LETTER: A Rush to Judgment

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LETTER: A Rush to Judgment

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.

About Author : The Virginia Advocate

Comments (22)

  • TickleMePink

    It was NEVER about race. Why people were quick to say it was police brutality because Johnson was black is beyond me. How about taking into account… oh, I dunno, the fact that Johnson was on the HONOR COMMITTEE and allegedly broke about 3 laws shouting racist/ profane things/ acting belligerent? He chose to be on the Honor Committee; therefore, he should have also chosen to take the initiative and displayed more maturity, not asking “is it cause I’m black?” or angering the police. The police don’t know the guy; they perceived him as a public threat and simply did their job. Yes, black lives matter, but so do the lives of everyone else and animals, too. We live in the 21st Century. There is no such thing as discrimination anymore. Our president is black (“OMG HE IS???”). Affirmative action laws are helping African Americans achieve goals on a much lower standard (that’s simply how it is. Deal with the reality). Yet…. This arrest is somehow a racial issue because Johnson just SO HAPPENED to be black??? I’m so done.

    Mar 19, 2015
    • Good News


      ” ‘(Johnson) apparently was not intoxicated by way of a breathalyzer test,’ Martin said.
      Martin told CNN he spoke with Johnson, who told him a breathalyzer test was done at the Charlottesville Police station where he was booked.”

      I’ll give him a pass for the “swearing in public” since there is video evidence that he was swearing after his head was slammed to the ground, and many witnesses said Martese was not acting violent in anyway before he was tackled.

      Also, kudos to the person who commented claiming that discrimination doesn’t exist anymore because our president is black.

      Mar 19, 2015
      • But...

        This is an interesting development, but it should be noted that usually the police don’t do a breathalyzer test on the scene for a public intoxication arrest. The police usually book the person and then hold them until the police deems them to be “sober,” which could involve a breathalyzer.

        It’s unclear how much time elapsed between the arrest and the breathalyzer. I assume that the stitches took a bit of time, as did the booking, and the breathalyzer may have came (as it usually does) when the officers are trying to deem the person sober.

        And lastly, I hesitate to cite Buzzfeed as a solid news source, who in turn cite a mere conversation between someone in UVa’s diversity office and Martese, both of whom are most likely biased. Granted that we’re all biased, but these sources are just significantly so.

        Mar 20, 2015
        • Generally,

          The only evidence at this point is the police report and the video.

          The officer describing Mr. Johnson as “very belligerent” does not agree with witness statements stating the opposite. NO witnesses to this point have said that they saw Mr. Johnson behaving violently in any way.

          The charges brought against him are public intoxication, public swearing, and resisting with NON-violence. So, the POLICE REPORT itself states that Mr. Johnson was NOT behaving violently. Given the character of Mr. Johnson (according to pretty much everybody), his lack of criminal history, the nature of his charges, the nature of his injuries, and witness statements, I would say at the very least some outrage is justified at this point.

          Mar 20, 2015
          • "But" again

            Actually if you look at the documents that the Cav Daily posted, the police report under “Other information considered” says “def. was very agitated and belligerent, but no previous criminal history.” Look, obviously I like everyone else won’t know the facts until there is an official investigation, and until then it’d be wrong to pass judgment. But the only “witnesses” we know about are from the Black Dot report, who I think we all would agree have an agenda (right or wrong). In fact there are no other witness reports other than the one from Black Dot.

            Again, I am hesitant to pass judgment one way or the other. But I am very concerned that some of us are cherry-picking information to fit what their gut tells them. We just won’t know until the investigation. And I think the author is at least correct about this point, that we should steer clear of thinking that we can decide who is guilty or innocent before the investigation (a “rush to judgment” you could say).

            Mar 20, 2015
        • But what?

          And why would you assume that the diversity office is biased? Diversity doesn’t only pertain to color.

          Mar 20, 2015
  • Thank you

    Awesome points.

    Mar 19, 2015
  • Karen

    Thank you for a well thought out response. When I first heard what had happened my mind raced to the worst possible scenario – that a young black man was harmed simply because he is black. Later I saw the video and was disheartened to see the victim claiming the police were racists in his profanity laced response. Racism is terrible, but it cannot be the first response when a minority is arrested. The facts must be reviewed. As you pointed out, ABC has a history of abuse of power not based on race. Look how they treated young women, in a dark parking lot, when they pulled their guns while wearing plain clothing so the girls had no way of knowing they were officers.

