Bloody Arrest of Black UVA Student Sparks Protest Over Police Brutality

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Photo: Image via UVA student group Black Dot.

The violent arrest of a black University of Virginia student by white police officers sparked a state investigation after a photo of the man being held down as blood streamed down his face went viral. Junior Martese Johnson, 20, was arrested by Alcoholic Beverage Control agents at about 12:45 a.m. on Wednesday morning after he was turned away from an Irish pub just off campus. It’s unclear what led to the arrest, but his head was reportedly slammed into the pavement. A partial video of the arrest obtained by The Cavalier Daily, UVA’s student newspaper, shows officers holding Johnson face-down on the ground as an onlooker shouts that his head is bleeding. As he’s being handcuffed, Johnson says he goes to UVA and yells at the officers. “You fucking racists!” he says. “How did this happen, you racists?”

Bryan Beaubrun, another UVA junior, told The Cavalier Daily that the incident started when a bouncer refused to accept Johnson’s ID. He says one ABC officer pulled Johnson aside by the elbow, and he was talking with a group of officers when things suddenly turned violent. “It happened so quickly,” Beaubrun said. “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.”

The uniformed ABC agents observed and approached the individual after he was refused entry to a licensed establishment,” said a statement from the Virginia ABC. “A determination was made by the agents to further detain the individual based on their observations and further questioning. In the course of an arrest being made, the arrested individual sustained injuries. The individual received treatment for his injuries at a local hospital and was released.”

According to UVA’s Black Student Alliance, Johnson required ten stitches. He was charged with public intoxication and obstruction of justice, both misdemeanors. Despite reports that he was arrested for trying to use a fake ID, there’s no mention of it in the police report. Someone claiming to be his roommate on Twitter says that’s because he doesn’t have one:

The arrest record notes that Johnson “was very agitated and belligerent but [has] no previous criminal history.” According to the Washington Post, Johnson is vice-chair for community relations on the schools’ prestigious Honor Committee, which upholds UVA’s honor code. His attorney, Daniel P Watkins, said he’s a double major in Italian and Media Studies and a member of the Eta Sigma Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi. “As evidenced by both his academic and extracurricular achievements, Martese is a smart young man with a bright future,” Watkins said. “He is absolutely devastated by yesterday’s events.”

As anger over the arrest spread on social media, UVA officials said they were “outraged” by the incident. “This was wrong and should not have occurred,” said vice-president for Diversity & Equity Marcus L. Martin and dean of African-American Affairs Maurice Apprey in a statement. “In the many years of our medical, professional and leadership roles at the University, we view the nature of this assault as highly unusual and appalling based on the information we have received.”

UVA president Teresa Sullivan expressed “deep concern” about the arrest, and said she’d reached out to police and the governor’s office. Governor Terry McAuliffe said via a spokesman that he is “concerned by the reports of this incident and has asked the Secretary of Public Safety to initiate an independent Virginia State Police investigation into the use of force in this matter.”

About 1,000 students, as well as Sullivan and other UVA administrators, gathered on campus Wednesday night for a rally protesting Johnson’s treatment by police. “I beg for you guys to please respect everyone here,” Johnson told the crowd. “We really are one community.”