On March 18th of this year 20 year old University of Virginia student Martese Johnson was arrested outside a bar in Charlottesville.
Videos on social media showed Martese being pinned to the ground by Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) officers. Many students who witnessed the arrest said the officers were using unnecessary force against Martese and the arrest sparked widespread outrage. A few months ago charges against Martese were dropped. There were also no charges warranted against the ABC officers.
Today Martese is a fourth year student at UVA and he recently wrote a column in Vanity Fair Magazine about his experience in dealing with law enforcement and how police reform is necessary.
On the night of March 18, 2015, three white Alcoholic Beverage Control officers asked me for identification outside of a bar adjacent to the University of Virginia’s grounds. I showed them my I.D., which they wrongly assumed was a fake I.D. After a brief interaction with these officers, I was slammed to the ground violently, detained with handcuffs and leg shackles, and arrested without justification. As the officers pinned me to the ground with their knees, blood flowed freely from my face and my friends and classmates surrounded the scene, screaming with indignation and anger. They watched helplessly as I yelled, “How did this happen? I go to U.Va.!” When I was picked up and dragged away by these officers, glimpses of my ancestors’ history flashed before my eyes. Although it could never compare to a life of slavery, for those hours, I had no freedom, no autonomy, and no say in what was happening to me. I cried for a long time that night—not because of my physical wounds (though there were many) or possible jail time (I was charged with two misdemeanors that were eventually dropped), but because my lifelong vision of sanctuary in success was destroyed in seconds.
The next morning, a video of my encounter with law enforcement went viral, and #JusticeForMartese became a nationally trending hashtag. Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Tanisha Anderson, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose. My name is now mentioned alongside theirs. These victims’ hashtags will probably exist forever, signifying a new historic era of social-media activism.
Most of those famous hashtags came at the cost of a precious human life. I am lucky to say this was not the case for me, but the list will continue to grow. According to The Guardian, as of the time of this writing, 880 people have died at the hands of “police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States” since the start of 2015. Of those 880 killings, 217 of the victims were black. Making up about 25 percent of deaths by law enforcement, African-American lives are lost at a higher rate than any other racial demographic in the United States.
You can read Martese’s entire column at VanityFair.com.