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Students challenge Virginia officials, police, in panel session Friday

Attendees question why Johnson's arrest turned bloody

<p>Throughout the panel session attendees shouted, "answer the question we asked."</p>

Throughout the panel session attendees shouted, "answer the question we asked."

Students pressed representatives from the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control, the Charlottesville Police Department and the University Police Department at a question and answer session organized by Student Council in response to the arrest of third-year College student Martese Johnson Friday at 1 p.m.

Members of the University’s black community wore all black to the event “to represent the concerned community,” an email from student organization Black Dot said.

Throughout the session, attendees chanted, “answer the question we asked,” as panelists responded to student questions pertaining to the alleged violent nature of Johnson’s arrest and how to restore trust with law enforcement moving forward.

Second-year College student Vj Jenkins, the president of the University’s NAACP chapter, said he felt the session was ultimately constructive.

“I definitely felt like it was a productive conversation,” Jenkins said. “Several of the officers came up to me and said that they appreciated the tough questions. That’s how things are going to get done.”

The event was important for the community, Jenkins said.

“It was definitely a unifying event for us,” Jenkins said. “I thought it was quite special.”

Student Council President-elect Abe Axler, a second-year College student, said he felt this was the kind of event Student Council needed to hold.

“What we heard quite clearly is people were saying on [Wednesday] is this a conversation that need to happen with law enforcement,” Axler said. “We used our relationships to put together what I thought was a panel of people that was representative.”

Axler said he thought the questions asked by BSA were rightfully hard-hitting, and that he believes Student Council needs to have a stronger partnership with BSA.

Panelists included Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, CPD Chief Timothy Longo, UPD Captain Mike Coleman and Department of Justice representative Charles Phillips. Ryant Washington, special advisor to ABC law enforcement, was also present.

Addressing attendees and the panel, second-year College student Aryn Frazier said the BSA was not involved in organizing the event.

“We were not notified in the planning of today’s event until it had already been publicized,” Frazier said. “[We were] not involved in the formation of this event, but [meant] to be seen at this event.”

Frazier said she imagines that in planning the event, Student Council leaders did not have negative intentions, but rather “they did not understand.”

“We do not hate our Student Council, our administration, our law enforcement — we are here because we love ourselves,” Frazier said. “We are telling our own story, and that story requires that we tell people at this event that it was not planned with black students in mind.”

In an interview following the event, Jenkins said there should be better collaboration between student groups.

“There should always be a cooperation with groups on Grounds — we should be working together to solve these issues,” Jenkins said.

Questions at the event centered on fraught relations between black Americans and law enforcement.

Frazier said questions of law enforcement using excessive force in arresting black individuals stem from broader problems within the justice system.

“Let us remember that the justice system is a manifestation of a society that has not reconciled its horrific past, and therefore continues to have a horrific present,” Frazier said.

Students from BSA proceeded to ask questions concerning the specific training of ABC and Charlottesville law enforcement officers, the relationship between ABC and Charlottesville officers and what tangible solutions both organizations will work toward to prevent similar situations in the future.

“Why has the Charlottesville law enforcement not been properly trained to de-escalate [and] why has there been a pattern of escalation, especially on black bodies?” fourth-year Batten student Elshi Zenaye asked.

Longo said the officers are trained to de-escalate depending on the situation with which they are confronted.

“The reality of it is, these circumstances are tense, chaotic,” Longo said. “We’re looking at how we responded, we’re looking at how we interacted with the students that were there.”

BSA members responded with “answer the question that we asked” — a response they and others present used throughout the session when they felt their question was not directly or adequately answered.

Jenkins asked Moran for tangible solutions so similar incidents can be avoided “in the same way you said it wouldn’t happen again in 2013,” referring to an incident in which plainclothes ABC officers arrested Elizabeth Daly, and one officer brandished a weapon after mistaking water for beer.

Moran said although he was not in office at the time of Daly’s arrest, he joins current officials in their desire to avoid similar missteps.

“As soon as we did take office... we looked for someone who had law enforcement experience to review the law enforcement policies at ABC,” Moran said. “So that we can indeed improve them if that is the case.”

Washington was appointed as special advisor to ABC law enforcement in Apr. 2014.

Jenkins said this solution seemed reactive and not proactive.

“If there is no proactive solution, this meeting can adjourn,” Jenkins said.

Zenaye asked the panel about ABC’s commitment to its agreement to consult with University police in the potential arrest of a student.

Coleman said from the standpoint of the University police, ABC has improved its notifications to University police.

“It’s not perfect, it still needs to be worked on, and I’m going to assume that the ABC will continue to work to improve that process,” Coleman said. “Is it always done? No.”

Moran said while he is not familiar with the daily communications between ABC and University police, but he believes ABC does coordinate with the University police.

Upon completing their questions, BSA members left the theater chanting, “Black lives matter!”

Attendees continued to address the panel after BSA members had left.

Commerce Professor Sherri Moore, who teaches courses on Commerce Law, said it is important for students and others to know their right to refuse when asked by officers to present identification.

“We need to know our rights, our officers need to, as well as our students,” Moore said.

Dr. M. Rick Turner, president of the Albemarle Charlottesville NAACP and event attendee, said police should be focusing on training to address these issues, and that fear plays a role in these incidents for officers.

“Do we fear African American men so much that we have to bring him to the ground?” Turner asked. “Does this fear of black men play a measured role in the arrest?”

Longo said the recruitment of officers plays a large role in addressing issues of police bias in the long term. He also said he would like to see conversations with students take place more frequently.

“A lot of the questions and comments that we heard here today, we need to hear them weekly, daily, quarterly,” Longo said.

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