Black Virginia student bloodied in arrest says race was a factor

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 12, 2015 1:01 PM

By Gary Robertson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) - A black University of Virginia student, no longer facing charges stemming from an incident in which he was bloodied by white police outside a bar, said on Friday race was a factor in his treatment and "society as a whole" shares some of the blame.

Charlottesville prosecutors said on Thursday they would not pursue charges of public intoxication and obstruction of justice against Martese Johnson, 20, who was roughed up by Alcoholic Beverage Control officers in the March 18 incident.

Charlottesville District Court Judge Robert Downer accepted the motion to drop the charges during a two-minute hearing on Friday. The officers involved in the arrest will not be charged, authorities said.

A few dozen supporters cheered Johnson when he emerged from the courtroom, and his lawyer Daniel Watkins said, "We're overjoyed today."

"Race was definitely a factor, but it was not the only factor," Johnson, a member of the school's honor society, told reporters afterward. "Part of what happened to me can't be blamed on the officers, it has to be blamed on society as a whole."

Johnson said he would try to serve other members of minority groups who are seeking justice but do not have his advantages of being a top student at a prestigious university.

"I will be able to move forward in my life," Johnson said.

The incident was one of a series around the country to draw attention to the issue of police use of force in the United States, especially against minorities.

In an interview with CBS News, he said his accomplishments as a student at the university "meant absolutely nothing at the end of the day" in the incident.

"Although I left the south side of Chicago, I hadn't left my skin behind," he said. "And at the end of the day, I'll always be a black man, always be seen as a criminal, always be seen as dangerous."

Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman told Downer that more could be accomplished by drawing lessons from the incident than by prosecuting Johnson.

Video of the incident showed Johnson on the sidewalk outside the Charlottesville bar, his face bloodied, with police officers standing over him. His facial injuries required 10 stitches to close.

His arrest touched off student demonstrations on the campus and Governor Terry McAuliffe ordered an investigation by state police.

(Reporting by Gary Robertson; Editing by Ian Simpson and Will Dunham)