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Martese Johnson’s bloody encounter with officers proves race—not actions, income or education —still defines Black reality, say analysts


Johnson is held down by an officer, March 18, in Charlottesville, Va. Court records show that Johnson was charged with obstruction of justice without force and public swearing or intoxication. The Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is calling for an investigation into the arrest of the student.  (AP/Wide World photos) – Third-year University of Virginia honor student Martese Johnson survived an alleged assault by a group of Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control officers, but faces a fight for his good name and to avoid a criminal conviction.

Support for the young leader has been strong: The university president has come out in support of Martese as has the vice president for diversity. Protestors have been in the streets and on campus demanding justice. The governor of Virginia has called for an investigation.

Almost all asked the same question: How could this happen to Martese-clean cut, bright, active and law-abiding?

“As a Black man, a University of Virginia alumni and as someone who has covered discriminatory police violence against Black men and women the last two years, my hands were literally shaking over my laptop as I tried to write about the beating of Martese Johnson,” wrote Jason Johnson, a Hiram College political science professor, in an op-ed published on

“I kept hearing his scream, ‘I go to UVA You F***s’ as cops knee him in the back, face beaten and bloodied in a public street in front of all of his class-mates. It is a nauseating reminder that no amount of education, poise or good behavior can protect a Black person in America. We are all, one cop, one vigilante, one maniac away from being racially victimized regardless of what investigations come afterwards,” he observed.

“College is a microcosm of the real world, sometimes education, being refined, being respectable, does not shield you from racism. We as persons of color who work with college students have to prepare our students for the harsh reality life, that no matter who you are, what you wear, what you do, you can still be a victim of racism,” said David Julius Ford, Ph.D., who is on the faculty of James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Va.

Dr. Ford was driven to pursue his doctorate by a desire to work with Black male students, who face challenges in higher education and need support. He has done academic, personal and other counseling with students and knew Martese from speaking at a fraternity banquet at the University of Virginia.

“I hate to say this but I’ve seen (racism on campus) so much, I’ve become desensitized to it. That isn’t to say I’m not willing to speak out against it, but I am no longer shocked or angered by it because it’s become commonplace,” said Dr. Ford.

Faculty members have to use their curriculums to show what is happening and validate what students feel, “to listen and empathize with them,” he said.

“A lot of professionals, no matter what ethnicity of the person—Black, White, Latino, Asian or whatever—I think we are losing that level of empathy for African American male students and therefore we are losing them,” said Dr. Ford.

Helping students begins with empathy, offering a sense of belonging, taking an interest, figuring out what motivates the student, their aspirations and their history along with a sense of openness, he explained. Dr. Ford covered such topics in his dissertation, “A Grounded Theory of the College Experience of African American Males and Black Greek Letter Organizations.” His doctorate is in counseling education and supervision from Old Dominion University.

University of Virginia Alumni for Change has launched a campaign to support Martese and help with his legal and medical expenses. Their Indiegogo page “Justice for Martese” has raised just over $10,000 at Final Call press time. The page had been up about four days March 23 and the funding goal is $50,000. The effort is mainly led by graduates of the University of Virginia who are members of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. Martese is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi.

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