complaint will also be publicized on the media including on this blog.
As an organization of white allies of African liberation working under the APSP’s leadership to defend the democratic and human rights of African people, we see this attack on Johann as an attack on his free speech and his right to stand in solidarity with the African community.
Johann is a constant on-the-ground organizer with USM, staffing outreach tables, distributing thousands of fliers and leaflets for events, selling hundreds of issues of The Burning Spear Newspaper, recruiting into the Uhuru Solidarity Movement through social media, and always a presence at Uhuru Movement events where he makes contributions of material solidarity to support the programs of African People’s Socialist Party. Often his use of the CareRide transport service is to allow for him to be able to attend Uhuru Movement events where he takes an active role in participating and carrying them out.
Johann is a tireless organizer and leader in the solidarity movement. He reported the attacks on his person and the driver’s anti-African remarks not merely because he himself was disturbed and threatened by what happened, but because he recognized Sullivan as a threat to other disabled people, as well as to the African and Mexican communities.
We are calling on everyone who stands on the side of freedom and justice to take action and call-in and email PSTA and the Pinellas County Commission to make the following demands:
1. FIRE MIKE SULLIVAN! Sullivan must go! We demand the immediate termination of employment of Mike Sullivan for abuse against disabled customers and statements of violence against disabled people, as well as the black and Mexican communities.
2. A formal apology from PSTA, as well as an apology from CareRide for their unwillingness to take seriously the mistreatement of their customers by employed drivers.
3. The installation of surveillance cameras in all vehicles to ensure the safety of all clients.
4. The implementation of a transparent, formal process for filing reports of abuse by employees and course of action that protects the customers.
Here is a script for you to use when you call in or email the contact info listed below:
I am calling to demand the immediate termination of employment of Mike Sullivan for abuse against Johann Bedingfield and statements of violence against disabled people, as well as the black and Mexican communities. I am also demanding that PSTA and CareRide make a formal apology for their unwillingness to take seriously the mistreatment of their customers, to install surveillance cameras in all vehicles to ensure the safety of the clients, and the implement a transparent, formal process for filing reports of abuse by employees.
CALL AND EMAIL INFO: