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Bloody U.VA. Arrest Raises Issues of Race and Police

PHOTO: According to the Virginia ACLU the bloody arrest of U.VA. student Martese Johnson highlights longstanding issues of race and law enforcement. Photo courtesy of Martese Johnson.
PHOTO: According to the Virginia ACLU the bloody arrest of U.VA. student Martese Johnson highlights longstanding issues of race and law enforcement. Photo courtesy of Martese Johnson.
March 23, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. – The American Civil Liberties Union says the bloody arrest of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson is a sign of deeper problems between African-Americans and police in Virginia.

Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, says blacks are more likely to be arrested and more likely to be prosecuted than whites. And she adds a person of color is three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though rates of drug use are roughly the same. So, she says, it's no surprise some Virginians don't trust the police.

"If you're an African -American man in Virginia, you are right to be suspicious that you're being treated differently,” she maintains. “And that is not healthy and is not destined to come out well, particularly if the officers are not trained."

Martese Johnson suffered injuries while being taken into custody early Wednesday. The white Alcoholic Beverage Control officers who arrested Johnson charged him with non-violently resisting arrest and say he was agitated and belligerent.

Initial press reports said Johnson presented a fake ID to get into a bar. According to Johnson's lawyer, the ID was legitimate, although Johnson may have given the wrong zip code for it when asked.

Gastañaga says all Virginia police are supposed to be specially trained to deal with suspicions of racial bias, and to know how to deescalate conflicts. But she says it's unclear if that's effective.

"This is a nationwide problem, it's a statewide problem,” she states. “It's a problem for every law enforcement agency.

“It's not clear that everybody's gotten the training and it's certainly not clear that everybody's understood the meaning of the training."

The incident has sparked at least two investigations. Black students at the University of Virginia walked out of a meeting with police officials in protest Friday.


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA