On the evening of March 18th a large mass of students and faculty gathered to protest the brutal arrest of Martese Johnson on March 17th. The Charlottesville police, the University, and the Commonwealth of Virginia were all denounced at this gathering for racial prejudice against African Americans. After but one day of consideration and after few questions have been answered, related to the Johnson case, damning assertions have been made regarding a great number of people. A rush to judgement has occurred that may prove to be irresponsible. The question must be asked whether this University, its student body, and most importantly its faculty learned anything from the Rolling Stone debacle of earlier this year. The university community should wait until all the evidence is on the table before conclusions are drawn.
If the facts prove to have unfolded the way the protest leaders on the 18th say they did, in which an unarmed male African American student that was cooperating with police was thrown to the ground and brutally assaulted without cause, outrage against the ABC is certainly warranted. The essential nature of race, however, has yet to have been proven. ABC agents have shown themselves to be quite irresponsible in their use of force not just against African American students. Last year several ABC agents pulled firearms on an unarmed white female student outside of the Harris Teeter near Barracks Road. The rash escalation to unwarranted aggression last year did not prove a fundamental prejudice against white females at the University. Similarly, the evidence that has materialized thus far in the Johnson case does not demonstrate a fundamental prejudice against African American students at this University. If events transpired as protest leaders claim there is still yet any concrete evidence damning the Charlottesville police department, or the ABC, or the Commonwealth. In this society, to claim someone is racist is a career ending, reputation destroying thing and is something that should be asserted only when sufficient evidence has been gathered and when the passions of the moment are not blinding judgment. The lax use of the word has unjustly destroyed many reputations and cheapens the power that the accusation should retain.
At this stage what is known is that an agency with a record of occasional excessive force was confronted by an intoxicated underage student who was illegally seeking entry to Trinity Irish Pub. We also know that a struggle occurred in which Mr. Johnson was wrestled to the ground and a laceration to his head was inflicted from the fall. What we do not know is exactly how this scuffle began or whether Mr. Johnson resisted arrest in some way. The African American student group Black Dot asserts that the action of ABC agents was unprovoked and unnecessary. According to AP sources, however, Mr. Johnson attempted to break free from an officer that was holding his arm during a conversation with police and the situation then escalated. If the AP is correct, Mr. Johnson is very likely guilty of resisting arrest and some form of physical response from the ABC agents was warranted. Whether the force utilized by the ABC agents was excessive or against protocol is still in question. Mr. Johnson’s wounds are certainly frightful but whether ABC agents acted in violation of protocol or training is not clear.
There are far too many unknowns at this stage to draw dramatic conclusions. The fact that some students have engaged in a rush to judgement is predictable. At this age we are more likely to be moved by youthful passion than calmed by mature patience. What is worrisome and condemnable, however, is the actions of certain members of the faculty who instead of preaching restraint and patience are side by side students shrieking racism. It would be interesting to see how many of these same faculty members damned Phi Kappa Psi before all the facts were known. The evidence in that situation seemed far clearer than they are in this case and the fraternity that was denounced and vandalized proved innocent of the specific charges made against it. We as a university community should have learned something from the Rolling Stone debacle. The members of the faculty in particular, as leaders and role models for students, should have learned not to rush to premature conclusions. Shame upon the faculty members who so irresponsibly egged on a group of impressionable students and pronounced that an unresolved investigation proves a fundamental hatred of African Americans at this University and in this state.
Accusations of racial prejudice have not in any way been proven up to this point and many facts are still unknown. We must not cheapen the power of words like racism by using them too liberally and faculty members should not egg on mobs. Let the facts become clear and then with righteous and informed rage we can react if racism indeed played a role in this case and let us return to the normal and mundane if it did not. Let us not rush to judgement.
By Patrick MacDonnell
Patrick is a third year in the College of Arts and Science.
Corrections: “Rolling Stones” changed to “Rolling Stone,” and the location of the ABC incident in Baracks Road was stated to be near Kroger instead of Harris Teeter.