Who Is Martese Johnson? The UVA Student's Bloody Arrest Has Sparked A Thorough Investigation

Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia has ordered a thorough investigation after a black University of Virginia student was injured during an arrest on campus. Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agents arrested Martese Johnson for public intoxication and obstruction of justice early Wednesday morning, according to CNN. A video shows Johnson, 20, pinned to the ground, forehead bleeding profusely — the apparent use of force prompting a thousand-strong campus protest overnight. Now, a picture of Johnson as a model student and positive presence is emerging across social media.

Johnson, a 2012 graduate of Chicago's Kenwood Academy, is a third-year student at UVA, and a member of the Honor Committee and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, according to The Cavalier Daily. The student-run UVA newspaper states that he was arrested at approximately 12:45am Wednesday morning in front of Trinity Irish Pub on the Corner, and charged at 4:21am with “resisting arrest, obstructing justice without threats of force, and profane swearing or intoxication.” Johnson’s attorney said the student was discharged from hospital at 6am after receiving ten stitches. He has no previous criminal record.

The agent who made the arrest wrote in his report of the incident that Johnson “was very agitated and belligerent,” according to the Boston Herald. A group called Black Dot (representing “Concerned Black Students”) have disputed that assessment, claiming that the arrest was unwarranted and gratuitously forceful. “Outside of the doors of Trinity Irish Pub, a mass of University students bore witness to the officer’s animalistic, insensitive, and brute handling of Martese,” an email from the group said. “He was left with his blood splattered on the pavement of University Avenue.”

A cell phone video shows the arrest but not the events leading up to it. Moments before the incident, Johnson had been refused entry from a bar during the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, according to CNN. Johnson’s attorney claims that the agents brought Johnson to the ground and banged his head against the pavement. The video and photos of the incident show blood streaming down Johnson’s face.

Bryan Beaubrun, a UVA student who photographed the arrest, told the Herald that two officers wrestled Johnson to the ground. “He didn't need to be tackled. He wasn't being aggressive at all,” Beaubrun said. The Alcoholic Beverage Control mission statement defines its role as "to ensure that adults of legal drinking age who choose to responsibly consume alcohol can do so in a safe environment that complies with the laws and regulations of the Commonwealth of Virginia."

Around 1,000 students showed up to a rally on campus Wednesday night in support of Martese. Organized by Black Dot, the protest was designed to allow students to “express ... feelings and concerns about this and [their] own experiences.” Johnson himself was in attendance and said some measured words. “Regardless of your personal opinions and the way you feel about subjects ... please respect everyone here,” he requested. “We are one community. We deserve to respect each other, especially in times like this.”

UVA President Teresa Sullivan issued a statement in response Wednesday, asking eyewitnesses to come forward and calling for an independent investigation of the arrest. Gov. McAuliffe has now backed up that call, ordering the Virginia State Police to conduct an inquiry into the incident to determine whether excessive force was used. With the investigation pending, the agents involved in Johnson’s arrest will be confined to administrative work, Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control says.

Former principal of Kenwood Academy Elizabeth Kirby told the Chicago Tribune Wednesday that Johnson was a “great, wonderful, brilliant leader” and “the epitome of the kind of student you want to graduate from your school.” The hashtag #JusticeForMartese is now trending.

Nevertheless, as Twitter users have pointed out, justice shouldn't only be reserved for Honors students at prestigious colleges. Intoxication and boisterous behavior should, presumably, never warrant an arrest so forceful as to cause injury, just as Trayvon Martin's hoodie shouldn't have made him worthy of suspicion.

Of course, the link between Martin and Johnson is that they're both young black males. The UVA incident and its accompanying protest have reinvigorated the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which first went viral after Martin's death and the subsequent deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The arrest of tangibly aspirant and seemingly wholesome Johnson has in some cases provoked a hands-flung-in-air response.

Images: Phil Roeder / Flickr Creative Commons