A Discussion of Police Brutality and Racism Sparked by the Unjust Arrest of Martese Johnson

A Discussion of Police Brutality and Racism Sparked by the Unjust Arrest of Martese Johnson

Dr. Tolmie expressed that finding new, relevant articles to support her lectures was often too easy. The point of this statement is to reveal how predictable and uniform news is. While researching police brutality to better inform myself I stumbled upon a Huffington post page that was solely dedicated to articles surrounding police brutality. It was apparent that the articles on the page were frequent and often outlined the same typical story in which white men of authority abused a black individual. An article by Robert Staples written in The Black Scholar, a journal of black studies and research, analysed racial politics in terms of white power and black crime. Staples concluded, “Whites and blacks have had different historical experiences with the criminal justice system. Mainly, whites see the law as a force to serve and protect their rights. Blacks have been more likely to experience it as an agent that denies their rights” (Staples, 2011) This statement is true in a historical context, as black people have been extremely marginalized. However, even with some aspects of equality improving, the criminal justice system still remains significantly unjust.

A debate has been started on an incident that occurred between Martese Johnson and agents of the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). The situation has turned into a “he said, she said” debate in which fellow university smartesetudents are claiming that extreme force was unnecessary and the ABC agents are claiming that the student was agitated and belligerent after being refused entry into a local pub. Despite the allegations on both sides of the story, Martese Johnson suffered cuts to his face that resulted in ten stiches. An investigation is being held that will look at the closer details of the incident. Meanwhile, students at the University of Virginia continue to support Martese and rally against the brutish force used by the Alcoholic Beverage Control.

As discussed, the incident with Martese is not an anomaly. Many man of power, such as the ABC, display hegemonic masculinity in which aggression to instil authority becomes the norm. I watched a video clip of the incident that was quite disturbing because Martese kept exclaiming “how did this happen?” As an outside source this conveys to me that it did not take long for the agents to have Martese on the ground and bleeding from his head. Many factors may have been involved in this incident. However, we must make an analysis based on the facts present. Martese is a young, black student who is in good academic standing at his University. The bar that he was attempting to enter is popular amongst UVA students. Depicted in the video, there were other students that seemed impaired walking the streets. So why was Martese Johnson specifically targeted?

This issue has been prominent in the news with incidents occurring in Ferguson, Missouri and in New York City. People in North America have been outraged by these events and have begun to speak out against the institutional racism towards black individuals by police. To attempt to answer the question as to why twenty-year-old student Martese was targeting we can look at society as a whole. In many ways society has adapted the idea of black respectability politics. The concept of these respectability politics began with a group of black women from the Baptist church (Dolberry, 2013). The women had good intentions; however, set forth a trend of thinking that instilled the idea that black culture is broken and needs to be fixed. This ideology is detrimental to black culture and does not help to promote equality. By deeming black culture as “broken” it emulates that white culture is superior. Although this is not directly related police brutality, it lays a foundation for people to dismiss the lives of black people.

Furthermore, violence as a lens accompanies the dismissal of black bodies. The term violence through a lens indicates that black people do not need to be carrying a weapon to be seen as violent. It has become so that the colour of their skin is an indication of how they will act. This horrific reality influences how the police and authority figures treat black individuals. In the book “Violence, Visual Culture, and the Black Male Body”, Cassandra Jackson expresses that “these children were fundamentally shaped by a hyper-awareness of how the world saw them” (Jackson, 2011). Jackson is explaining how the parents of black males had to teach them what they could and could not do or say to increase their chances of survival. The reality of the statement is both immense and disheartening. Members of society should not have to succumb to such tactics to avoid being a victim of police brutality. The issue of police brutality and racism is far from being resolved. However, the more awareness is increased the faster society will begin to change.

