UVA students protest bloody arrest

Governor calls for investigation into arrest of University of Virginia student, whose head was bloodied during incident

Martese Johnson is held down by an officer on Wednesday in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Bryan Beaubrun / AP

About 1,000 students and community members gathered at the University of Virginia campus Wednesday night to demand justice for a third-year student who was injured during an arrest hours earlier, and appeared in a photo and video with a bloody face as officers slammed him to the ground.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has called for an investigation into the early-morning arrest of 20-year-old Martese Johnson. Johnson's lawyer, Daniel P. Watkins, said his client needed 10 stitches in his head.

UVA President Theresa Sullivan attended Wednesday night's rally and said she was disturbed by the incident.

"I hate to see something bad happen to any of my students, whether it's on the football field or something like this. My heart went out to him. I thought how I would feel if I was his mother," Sullivan said, according to news reports.

Court records show Johnson was charged on two counts: obstruction of justice without force, and public swearing or intoxication. Watkins said his client has no criminal record. The local Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) police unit issued a statement saying Johnson was approached by uniformed agents "after he was refused entry to a licensed establishment," WJLA News reported. The ABC agent who made the arrest, listed in court records as J. Miller, said in the arrest report that Johnson "was very agitated and belligerent."

Bryan Beaubrun, a UVA student who photographed Johnson's bloody arrest, said the officers acted with unnecessary force. "He didn't need to be tackled. He wasn't being aggressive at all," WJLA News quoted Beaubrun saying.

A group calling itself "Concerned Black Students" said Johnson's arrest was unprovoked and extreme. 

"The brutish force used resulted in his head and bodily injuries," the group said in a statement. "His treatment was unprovoked as he did not resist questioning or arrest."

Organizers and attendees at the rally said their frustration is not just over what happened to Johnson. 

“This is not about our anger today,” UVA's student newspaper The Cavalier Daily quoted one of the organizers, Aryn Frazier, as saying. “Everyone here has a lot to be angry about. We’re here for Martese. We are here to love the countless other victims of police brutality. We are here for them. We are here because we could be them.”

“Growing up in Charlottesville (the city where UVA is located), I have been harassed numerous times,” the Cavalier quoted Jabril Carter, another student who knows Johnson, as saying. The police "want to arrest me for something, and they have no reason to," he said.

ABC officers in Charlottesville have been accused of excessive force in the past. Virginia reached a $200,000 settlement last year with a UVA student who was arrested after her purchase of water was mistaken for beer, WJLA News reported.  

Al Jazeera and wire services

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