City Councilman Stresses Caution, Forgiveness In Baton Rouge Speech
During a special ceremony at Baton Rouge’s Lakebridge Baptist Church, sixth district Councilman Jerome Johnson spoke out Saturday night against what he saw as a “rush to judgment” against his friend and colleague Lucas Budd.
Speaking before a record crowd of 3,500 at the church’s arena-like sanctuary, Johnson railed against those who would “condemn [Budd] before his trial” and “punish [him] before his verdict has been read.” Johnson, however, told the congregation that it’s their “duty, as citizens and as Christians, to withhold judgment until the man has stood before a court of law and a jury of his peers to defend himself.”
Last month, Councilman Budd was arrested on numerous drug and other charges. Now awaiting the first of many trials set to begin in September, Budd has made no public appearances and no statements of any kind. The NOPD has posted a round-the-clock guard at Budd’s large Garden District home due to the national attention the arrest has attracted.
Budd has yet to resign his City Council seat, though he’s attended no meetings in the last four weeks. A city ethics panel and Mayor Cope’s anti-corruption task force have recommended that the seat be revoked, a move that Johnson has argued extensively against, both at City Council meetings and public appearances.
“In this country, we do not interpret silence as guilt,” he said in his speech on Saturday.
The focus of the speech, however, was not Lucas Budd but Johnson’s great-aunt Wilhemina Johnson, to whom Lakebridge Baptist’s new Johnson Youth Center was dedicated. (See “Gala Event Opens State-Of-The-Art Youth Complex At Baton Rouge Church,” A7.) He spoke of the many lessons he had learned at her knee, and of the many difficulties Ms. Johnson had faced in her long life. Her beloved brother E.A. Johnson served a ten year prison sentence for various corruption charges committed during his tenure as Louisiana’s State Insurance Commissioner in the mid-1980s.
Johnson closed the speech with a story about what he said was Wilhemina’s greatest lesson: the power of forgiveness. He recounted the painful reunion and reconciliation his great-aunt had with her brother after his release, the story clearly resonating with many in the congregation in similar situations.
“Forgiveness is standing by someone you love after they’ve done something you hate. Forgiveness is allowing them to be punished for the things they deserve to be punished for. And forgiveness is taking their hand and leading them on that uneasy journey back into your heart.”
New Orleans Times-Picayune
Sunday June 22
Reprinted by permission.