DEVELOPING: Unrest on Campus at UVA after Police Beating of Black Student

March 18th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Martese Johnson

Students at the University of Virginia gathered in protest across the campus Thursday in response to the violent arrest of 20-year-old honor student Martese Johnson in the early hours of Wednesday. Alcohol and Beverage Control officers (ABC)––who enforce the state's liquor laws––were called to the scene after the third-year UVA student allegedly tried to use a fake ID at a local bar. 

Protesters entered UVA's dining hall and library around 12:30 p.m., where they held up signs and chanted "black lives matter," and "no justice, no peace," according to reports.

Thursday's demonstrations follow fervent protests Wednesday night, which saw hundreds––if not thousands––of students and supporters gathering on UVA's Charlottesville campus. Video footage shows people marching down the streets, chanting the slogans popularized during demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., following the shooting death of Michael Brown in August. 

At least a few people appear to have been arrested or detained in the fray.

Johnson, a third-year student and member of UVA’s Honor Committee and the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, was charged with resisting arrest, obstructing justice without threats of force, and profane swearing or intoxication in public early Wednesday, according to the Cavalier Daily. His roommate, however, disputes this account. He tweeted that Johnson did not present a fake ID. Instead, according to the roommate, Johnson presented his real, underage ID.

There is video from the scene:

Johnson was held overnight and released on a $1,500 bond at 6:01 a.m. Wednesday, but the details of his arrest are disputed, with some claiming that Johnson did not resist arrest, was cooperative, and was beaten regardless of witnesses’ pleas for police to stop. Johnson reportedly received 10 stitches in his head. This checks out with photos depicting his bloodied face on the scene.

Martese Johnson

“Martese was talking to the bouncer, and there was some discrepancy about his ID,” Bryan Beaubrun told the Cavalier Daily. “[An] ABC officer approaches Martese and grabs him by the elbow…and pulls him to the side.”

According to a statement issued by the Virginia ABC Wednesday afternoon, the “uniformed ABC Agents observed the individual after he was refused entry to a licensed establishment…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.”

Following a request by UVA President Teresa Sullivan, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked the Secretary of Public Safety to open an independent investigation into the use of force used during Johnson’s arrest, according to a spokesperson for the governor.

The event has sparked an outpouring of support and concern from community organizations and Twitter users, such as the group signing as “Concerned Black Students” and the Black Student Alliance.

“It happened so quickly,” Beaubrun continued. “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 his and their knees were on his back.”

In a video of the incident captured on a bystander’s cell phone, Johnson can be heard screaming as police kneel on his back, “I go to UVA! I go to UVA! I go to UVA! You fucking racists. What the fuck! How did this happen?”

According to the Virginia ABC, the agency “will provide whatever information or assistance is requested by Virginia State Police.” 

Virginia ABC agents were also involved in a wrongful arrest lawsuit involving a UVA student two years ago, when they drew weapons in a grocery store parking lot and reportedly attempted to smash a student's car window with a flashlight. The student was concerned about the legitimacy of the plainclothes officers, and drove away, only to be pulled over and charged with three felony counts. Her charges were later dropped, and the $40 million lawsuit against the agency was settled for close to $212,500.