UVA Student Council Holds Forum with Law Enforcement
Early Wednesday morning, 20-year-old Martese Johnson was arrested by ABC agents outside Trinity Irish Pub after he was denied access to the pub. During the arrest Johnson was taken to the ground, and his head hit the pavement, causing him to bleed profusely from a cut. He was taken to UVA Medical Center for treatment and received 10 stitches. Johnson was charged with misdemeanor counts of obstructing justice and profane swearing or intoxication in public. He was released from jail several hours later on a $1,500 bond and is scheduled to have a court hearing March 26.
Since Johnson's arrest, a number of protests have been held at UVA and throughout the streets of Charlottesville with people calling for change.
Friday, students hosted a discussion at Newcomb Theater about how to make sure everyone at UVA is treated equally. Participants at the forum included representatives from the ABC, Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo, Charlottesville Police Sergeant Gloria Hubert, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, Charles Phillips from the Department of Justice, Albemarle County Police Colonel Steve Sellers, UVA Police Captain Mike Coleman, and Piedmont Virginia Community College Police Chief Shawn Harrison.
Hundreds attended the forum with members of the university and Charlottesville communities sharing their opinions on law enforcement practices and raising many difficult questions.
"We had questions leveled at whether ABC should exist, about the way police are trained, about how they interact with students, how often they interact with students," said UVA Student Council President Jalen Ross
To some of those questions, including the existence of the ABC, its policy adviser said he could not fairly answer the question. At times, many students chanted "answer the question we asked" when they were not satisfied with the panelists' answers.
A lot of people at the forum also wanted to know more specifics about Martese Johnson's arrest, how it happened, and how long it will take to get more answers. Moran, who oversees the Virginia ABC, said State Police's investigation could take several weeks. "I don't want to interfere with it. I want it independent. We're directing them to conduct it, but in terms of overseeing, it's the superintendent of Virginia State Police," Moran said.
Still, students felt just having the panel was a sign of progress.
"I've been struggling with trying to rationalize why issues like this are continually happening on a national stage and it really impacts me with this so close to home," said Edward Alexander. He was mentored by Johnson and attended the panel. "I'm glad that at a place like UVA we can have that concern. Yes, we all have our own issues, but we're allowed to confront them together in this space. It's not to say there aren't issues, but it's definitely a great step."
However, there was a tense feeling in the room and on the panel.
"I think that some people being uncomfortable, perhaps the panelists being uncomfortable, is a really productive first step," said incoming UVA Student Council President Abe Axler
"The problem is - as [Black Student Alliance] has been talking about for a long time - is that people don't engage deep enough with the question. The discussion we just had, the conversations students - hundreds, thousands of them - have been having in the past few days weren't happening three days ago. That itself is progress," said Ross.
Members of the BSA said they felt they did not have a big enough role in the panel. Alliance members left the event early, chanting "black lives matter."
It wasn't just students at the panel discussion. Rick Turner, Charlottesville's head of the NAACP, was among the many asking questions at the meeting. "Do we fear black men so much that we have to use excessive force to bring a young man down to assault him? I'm concerned about the training. I'm concerned about the excessive force. I'm concerned about the fear," said Turner.
Students were encouraged that so many law enforcement leaders were willing to participate and hope this event will be the start of real change.
"You can't make change at a discussion meeting," said Ross. "90 percent of what we need to do didn't get done today, but starting the conversation about identifying what the 90 percent is is what we did."