Police Brutality and Racism

On March 18th, outside of a pub near the University of Virginia’s campus, Martese Johnson, a young black student who attends UVA, was refused entry into a drinking establishment. He was then confronted by ABC (alcoholic beverage control) agents and arrested. During the arrest, the agents reported that Johnson was agitated and belligerent, which justified their use of force that left Johnson, covered in blood with injuries requiring multiple stiches and leaving numerous bruises. A UVA student who was a witness to the arrest had a contradicting report of the arrest saying that Johnson was not belligerent and claimed that the ABC agents used extreme and unnecessary force during their arrest of Johnson. With the conflicting reports of what happened during the arrest, it is clear that Johnson was the target of racist profiling and police violence/harassment; the most significant result of the arrest are the actions taken after the arrest with Johnson calling for protestors at rallies to be peaceful and respectful and the governor of Virginia calling for an investigation into the events that occurred during the arrest.

The unfair treatment that Martese Johnson faced can be linked to a range of social attitudes that have been present in American culture for hundreds of years. This is especially prevalent through the institutional racism and use of violence as a lens that allows a young black male to be bloodied on the street during an arrest for something as simple as underage drinking. Johnson was then charged with obstruction of justice without force and public swearing or intoxication. When police operate in a manner in which they use violence as their lens when interacting with suspects as well as letting prior notions of othering. It allows officers to justify their actions during arrests such as this since they do not treat African American with proper respect for their rights as human beings. With further facts presented in the case, it is clear that these are the attitudes that led to the arrest; it was reported that Johnson presented a valid id, was not under the influence and the crimes of public swearing/ intoxication are low level misdemeanors that do not require arrest; so why did this have to happen to Johnson? This makes sense as the after effect of the values that were taught in order to keep African American people as second class citizens allowing them to stay repressed easily, keeping them trapped in the negotiated order that was engrained in the social order of the United States.

The particular significance of the event that I noticed was the mood of the students at UVA during their protests. They were upset, filled with anger and feeling oppressed by the actions of the ABC agents. The protests came very soon after the prolonged protests in Ferguson, Missouri that spun out of control and caused mass civil upheaval. Johnson was very vital in preventing the protests from escalating by appearing at the protests with fresh stitches and multiple bruises, calling for protestors to be respectful and peaceful during the event. The reaction of the state government also had an effect on keeping the protestors civil by aligning itself with the protestors by the governor asking for an investigation and to be informed on the progress well also looking into Johnson’s condition after the arrest.

Works Cited







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  1. I thought it was very appropriate that you brought up violence as a lens. There have been so many cases of racial profiling where officers see blackness as a threatening weapon in itself. This is such a a problem because it is reducing black people from humans to objects, and of course as you said repressing and trapping them.


  2. Johnson was arrested by white officers for simply being black, which is what this story boils down to. Race is a huge topic in North America today, following #blacklivesmatter movements. I agree with Ginger Spice that bringing up violence as a lens was very appropriate for this issue. I think your argument could have been strengthened if you acknowledged the race of the governor and his employees that spoke on his behalf.


  3. A good analysis of the events and use of terms to strengthen your paper. I don’t believe either of the blogs covering this story talked about what an ABC officer does and the legal power(or lack of) that they posses. It was therefor a obvious incident of unlawful violence against a black individual.


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