    In this particular case we do not know what transpired at the door of Trinity with the bouncer, or why ABC officers felt they needed to step in. We do know that an underage student was attempting to get into a bar. I hope there is video of the entire interaction so a fair assessment can be made.

    Mar 19, 2015
  • D.Stanley

    Very well said! If only our leaders and media could do as well!

    Mar 19, 2015
  • Anon

    you’re lying to yourself if you think this would have happened to a non-African American student, regardless of circumstances

    Mar 19, 2015
  • H. S.

    Also.. his fb has racists comments

    Mar 19, 2015
  • Anon

    It may very well be true that this was not racial prejudice. However, that does not excuse the fact that the ABC was out of bounds. I see no reason that they had to use police brutality in order to obtain custody of this young man. There were multiple ABC officers that could of held him until he was handcuffed. BUT instead they beat him. And similarly with the previous case where ABC officers out of uniform held a gun up to a young woman because she bought water. It is obvious that ABC officers are improperly trained and do not understand their jobs. If you watch the video of Martese being handcuffed, it looks as if the ABC officers do not even know how to use handcuffs. Futhermore, there were multiple young women and men out on March 18th without proper ID, so why him of the 100 other people?

    Mar 19, 2015
  • Grad Student

    Patrick, you are brave for writing this. It is tough to speak your mind nowadays without being accused of being a —ist, —phobe, or bigot. So many people are rushing to conclusions without waiting for FACTS.

    Liberalism is the downfall of America.

    Mar 19, 2015
  • Daniel Moore

    “At this age we are more likely to be moved by youthful passion than calmed by mature patience.” Well said, young philosopher. Johnson should have heeded these wise words—not crying out, “You’re f*cking racist” as his bleeding head lay pressed against the pavement, but instead something more like, “How dare you, sir, such violence is an excessive use of force.” Or perhaps such a phrase could only be uttered by a person whose racial and class privilege are such that he would never be the victim of such brutal police violence if he were the drunk underage college kid trying to sneak his way into a pub.

    No, mature patience comes off more like a smokescreen, promoted by those who have the luxury not to have to worry about systems of control and institutionalized violence (i.e. those for whom the justice system “works”). Now your argument might give me pause and have some interesting credibility if you were black, Patrick MacDonnell. But you are not. Turns out that logos ain’t much without ethos. Or pathos, for that matter—but let’s not get too carried away. Let mature patience be the order of the day.

    But the heart of the issue is your misunderstanding of what racism is. Racism is not something like the discovery that the ABC officer(s) secretly made racist comments via text, or are members of an institution explicitly committed to white supremacy, such as the KKK—as if we can lay out the evidence to be examined as in a court room or laboratory, interpret the data in deductive fashion and, if we happen to arrive at the verdict of “racist,” react “with righteous and informed rage.” Racism is not nearly so clear-cut as that. This is where words like “systemic” and “institutional” (or, to use the language of Scripture, “powers” and “principalities”) become helpful, because they allow you to examine racialized networks of power rather than render up or down verdicts as to whether this or that particular person is “racist.” It means that everyone is complicit in the politics of racialization, whether or not we are aware or prefer to acknowledge this. Racism is the water we swim in, not the fish we may or may not encounter. Which is why any as-yet unknown facts are not nearly as important as you think they are. The question isn’t whether or not the violence done to Johnson was “legitimate” (because, e.g., he was resisting arrest). The question is why this sort of violence simply just happens to certain kinds of bodies, and manifestly does not happen to others. Think about that, and you’ll begin to think rightly about racism.

    Mar 19, 2015
    • Anon

      I think the article is just trying to encourage those people who were not witnesses to not make immediate judgements about the motivations behind an action they did not see. Which is reasonable and right.

      Mar 20, 2015
    • Bubba Withab

      “Now your argument might give me pause and have some interesting credibility if you were black, Patrick MacDonnell. But you are not.”

      Perhaps the most bigoted statement that could be uttered — congrats. You know, Daniel, one of the fundamental purposes of a liberal education is to free men’s minds of their prejudices. Either you haven’t been paying attention, or you should sue your school for not delivering on that promise. That you utter such banalities, under the guise of kindly offering to instruct us on your race-centric conception society, tells us more than a few things.

