In the early hours of March 18, 2015, The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) team arrested a young black man outside of a popular pub in Charlottesville, Virginia. Martese Johnson, 20, who is a third year student at the University of Virginia, was charged with obstruction of justice without force, and public swearing and intoxication. Normally an arrest of this kind would be looked past by government officials, but when witnesses came forward and the video surveillance of the incident was released, something had to be done.
The ABC, who claim that Martese “was very agitated and belligerent” (ABC, 2015), tackled the man to the ground, where he hit his head and badly cut his face. The images and videos of the incident show police pushing Martese to the ground, as he complied and started to bleed. The ABC tried to defend their violence with claims of Martese’s aggression, but witness and photographer Bryan Beaubrun claimed that “(Martese) didn’t need to be tackled. He wasn’t being aggressive at all” (Bryan Beaubrun, 2015). Martese’s charge says it all: he was charged with obstruction of justice without force. If Martese was not showing any aggression or belligerence towards police officials, then why did they respond to him with unnecessary force?
Martese’s incident has sparked inquiry and anger across North America, as many suspect that his case is another that revolves around racial inequality. The idea that some police officials’ actions are fuelled by racism, especially directed at black people, is growing in popularity and validity. This year alone, almost three hundred black individuals have been killed due to police violence (Montgomery Advisor, 2015). These recent death poles combined with well-known cases such as Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin have sparked revolution and protests across the globe.
The case of Martese Johnson is only one example of unnecessary police violence, and proves that change needs to take place within the walls of law officials; but how do the actions of such law officials reflect upon the society that we live in today? As much as those law enforcement officers who use force unnecessarily or act upon racist views should be punished, the incident of Martese Johnson is proof that societal reform is needed. The people who exhibit signs of xenophobia against certain races got their views from somewhere: society. In order for equality to be achieved, political change needs to occur. Education based on the principles of race and equality should be instilled in the minds of the young, and law officials who use force that is not substantiated should be punished more harshly. By letting these cases of racial violence slip by with little consequences for the perpetrators, inequalities are created because it creates the idea that black lives are not as important. This needs to stop. Societal hierarchies should not be determined by things we cannot control, such as race.
The hashtag #blacklivesmatter is becoming increasingly recognized, and will likely be a trademark of pop culture within our generation. “The #BlackLivesMatter movement began as a hashtag after George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2013, and gained momentum after the shooting of Michael Brown, the shooting of John Crawford, and the death of Eric Garner, all in 2014” (Black Lives Matter, 2013). This movement is an excellent example of solidarity, and combats racial injustice not just within law enforcement, but within society.
The incident of Martese Johnson should be a wake up call for our society, as our generation has the power to put an end to racial injustice and oppression. While law enforcement should be critically examined after situations involving violent altercations, the big picture goal is to target racial injustice and racial violence within our society. Laws need to be stricter and protect everyone regardless of race, but before such laws can be successfully integrated and carried out, there needs to be a certain level of respect and equality in the world that we live in, among all people.
Martese Johnson was a victim of racial injustice, but in a sense he is lucky, because unlike many of the others, he survived. The fact that a victim of such violence should be considered lucky is extremely saddening, but if we take his instance and use it as motivation to act in ways that can prevent future generations from suffering, his story can be seen as an inspiration and a last straw before action, within the long battle against racism.
“Protests Target Racial Injustice, Not Police.” The Montgomery Advisor. 4 Jan. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.
“Support the Movement for Black Lives!” Black Lives Matter. 1 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.
“Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest.” BBC News. 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.