D.C. Attorney Johnny Barnes Celebrated for Civil Rights Work

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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Johnny Barnes, one of the District’s most well-known civil rights attorneys, was celebrated for his work defending those who have had legal problems with the city government.

Johnny Barnes is one of the District’s most well-known civil rights attorneys. (Courtesy Photo)
Johnny Barnes is one of the District’s most well-known civil rights attorneys. (Courtesy Photo)

Barnes received accolades from community activists, politicians, and movers and shakers in the District at the home of Darnell Williams in the Hillcrest section of Ward 7 on July 18.

Ronald Moten, co-founder of the anti-gang violence organization Peaceoholics, told the gathering of 30 people that Barnes is a unique individual. “This is a special day and a special occasion,” Moten said. “Johnny Barnes is a special guy and he is a super hero.”

Barnes is the former executive director of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital – the District’s local chapter – and is currently a private practice trial lawyer. He is considered an expert by the District of Columbia Bar Association on the federal and local legislative processes. He received his bachelor’s degree from Central State University and his juris doctor from the Georgetown University Law Center. He worked on Capitol Hill in several positions including as the chief of staff to then D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy.

Since leaving the ACLU in 2012, Barnes has focused his practice on helping people who have issues with District government agencies. In 2014, Barnes became Moten’s counsel when Peaceoholics was hit with a $638,389 D.C. Superior Court judgment for fraudulently obtaining grants from the District government. Moten had little money to work with but said Barnes stuck with him. “Johnny never said to me’ Mo, where’s the money’,” Moten said. “He said ‘Mo, I’m here to help you, brother.'”

The Moten matter, with Barnes as his counsel, was resolved on April 16. He will pay $10,000 to the District and agreed to stricter oversight by the government in future anti-gang activities.

Barnes also aided Trayon White, the presumptive D.C. Council member for Ward 8. White, who in 2011 was the ward’s representative on the D.C. State Board of Education, was arrested that year for “unauthorized” visits to the Woodland Terrace public housing complex by the District of Columbia Housing Authority police. Barnes won the battle and White was aquitted of all charges.

White and a number of his friends such as Ward 8 D.C. State Board of Education candidate Markus Batchelor attended the party. “Johnny Barnes isn’t using the law to make money but to help the people,” Batchelor said. “We should thank him for doing what many see is a thankless job. He maximizes his power for the people.”

Former D.C. Council member William Lightfoot, one of the city’s most established attorneys, was present, as was D.C. statehood activist Anise Jenkins, world-renowned boxing announcer Henry “Discombobulating” Jones, and political consultant Kemry Hughes. Vocalist Ayanna Gregory, the daughter of comedian-activist Dick Gregory, sang a few songs in honor of Barnes.

Barnes told the AFRO that the civil rights struggle today is different from the 1950s and 60s. He said that while the fights for integrating institutions have been won, there is a different battle at hand. “The District of Columbia is in far better shape than most places,” he said. “However, Blacks must continue to be vigilant about police activity.”

Barnes said the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights have become a casualty when police powers are expanded unchecked by the people. He said individuals like Moten and Ronald Hampton, the executive director for the National Black Police Association, are making sure the District’s police force is as honest as possible and respecting the rights of Blacks.

Barnes also said that Blacks possessing political power is not enough to be a viable force in the District. “Political power without economic power is empty,” he said. “I remember the late Julius Hobson [member of D.C. Council and D.C. statehood activist] saying that ‘Home Rule is Home Fool,’ meaning that we got some political rights in Washington but not all that we were entitled to as American citizens. Today, we need economic growth and economic development in many areas of the city.”

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