As the nation continues to examine its prevalence of racially fueled police brutality, the practice itself has not ceased, as more and more examples emerge. The latest incident is also one of the worst, involving not a suspected criminal but a university student. Virginia's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) police violently arrested black University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, 20, on Wednesday, roughing him up so badly that he was bleeding profusely from the head. Johnson's arrest has prompted investigations into the ABC police's tactics, which have been scrutinized in the past for being overly aggressive.
On early Wednesday morning, Johnson was arrested when he allegedly tried to enter an Irish pub with a fake I.D. ABC agents restrained Johnson, pushed him to the ground, and pressed him to the pavement as blood flowed from his head. A nearby student caught the arrest on video, which shows three agents holding Johnson down as the student shouts, "I go to UVA ... how did this happen?" and calls the agents "racists."
The ABC, an agency that enforces the state's liquor laws and works to prevent underage drinking, said in a statement that Johnson was arrested for public intoxication and obstruction of justice, but refused to comment on their arrest tactics. But as UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan told the Washington Post, "Getting arrested shouldn’t involve getting stitches."
In response to the incident, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe ordered an independent, state-run investigation into the arrest, while Virginia State Police launched an administrative review of the agents who made the arrest — they have been relegated to administrative duties during the investigation — as well as a criminal investigation at the behest of the Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorney.
This is not the first time Virginia's ABC police have come under fire for their practices. In April 2013, a group of plainclothes ABC agents approached 20-year-old UVA student Elizabeth Daly for carrying what they thought was beer. In reality, it was LaCroix bottled water, which she had purchased along with cookie dough ice cream for a sorority charity event to benefit the Alzheimer's Association.
Daly recounted in a written statement:
They were showing unidentifiable badges after they approached us, but we became frightened, as they were not in anything close to a uniform.
Daly also recalls that when she turned on her car to open her window and speak to them, they started yelling and trying to break the car windows. According to statements from both Daly and the police, one agent jumped on the hood of her car while another drew a gun. In the end, Daly was slapped with three felony charges and spent a night and an afternoon at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
Prosecutors immediately dropped the charges, but Daly is likely traumatized forever. She added in her statement:
This has been an extremely trying experience. It is something to this day I cannot understand or believe has come to this point.
It's the same kind of baffling, irrational show of aggression that ABC agents displayed early Wednesday as they arrested Johnson. The whole situation seems even more absurd considering that the ABC is a public safety agency. In the video of Johnson's arrest, a bystander can be heard shouting, "That's not even regular police; that's ABC!"