The University of Virginia basketball team may have national championship dreams, but this March, Charlottesville residents are mad about the arrest of a black UVA honor roll student in the Cavaliers’ hometown.
Since the arrest of 20-year-old Martese Johnson in the early
hours of Wednesday morning that left the third-year undergraduate
with a head injury that required 10 stitches, the central
Virginia city’s community has come out to rally against what they
are calling an unnecessary use of force.
The UVA Student Council held an open forum Friday regarding the
case, where they invited members of law enforcement, the
Department of Criminal Justice Services, agents from the
Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and Secretary of
Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran to talk about the
relationship that exists between members of the student body and
local law enforcement.
“One thing that
really stood out from that forum today is that one person asked
why no one there could answer any questions as to what exactly
had happened to Martese Johnson or why this had happened to
[him],” RT’s Manuel Rapalo reported from
“Of course, the Virginia secretary of public policy said that
while nobody on that panel could answer exactly any of these
questions specifically, we’ve all at this point seen those
troubling images of Martese Johnson kind of bloodied in the face,
facedown on the pavement.”
At the time of the incident, a bouncer at Trinity Irish Pub asked
Johnson to step aside after refusing to accept his ID during St.
Patrick’s Day celebrations. The ABC officer reached the student
shortly after, according to Bryan Beaubrun, a third-year student
who said he witnessed the incident.
“[An] ABC officer approaches Martese and grabs him by the
elbow…and pulls him to the side,” Beaubrun told the Cavalier
Daily student newspaper.
“It happened so quickly,” Beaubrun recalled. “Out of
nowhere I saw the two officers wrestling Martese to the ground. I
was shocked that it escalated that quickly. Eventually [he was]
on the ground, they’re trying to put handcuffs on him and their
knees were on his back.”
Since photos and videos of the arrest were posted on social
media, there have been demonstrations in the idyllic college
town. On Wednesday night, less than 24 hours after the incident,
over 1,000 students gathered to protest the treatment of Johnson.
On Thursday afternoon, a rally began outside Minor Hall, which
contains classrooms and offices of the College of Arts and
Sciences, then students marched around the historic grounds
chanting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police” and
“black lives matter,” the Cavalier Daily reported.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) ordered the Virginia State Police to
conduct an “administrative review” into whether or not
the arrest was a case of police abuse. The Charlottesville
prosecutor has requested a criminal investigation into the
behavior of the ABC agents, who have been reassigned to
administrative duties while the probes are ongoing.
For a lot of members of the community, especially members of the
African-American community in Charlottesville, it’s a question of
whether or not this was racially motivated, Rapalo told RT’s
“Even at the forum today, that was a question that was asked
over and over again,” Rapalo said. “Why did this happen
here? Why is this a situation that we continue to see play out in
communities all across the United States?”
There has been a lot of animosity towards the officials who
conducted the arrest, in part because this isn’t the first time
ABC agents has have come under fire for their interactions with
the public during arrests.
— V (@_Nxdin) March
Last year, the state of Virginia reached a $212,500 settlement
with a UVA student who was arrested after her purchase of water
was mistaken for beer in 2013. Elizabeth Daly, a 20-year-old, was
charged with eluding police and assaulting an officer after her
SUV grazed two of the agents. The charges were dropped after the
student’s arrest caused a public outcry.
Now some legislators in the commonwealth are suggesting that ABC
agents not be allowed to have the same ability to arrest citizens
that police forces do, the Washington Post reported.
“Given what happened yesterday and what happened a couple of
years ago [to Daly], it raises some serious question in my mind
whether they should have arrest powers,” state Sen. Donald
McEachin of Henrico County said Thursday.
At the end of the forum on Friday, members of the Student Council
said that this wasn’t the end of the conversation and that
there’s a lot more that needs to be discussed, Rapalo said.
The city sheriff’s office said on Thursday that they are
continuing to encourage peaceful protests, but given the amount
of eyewitnesses that were there at the time of the arrest and the
video that’s been presented, they are confident that an accurate
report will come out sooner rather than later.