      First, the use of ad hominem fallacy — the go-to method when outcomes are far more important than objective truth (see also below) — is the first sign you are part of the grievance culture racket. Aways subjective; always outraged; always will to power.

      Second, throwing around self-defeating, pedantic phrases like “racialized networks of power” and “everyone is complicit in the politics of racialization” (assume that includes you as well?) demonstrates there will NEVER be an end to your complaints of injustice. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the leaders of the grievance culture encourage you and your co-opted friends to do their blind-faith bidding.

      Finally, it is extremely dangerous to say “any as-yet unknown facts are not nearly as important as you think they are.” What? Are you aware of the Pandora’s Box you are prying open? This is the language of demagogues, small and big.

      You ought to be ashamed of your anti-intellectual and ultimately unjust posture. This is exactly what the colonies and later Martin Luther King rightly rebelled against, that the law was not a matter of personal contrivance and subjective interpretation but of a fixed moral law. We would do well to listen to their example, and call out those of you who wish to undermine it. It is that very rule of law which will blindly administer justice when bigots rise to power and cannot be bothered with “as-yet unknown facts.”

      Mar 21, 2015
  • BoilerUp

    Do we know for sure that he was illegally trying to enter? Or if he had a fake ID or not?

    Mar 20, 2015
  • Generally,

    “If the facts prove to have unfolded the way the protest leaders on the 18th say they did…” this is based on many witness statements.

    “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.” True. Plenty of posts on Yik-Yak will have you think otherwise. Not reliable I guess, but just saying.

    “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.” From my understanding, the student was confronted by the agency, not the other way around. Also, it’s not illegal to “seek entry” to a pub underage.

    “…whether ABC agents acted in violation of protocol or training is not clear.” I would hope that forcing someone to the ground who is not behaving violently to the point where 10 head stitches are needed is not part of training.

    Mar 20, 2015
    • William P.

      ‘Generally,’ when I saw that Patrick wrote that the agency was confronted by Martese rather than the other way around, I definitely knew this letter/article was nonsense.

      Mar 20, 2015
  • Mark Esposito

    Run for office, Patrick. You make more sense than the politicians we are burdened with now.

    Mar 20, 2015
  • Gregory Allen Turner II

    There may be a point that there has been a rush to judgement but how can you expect anything less when there are countless studies, evidence of police departments across the nation showing prejudice in investigations, citations, raids, search and frisk, and overall perceptions of minorities in this country. When you pull reference from the sorority girl who was stopped by the ABC officers for buying water, I feel we would be that much more inclined to believe that this ABC enforcement group lacks the little restraint that typical police officers would even show when dealing with underage drinking in an environment where it is so prevalent.

    As a former staff writer for the Virginia Advocate, I don’t have any issue with your opinion because I know that these are likely the opinions of many at the staff meetings. I just question what evidence would be deemed sufficient for the claims of racial bias to be legitimized in the group’s eyes? Fortunately we don’t live in a world where it is socially accepted for someone to just woefully denounce entire groups of people without consequence. However just because the officer didn’t make reference to Martese’s complexion and there hasn’t been any proof of their activity with racial hate groups, doesn’t mean there wasn’t some form of bias when they decided take down the student after being denied from the bar.

    You say that the reactions of the masses are predictable because they were so quick but that’s what you have to do when you believe an issue is and infringement on a persons rights to be treated fairly, even in the case of being arrested. Say you are correct and the incident was legit and no racial bias was present; the police have always been scrutinized by the public and always functioned so they will recover if they were truly in the right. But if this was a racially charged incident in anyway, the immediate response is needed to get any type of attention to it. Say they wait one week…a month, til the end of the semester to say this arrest was racially bias; all the videos might be gone or dated, witness testimonies will have faded and it because that much harder for Martese to make his claim and then the enforcement group will suffer no consequences because the individual will lose credibility as time passes (see majority of rape accusations on grounds)

    I just wanna close that you are free to your opinion but I would say that this “rush to judgement” is better than a delayed rush that would bare probably no fruit.

    Mar 20, 2015
    • Daniel Moore

      Well said.

      Mar 20, 2015

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