Vicious Arrest Sparking Controversy

In mid-March, Martese Johnson was arrested outside of a Charlottesville pub during a night on the university town. Friends and other witnesses say that Martese was tackled without purpose. Although the Alcohol Beverage Control agents say that he “was very agitated and belligerent” (2015), a student at the scene said “He wasn’t being aggressive at all”(2015).

Martese Johnson is a black male at 20 years of age, attending school at the University of Virginia. His arrest sparked protests amongst classmates of Martese’s because the agents carrying out the arrest are white and Martese is black. Because of the history of racism in the United States, this has sparked conflict for the people of Virginia.

The way in which people are talking about Martese’s vicious arrest is that the agents who arrested and showed aggression towards Martese in a defensive way to Martese. The articles poses that although these “white agents”, as is written in the article, are arresting a young black adult for a committed crime but adding violence to the mix because of stereotypical behaviour of black men. The article states that people who were around the scene of Martese’s arrest witnessed this situation and repeatedly express how he did not deserve to be tackled or beaten.

The article barely mentions the reasons for his arrests. He was charged with obstruction of justice without force, public intoxication, and public swearing. There is evidential proof that Martese should not be charged with obstruction of justice without force because in Virginia’s Legislative Act, 18.2-460 C., it states “if any person by threats of bodily harm or force knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede any… law-enforcement officer, he shall be guilt of a Class 5 felony” (2009). The articles only states that Martese is a black man who was not granted access into a bar and was therefore arrested for swearing and being publicly intoxicated, but did not fight or threaten to fight the agents. The way in which this article is written stands up the intoxicated, angrily swearing black man because he did nothing wrong in the sense of harming or threatening to harm the officers. There was no aggressive contact towards them until the officers initiated it. Martese was wrongly beaten and harmed for one act which he did not commit and at the same time was harshly treated upon appropriate arrest. This is an example of using violence as a lens because recently in the United States, police and other law-enforcement officers have been accused of arresting and/or beating black criminals as a form of anti-blackness.

The systemic institution luckily stepped in, however, on Martese’s case by requesting further investigations as to why these officers needed to beat and tackle Martese’s arrest, saying “Governor McAuliffe is concerned by the reports of this incident and has asked the secretary of public safety to initiate an independent Virginia State Police Investigation in to the use of force”(2015).

The social and political intervention, #blacklivesmatter, plays a role in this case. Martese was systemically and purposefully targeted for demise in his actions brought on by his situation of not being granted access to a near-campus bar. The type of behaviour that one can infer Martese was acting out is not rare in the lives of typical 20 years olds across the country, or even North America, especially in the drinking cultures of university-aged people. For this reason, I support the call to action that his fellow classmates started by protesting against his harmfully aggressive arrest. Although, arriving bruised and covered in stitches from the incident, Martese exclaims that “We really are one community” and that “I beg for you guys to please respect everyone here”(2015), he respects the community and comes across as grateful for the support to the unfortunate event that is his anti-blackness, anti-racism, violent arrest.

BBC News. “Virginia governor calls for inquiry into student arrest.” BBC News. 19 March, 2015 Web.

Legislative Information System. (2009). Obstructing justice; penalty. Virginia: Virginia General Assembly.

Tolmie, Jane. Week 8 Lecture. Queens University. 2 March 2015.

4 thoughts on “Vicious Arrest Sparking Controversy

  1. lesg1249 says:

    I really enjoyed your analysis of language in your blog. From my understanding, it seems that the media is emphasizing Johnson’s race and using it as a cause of his actions. I think that an extended investigation is important because the media is clearly favouring one side over the other which is making the situation very biased. I think that racial violence by white authority figures is an issue that needs to be addressed but, its difficult to find the right starting point and what may be the right solution. What do you think is a good starting point to racial violence? All in all, you made good use of class terms and I enjoyed your analysis of language in regards to racial issues.


  2. graceelisabeth says:

    I too thought that the language analysis in your blog was insightful. Although the media does not outwardly commend the actions of white authority figures, they do not condemn them either. As you noted, there is a trend of white authority using their white supremacy to reprimand people of colour for no significant reason. You are right that Johnson’s behaviour is typical of most university students, but his arrest seems to stem from racist stereotyping. I am really glad that you dug deeper into Johnson’s convictions. Including the true definition of Obstruction of Justice clearly supports your blog’s perspective that white people subject people of colour using violence as a lens. I really hope the the movement of #blacklivesmatter gains more momentum throughout North America. I think that awareness is the first step to change but to bring awareness we need media sources that do not project such racially biased perspectives. Are you aware of any popular media sources that do not use language to sway the perspectives of their viewers? If not how do you think that we can bring awareness and change to this issue, especially since the media is one of the strongest tools within our society?


  3. tlapp30 says:

    I really enjoyed reading your blog, since I wrote about this topic as well, I was able to relate to what you say and compare/contrast it with my own thoughts. One thing that we both brought up for discussion was the idea of how the media portrays these events. Although they play a huge role in the perspectives that are made about these events, a lot of the time the media leaves out information, or targets the victim of the crime (in this case, Martese Johnson). It gets me to thinking about why media is so important to us. If we all know that the media can be wrong and hurtful, why do we continue to watch and listen to their stories and beliefs? Do you think that we could live without the media? If so, how would our society change? Overall, great blog!


  4. 12eg22 says:

    Thank you for an insightful post! You brought up a lot of interesting points throughout your piece. There were two I was particularly struck by. The first was your reference to the history of racism in the United States. Many black scholars and activists have made a compelling connection between slavery and lynchings of African American’ s and today’s violence by law enforcement. These scholars contend that institutionalized violence takes place in a historical context that repeats itself because the fundamental structures have not changed. Do you agree with this theory? What structures exist so that history repeats itself?

    The second part of your post that I was intrigued by was Johnson’s call for solidarity and respect across ideational lines. I found that this echoed Laverene Cox’s call for love as a revolutionary act. Does violence have a place in this debate? Because the state and law enforcement are violent towards black bodies, are black people justified in responding with force? I am very interested as to your thoughts!


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