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TikTok Influencer Draws A New Audience To Missouri Prisoners Proclaiming Their Innocence

A screen capture of Giyoh Shey speaking to viewers in his TikTok. Giyoh Shey looks at the camera while speaking. TikTok also shows his handle, giyohnly1.
Screen capture of Giyoh Shey’s TikTok video.

A TikTok post about Kevin Strickland and Lamar Johnson reached nearly 1 million people with their claims of unjust incarceration and their pleas for pardons or overturned convictions.

Giyoh Shey is making Missouri’s criminal justice system go viral.

The TikToker’s 2.5 minute video got close to 1 million views since he published it on Tuesday, along with 250,000 likes and 26,000 downloads, forwards and shares.

In the video, he talks about the cases of Kevin Strickland and Lamar Johnson, Missouri men with decades-long prison sentences for crimes local prosecutors say they did not commit.

“Alright everybody, pay attention. I’m gonna break this down in bullet points so everybody can understand,” Shey says in the video.

Shey lives in California and scours the internet for news stories and publishes them in his TikTok series called “Shit’s Getting Weird.” A previous video on Kevin Strickland’s case also got a lot of views, though he says it didn’t get as much attention as this one.

“I'm still surprised at how many people don't know about it,” Shey said in an interview.

This week, he plans to post another video about another prisoner in Missouri, which he learned about from a viewer who reached out to him.

“Either there’s something going on in Missouri, or maybe it’s just the criminal justice system in general that is just … you know,” he said. “It works sometimes, but when it doesn’t work, it needs to be rectified.”

Shey started the series during the pandemic because, as he says, “everything about the pandemic has just been weird.” At the opening of each video, Shey says: “Part infinity!” to prompt TikTok’s algorithm to push his video to more viewers. Shey talks about anything from protests in Cuba to his thoughts on K-Pop star drama.

The video about Missouri has provoked tens of thousands of comments, many pledging to do something to help Strickland and Johnson.

“As someone who lives in Missouri, I have literally no idea how I have never heard of this,” wrote one commenter. “Time to cause a ruckus.” An actor with nearly 3 million followers commented: “Is there a petition we can put together? Take it to the Supreme Court?”

Shey posted another TikTok urging his followers to take action. He plugged a gala the Midwest Innocence Project will hold Thursday night. He also posted the contact information for Gov. Mike Parson to his 771,000 followers.

“For those on Twitter, you can tweet at Mike Parson to apply some pressure for him to do something about this and release those men,” he said.

Parson has said he won’t pardon Strickland because he’s not yet convinced of his innocence. However, a bill Parson signed into law this month gives prosecutors new powers to challenge old convictions in court.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt maintains Strickland’s guilt. Schmitt also denied a motion to grant Johnson a new trial in 2020.

Tricia Rojo Bushnell at the Midwest Innocence Project said she welcomes influencers spreading their clients’ stories and pressuring politicians.

“One of the best things that we can just suggest to people is: learn who those folks are. Learn who’s deciding justice in your community,” Bushnell said. “Ask questions of them and think about that every time someone goes to the election box.”

The TikTok post, Shey said, is uniting different people in the desire to help the men. He hopes it will lead to pardons.

“Everybody has their opinions on a criminal justice system, whether it's good, whether it's bad.” Shey said. “This just says, ‘Hey, there’s a wrong written here in the criminal justice system. Justice was not served. And it needs to be overturned.’ And everybody is agreeing on that.”

Jamie Jiang is a news intern for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @jambojiang
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