In terms of the incident with Martese Johnson I believe that the Alcoholic Beverage Control agents acted more violent than necessary due to violence as a lens. Martese was not treated as a compliant citizen and was roughly thrown to the ground with little regard for his human and civil rights. I believe that this incident is a smaller scale example of the detestable problems with police brutality and racism.


“Black Lives Matter” Gender, Race, and Popular Culture Lecture. 02 March. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Dolberry, Maurice. “”I Hate Myself!”: What Are Respectability Politics, and Why Do Black People Subscribe to Them?”  A Line in the Sand. N.p., 05 Sept. 2013. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Jackson, Cassandra. “Violence and Visual Culture.” Introduction. Violence, Visual Culture, and the Black Male Body. New York: Routledge, 2011. N. pag. Print. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Staples, Robert. White power, black crime, and racial politics. Black Scholar, 41(4), 31–41. 2011. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Link to video (*Contains video of violence and curse words): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5m9qnH2B3mM 


7 thoughts on “A Discussion of Police Brutality and Racism Sparked by the Unjust Arrest of Martese Johnson

  1. The use of pictures in your blog is a good way to engage an audience, well done! Your introduction explains the article and briefly overviews the arguments you are trying to justify. I agree that the criminal justice system remains unjust, however how can this be changed to protect all people from violence? It is important to provide some opinion in your blog and then support it with evidence. I especially liked when you stated that by deeming black culture as broken it emulates that white culture is superior. This is a message that needs to be spread so people are aware that some ethnicities receive special treatment within the law and something must be done to change this.


    1. I believe to gain equality within the criminal justice system it will require a major shift in all of societies views. The ideology of “fixing” black culture stems way beyond the justice system. Short-term fixes for violence and racism within police forces would be to further educate the law officers. However, for a long-term goal of equality our society as a whole needs to repel the concept that a person is inherently lesser.


  2. I remember seeing this story on Twitter and it really bothered me knowing that police brutality towards black males is not decreasing or slowing down. How in modern society is this still acceptable? I really like how you tied in another article to support your argument and I think it tied in really nicely. It blows my mind that he did not seem to be causing any harm and yet the police were incredibly violent towards him. When I watched this video, I remember the person filming kept saying that Martese was doing nothing wrong, which seems to add to the whole situation. He was stripped of his basic rights, a problem that seems to be growing in modern society between black males and white, cis-gendered male police officers.


    1. I agree completely with your sentiment about how outrageous the situation was. It was hard watching the video and hearing Martese so confused as to why the violence was targeted at him.


  3. I felt you really touched on the important topics throughout your post. As you mentioned this issue has been prominent in the news as of late, however, this is not a new issue. I believe that it would not take more than a single search to find numerous examples of this kind of police brutality against the black community dating back to long before the incidents in Ferguson. Take Rodney King for example, in 1991 he was brutality attacked by four police officers each of them ended up being acquitted of the charges. Although Rodney was driving under the influence, and engaged in a high-speed chase with the police, when he finally pulled over, he was brutally attacked, without any method or intention to physically defend himself. This just goes to show that these events are not isolated and the racism that is still plaguing the lives of people of colour everywhere needs to come to a stop. In what ways can we as a society facilitate this and more importantly how do we change the attitudes of those who refuse to budge?


    1. You provided a perfect example of how racism and police brutality have always been intertwined. I provided more recent examples to emphasize that even in today’s more modernized society there is still an utter lack of equality. I believe that the issue of equality will keep evolving as long as more people become increasingly aware of how their actions facilitate racism. The change in the way people view people of colour (i.e. through a lens) needs to be eliminated. I believe that this will only come with time and effort. Those who refuse to budge will hopefully decrease as society adapts to treating everyone as equals.


  4. You demonstrated a good understanding of racism and various manifestation of this phenomenon in a modern society. Institutional racism is the most dangerous manifestation of racism and misuse of the position of power. Police brutality and racism could be prevented with systemic changes and developing policies and procedures on one hand, but on the other hand with raising a public attention on these issues.


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