Black Dot organizes rally, community members protest Martese Johnson arrest

Student leaders, administrators attend event, consider next steps

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Hundreds of students gathered in the amphitheater for a rally organized by Black Dot.

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

UPDATE: University Police confirm Charlottesville resident Sara Tansey was arrested around 10 p.m. Wednesday night during protests on the Corner.

Hundreds of students, faculty and community members attended a Black Dot rally held in support of third-year College student Martese Johnson in the amphitheater Wednesday night. Students used the open forum to express their discontent with the relationship between law enforcement and black people both locally and nationally.

Photo: Marshall Bronfin

Organizers planned the rally after Johnson sustained injuries while being arrested on the Corner early Wednesday morning. Johnson is the outgoing Honor Committee vice-chair for community relations and serves on the Black Student Alliance executive board.

Second-year College student Aryn Frazier, one of the rally’s organizers, said the event addressed both Johnson’s specific case and broader issues of police brutality.

“This is not about our anger today,” Frazier said. “Everyone here has a lot to be angry about. We’re here for Martese. We are here to love the countless other victims of police brutality. We are here for them. We are here because we could be them.”

Johnson declined to speak directly with reporters. He did, however, speak to event attendees as a whole, and thanked them for their support.

“This University opened me up,” Johnson said. “You being here is the reason why I still believe in the community of trust even with a busted head standing here on this stage.”

University President Teresa Sullivan, Rector George Martin, Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Patricia Lampkin and Dean of Students Allen Groves all attended the event. None of the administrators addressed the group.

Sullivan sent an email Wednesday evening in response to the event and said the University is investigating the situation. Dr. Marcus Martin, vice president for diversity and equity, and Dean of African-American Affairs Maurice Apprey also emailed students, faculty and staff expressing their concerns about how police handled the arrest. Sullivan authorized the distribution of both emails.

“We are outraged by the brutality against a University of Virginia undergraduate student,” Martin and Apprey said in the email. “This was wrong and should not have occurred.”

Groves, who came back from a meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence in Richmond to attend the rally, said the community must work through both official and more informal channels as events continue to develop.

“One [response] is the president’s request to the governor that [Johnson’s arrest] be investigated, and the governor has said that it will be,” Groves said. “The deeper piece for the community is starting to have honest conversations about how we engage each other.”

Groves said the equal treatment of all individuals is paramount.

“At the end of the day, most of these kinds of these issues are about respect,” Groves said. “Are all individuals shown the kind of respect to which they are entitled.”

The emotion of the crowd remained intense throughout the event, channeled through rally cries and public speeches.

Many of the attendees joined in a chant of “If we don’t get it, shut it down” — the same chant used in previous University protests and national Black Lives Matter protests.

Students, members of community express distress

Students from a variety of schools, groups and clubs spoke during the open-mic portion of the rally.

The organizers began by asking the question, “How has your perspective change as you processed the event throughout the day?” Many speakers decided to express opinions, provide personal anecdotes and suggest solutions.

Third-year Law student Manny Brown expressed his shock at the incident and reiterated it comes as part of a current national discourse.

“It’s still hard for me, I can’t believe I’m even up here right now, I have no words — because I’m sick and tired of this,” Brown said. “What I’m going to do is to continue to say that black lives matter until it’s true.”

Five female students from Virginia Tech said they came to show their solidarity with University students.

“We don’t know exactly what you guys are going through, but believe me we are experiencing the exact same racism, we are experiencing the exact same oppression that you guys are feeling here, so do not think you are alone,” one of the Virginia Tech students said. “We are supporting you. Hokies for Hoos all the way.”

Third-year College student Mariatu Mansaray discussed her personal interactions with the police and her views about the broader University community.

“I just feel like I get hurt by U.Va. sometimes,” Mansaray said. “I already walk around feeling like I’m at the zoo and I’m on display.”

Mansaray was one of many speakers who said Johnson’s treatment was racially motivated.

Many students expressed frustration and dismay at the administration and in particular, at Sullivan.

Third-year Engineering student Emily McDuff, a Minority Rights Coalition executive board member, noted the absence of both administrators and students.

“The people who need to hear this message aren’t here tonight,” McDuff said.

Sullivan left the rally before the event concluded.

Several students, including first-year College student Mike Scott, discussed the role non-black students can have in discussions on race relations.

“The only way to banish such discrimination is for people with such privilege and conferred dominance to recognize their privilege,” Scott said in front of the crowd.

Many people said they came to the event because they know Johnson personally. Charlottesville resident Jabril Carter, who works at West Range Cafe, said he knew Johnson to be a “really good guy.”

“Growing up in Charlottesville, I have been harassed numerous times,” Carter said. “[The police] want to arrest me for something, and they have no reason to.”

Fourth-year Commerce student Tony Douglas was with Johnson on Tuesday evening, and described Johnson as a “personal friend and a great guy.”

“It hit deep [for] me,” Douglas said. “This shouldn’t happen to any U.Va. student.”

Douglas said the event was supposed to be a small forum with constructive discussion about how the community could move forward. He said some of the language used during the discussion was not ideal.

“It frustrates me when people sort of communicate their frustrations in a negative fashion,” Douglas said.

Student organizations respond

Second-year College student Abraham Axler, incoming Student Council president and outgoing chair of the representative body, said he attended the event because Student Council represents all students.

“I try to come to every major student event,” Axler said. “This brutal instance has affected all members of our community.”

Axler declined to comment on any specific steps Student Council should take. Student Council is expected to release a comprehensive action plan Thursday morning.

“What I’m most interested in at the moment is taking a look at our relationship with officers of the law in Charlottesville and how we can make those more equitable,” Axler said.

Fourth-year College student Meg Gould, the student member of the Board of Visitors, said she came to the event because Johnson is a good friend.

“Martese is a very good friend and someone that I consider very invested in the this community regardless of anyone’s race, religion, gender, sexuality, [etc.],” Gould said.

Gould said the Board of Visitors first received an email about Johnson’s arrest mid-morning on Wednesday. She did not know whether the Board would have a chance to talk about the arrest and resulting community outcry, since the Board set its meeting schedule prior to Tuesday evening.

“I believe that given everything that happened over this past year…[it’s] time that people are coming together and finally realizing that the lives of every student and every person matter,” Gould said. “We can’t remain silent.”

Protest follows rally, attendees move to the Corner and Downtown

Some attendees of the rally, not associated with Black Dot, marched down the Corner and Downtown in continued protest.

The protesters moved down the Corner, stopping outside of University Baptist Church, before walking to the Downtown Mall. The march moved down Garrett Street across from the Downtown Mall, and then back to the Charlottesville Police Station where marchers stopped and spoke.

Protesters chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” and, “If we don’t get it, shut it down,” while walking Downtown.

University Police arrested Sara Tansey, a Charlottesville resident present at the protest, shortly after 10 p.m. Tansey was charged with assault on a police officer and obstructing the free passage.

University Police were called to the scene to disperse a crowd blocking the road at University Avenue and Chancellor Street.

“While officers were attempting to clear the road, Ms. Tansey struck a University Officer with her elbow,” University Police Lieutenant Melissa Fielding said. “She was taken into custody and charged.”

Some members of the University administration, including Groves and Lampkin, were present at the Corner.

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