The late Steve Davis, longtime ABC7 News reporter, introduced us to Lamerle Johnson.
Barely a year before Davis and Johnson met at the Omega Boys Club in San Francisco, he was in custody and facing six years in prison. He was 17 at the time and already had a long record, according to Davis.
The Omega Boys Club is now known as Alive & Free and is a nationally recognized youth development and violence prevention organization based in San Francisco. It was founded by Joseph Marshall Jr. and Jack Jacqua in 1987, according to its website. The program continues to strive to find solutions to these issues which have impacted the younger population.
The goal of Alive & Free is to “keep young people alive and free, free from violence and safe from incarceration.” It offers young people “the opportunity and support to build a positive life and to play an active role in society”.
Lamerle Johnson’s personal history includes his father leaving him when he was a baby and his mother turning to drugs. Johnson used to sell drugs on the streets for food.
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To help tell the story of someone who understands drugs and life on the streets, Johnson was hired as a summer intern at ABC7 after enrolling in college.
“There was a compelling honesty about him that remained alive despite everything that had happened in his life,” Davis said.
Johnson chose the topics for the interviews, conducted the interviews and gathered information without interference from Steve Davis or ABC7 management.
“I sell. I distribute. Collect. I just make a living from this,” said “Susan,” whose voice was distorted for our interview. She admits to selling drugs in the street.
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“There isn’t a girl who knows me who wants me to help them get in. But I don’t really want to do that. I don’t think I should help someone earn the money I make. . They get a share of my money. It’s my money, “she said.
“I’m not going to be stupid and greedy and stay in the game and end up getting killed,” she continued. “I see myself going out very soon. Probably in a year or so.”
“I’m not trying to glamorize what you do. I just want you to tell the truth,” Johnson told “Susan.”
In the fourth and final part of the series, Steve Davis asks Johnson, “There’s a lot of ego in the game, isn’t there?”
“Yeah, a lot of egos. They have a nice car, jewelry and nice clothes and all of a sudden they’re thinking, ‘I can drive forever,'” Lamerle Johnson said of the “game.”
“Lots of ego behind nothing … something that kills … and sometimes guys end up thinking they’re bulletproof.”
Editor’s Note: During production of this article, ABC7 discovered that Lamerle Johnson died on December 7, 2016 after a canoe accident on a private lake near Calistoga, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. Witnesses say Johnson fell from a canoe and likely drowned. A team of divers then located his body where he was pronounced dead. He was 45 years old.
In this edition of “From The Archive” you can watch the four-part series released in November 1989 in the media player above.
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