March Madness is the common reference to the NCAA basketball post season. But the madness in Charlottesville, Virginia is another kind of spring madness. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents arrested third-year University of Virginia student Martese Johnson after being denied entry into a bar near the campus. Johnson was beaten by agents and later required 10 stitches from the attack, which was caught on a cell phone from a witness. In the interest of full disclosure I am the parent of a UVA alum.
Police violence seems to be more common than any of us really understood or realized. The case in Charlottesville strikes too close to home for every college student of color. Is it possible that an officer of the law can bludgeon a student because “because a determination was made” to arrest him apparently without reason. What words or actions would justify this kind of treatment? It shouldn’t matter that Johnson is majoring in Italian and media studies and holds several leadership positions in campus organizations and has no criminal record.
Did the ABC officers miss or flunk the part of their training that included mediation, negotiation, and deescalating tense situations? These are ABC officers near a college campus, where there is likely to be alcohol, so what kind of alcohol arrest warrants this level of violence? I can’t accept the notion that police and security do a better job of keeping the peace by resorting to violence. Somehow everyone including law enforcement agencies have to come to grips with the unbridled use of violence. As a young college student I listened to the radicals in the civil rights movement as much as I listened to the nonviolent principled leaders. I grew to believe the use of violence would cause even more violence. We have little hope of a civil society if chiefs of police, sheriffs and other law enforcement commanders don’t get their troops properly trained and motivated to keep the peace without uusing or threatening violence. It is time for the leadership of law enforcement to take responsibility for enforcing the law without causing reckless harm to those they pledge to protect and to do so without targeting for violence and abuse African American and Latino men. The balance between enforcing the law, using common sense and protecting the public may be difficult in some circumstance but it is possible. The officers and the public they pledge to protect must be safe. It is not too much for the public to expect for law enforcement leaders in every city, town or village to take responsibility for eliminating police violence and police abuse of power.