By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Flip open the October issue of Vanity Fair, and there is Martese Johnson describing his arrest by Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage agents earlier this year.
Johnson, a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia, sustained three gashes on his head (one requiring 10 stitches to close), facial swelling, a busted lip, and cuts and bruises on his body. Johnson was arrested in March and charged with public intoxication or swearing and obstruction of justice without force. He was charged with two misdemeanors that were eventually dropped.
“I was slammed to the ground violently, detained with handcuffs and leg shackles, and arrested without justification,” Johnson said in his editorial in Vanity Fair.
“As the officers pinned me to the ground with their knees, blood flowed freely from my face and my friends and classmates surrounded the scene, screaming with indignation and anger. They watched helplessly as I yelled, “How did this happen? I go to U.Va.!” When I was picked up and dragged away by these officers, glimpses of my ancestors’ history flashed before my eyes.”
“Although it could never compare to a life of slavery, for those hours, I had no freedom, no autonomy, and no say in what was happening to me. I cried for a long time that night – not because of my physical wounds (though there were many) or possible jail time (I was charged with two misdemeanors that were eventually dropped), but because my lifelong vision of sanctuary in success was destroyed in seconds.”
“With the untold thousands of college students in Charlottesville that night, it is difficult to believe that my race did not play a factor in the way I was handled by the officers,” Johnson said.
“During my childhood in the South Side of Chicago, I believed that education and success would become my sanctuary,” Johnson continued. “I have seven brothers; my mother raised three of us on her own. We struggled for what we had. No family car, no vacations, no weekend outings. We seldom celebrated holidays, because we could not afford that privilege.”
“I was often told that if I just did what I was “supposed to do” (pull up my pants, go to school, and stay out of trouble), I would one day earn a better life.”
“Many of my peers fell into the inescapable trap that is the U.S. prison system. I heeded the advice given to me by my elders, and was lucky enough to be among the fraction that escaped my neighborhood.”
“I was a University of Virginia student. I was “honorable.” I was supposed to be “one of the good ones … and that is why it outraged so many people.”
“Every morning I look in the mirror and am forced to relive the trauma,” he said. “I know that if my head hit the pavement differently that night, I could be dead. Now a fourth year at the University of Virginia, I am determined to be the first in my family to graduate successfully from a four-year university.”