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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: No amount of respectability will prevent racist attitudes

Another incident involving a young African-American man being severely injured due to police brutality occurred over spring break, on St. Patrick’s Day.

It seems as if these stories come right after the other these days, but this particular case is different than most, considering the young man who was injured (not killed, for once) was actually quite “different” from others who have made headlines, such as Michael Brown or Eric Garner.

The young man, Martese Johnson, is a University of Virginia junior studying Italian and Media Studies. Johnson is also a member of UVA’s Honors Committee and the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. Surprisingly, Johnson is one of the first young black men we’ve seen in these incidents who hasn’t been portrayed in the media as a “thug” or “criminal.”

Johnson, who was trying to get into an Irish Pub on St. Patrick’s Day evening, was denied access due to the bar manager assuming he was using a fake ID. (It was later discovered that the ID Johnson provided was real.) After being turned away, Johnson simply put his ID away and walked on, leaving the pub.

Just moments later, the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control officers had immediately handcuffed and detained Johnson, causing him to fall to the ground and bash his head on the concrete, at which point he began to bleed severely. He was arrested for “public intoxication and obstruction.” Images portray Johnson being held down by the officers as his face is gushing blood.

The officers never eased up or helped Johnson with his severe face and body injuries, which resulted in 10 stitches.

The pub owner put out a statement claiming that Johnson didn’t appear to be under the influence at all, which then brings up the question of why these ABC officers claimed otherwise. Even still, if Johnson were to be publicly intoxicated or defiant, is an injury resulting in 10 stitches to the head really necessary in such a circumstance?

What if he was white?

The problem in this case wasn’t about a young man being publicly intoxicated or obstructive. After all, how many cases have you heard about a minor using a fake ID or someone being publicly intoxicated that resulted in stitches? No, this is clearly a case of racism, where Johnson was read by the officers as being inherently dangerous, despite evidence to the contrary.

Tani D. Sanchez, associate professor of Africana studies, said Johnson’s case is “not surprising. It represents part of [a] larger systemic issue that dates back to the foundations of America and to its political, social and legal history.”

It is astonishing how even black people who are doing the “right” things and getting college educations are still subject to racism and discrimination.

First, African-American victims of police brutality are discriminated against by being immediately stereotyped as “thugs,” as in the cases of Brown and Trayvon Martin. Now, we have a young man who is ambitious and intelligent, doing what is “right” by society, presenting himself in a way that absolutely cannot be construed as “thuggish,” and even he cannot escape racism and the fate of black men who come into contact with the police.

“While it is satisfying to know that some of the past has changed, a look at economic, enforcement and other statistics show the outcomes and consequences of our history are still with us,” Sanchez said.

She added that believing racism doesn’t exist is denying that “corporate racism, housing discrimination and being followed in stores doesn’t exist.”

Many are convinced the stories running in the media aren’t any different from reports on white criminals’ encounters with police. But stories like Johnson’s aren’t about criminals, but rather young, unarmed men being subjected to police brutality — with their health, dignity and, at times, lives taken as a result.

“I guess an even deeper question,” Sanchez said, “is why so many people want so desperately to believe that what is right before our eyes is not happening?”


Jessica Terrones is a journalism freshman. Follow her on Twitter.

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