RICHMOND, Va. -- I was shooting video and watching the Virginia Commonwealth University student protestors lying down in the middle of W. Broad Street at Harrison Wednesday night, fully blocking westbound traffic, shouting “We have to fight back!” and “Black lives matter!”
All over a 20-year-old University of Virginia student bloodied during a late St. Paddy’s Day bar arrest.
The Richmond protestors were so absolutely sure it was raw and real racism by the state ABC agents. Martese Johnson, 20, was targeted and beaten for his color, they said without the slightest sense of doubt or reservation. Judged and juried.
There was a brief confrontation on W. Broad when a motorist (who happened to be African-American) fumed at them for stopping everyone else’s world. A pickup driver smoked his tires a bit backing up and running over the median to bypass the blockage.
And I’m thinking . . . is there any chance we can tap the brakes on this thing before we go off on another out-of-control-racist-law-enforcement rant?
Any chance we can just take a deep breath?
Yes, the bloodied, under-age University of Virginia student who was supposedly trying to sneak into a Charlottesville Irish pub was screaming “blankety-racists” at the ABC officers who had him pinned down in the street.
But you may recall the last time the Charlottesville ABC agents made bad news was when a bunch of them were trying to smash their way into the car of a white UVA co-ed who had just purchased sparking water – not alcohol - at the Harris Teeter grocery store in April of 2013.
Yes, that student, Elizabeth Daly, got some justice, a $212,000 settlement. You can bet the governor demanding answers in this week’s case will probably keep it under a similar spotlight.
And let’s consider recent history.
Just four months ago, University of Virginia was embroiled in a national scandal about a horrific gang rape at a frat house there. There were demonstrations, vandalism, the frat was shut down. Then the story fell apart – the scandal was built on a lies that Rolling Stone’s editors should’ve caught.
And, for the past eight months, we’ve seen countless national protests and even vandalism, shootings and lootings based on the Michael Brown “hands-up-don’t shoot” version of events in Ferguson that raced across the country like a wildfire. But it, too, was false, according to in-depth investigation by the US Justice Department that showed the unarmed teen was the persistent aggressor.
Can we learn anything from these events?
And as for those of us who are wondering why it seems the state ABC agents seem to be pretty busy in Charlottesville, perhaps we should remember some of the richest, most influential people in the world send their children to Thomas Jefferson's university there and likely want to keep bad things from happening to them, like the murders of Yeardely Love and Hannah Graham. Alcohol played a starring role in both of those high-profile cases.
We know the toll of underage drinking - the crashes, deaths, sexual assaults. You want regular police officers doing the 3,600 compliance checks ABC agents do in the state every year? The 1,800 or so criminal investigations, 1,600 arrests and 1,100 written warnings? The 9,000 inspections?
I’m not going to stand here and say this is some drunken, underage student acting like an idiot.
Nor should we start shouting about racism or out-of-control officers, or repeating rumors about this young man begging for mercy while he was mercilessly beaten.
We’ll hear other versions. Likely some surveillance video will surface.
Friends, we can’t launch a major national soul-searching every time a young person gets arrested and bleeds. Particularly on drinking nights.
But we can take a breath, pay attention and wait for some facts.
Maybe we’ll actually learn something useful.
That’s my take, please post yours here.