University of Virginia: Governor launches investigation into police treatment of black student

Student called police officers racist as they took him to the ground

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An investigation has been launched into the treatment of a black student at the University of Virginia who received ten stitches in his face after being forced to the ground by two police officers arresting him.

Stirred by a photograph of the incident showing the 20-year-old student’s face running with blood about 1,000 students gathered at an outdoor arena on the university campus on Wednesday night to demand justice. 

Emotions surrounding the case have been amplified because of a series of cases across the US of alleged mistreatment of African-Americans by police officers, notably the killing last year of Michael Brown in Ferguson last August.

The incident happened in the early hours of Wednesday outside a bar in Charlottesville, which is home to the university, at the tail-end of St Patrick’s Day revelry. Martese Johnson, a media studies and Italian-language student on campus, had just been refused entry into the bar when he was approached by the officers.

The photograph that went viral on campus and beyond was taken by another student, Bryan Beaubrun, who said the officers, both agents of the state Alcohol Beverage Control board, acted with unnecessary roughness as they arrested Mr Johnson who suffered the cuts to his face after falling to the ground.

“He didn’t need to be tackled. He wasn’t being aggressive at all,” Beaubrun said.  A group at the university that calls itself ‘Concerned Black Students’ reacted angrily to the incident. “The brutish force used resulted in his head and bodily injuries,” said in a statement. “His treatment was unprovoked as he did not resist questioning or arrest.”

Even before the rally on Wednesday night the Governor of Virginia, Terry McCauliffe, a Democrat, ordered the police in Charlottesville to open an investigation into the incident.   According to court documents, Mr Johnsons was charged with obstruction of justice without force and public swearing.

As they gathered for the protest, students said they wanted to justice for Mr Johnson and began chanting, “If we don’t get it, shut it down”, an apparent threat to disrupt classes.  Mr Johnson briefly took the microphone. “I beg for you guys to please respect everyone here,” he said. “We really are one community.”

Daniel Watkins, a lawyer representing the student, said he would not rest until he had a full explanation of what had happened.  “We are preparing to investigate and defend this matter vigorously,” he said.