A lot of folks in y area with ties to the University of Virginia, were shocked this spring by the video of Police assaulting a kid in front of one of the campus bars. Martise was asked for an ID at the entrance to one of the bars, and after presenting a valid state ID was slammed to the ground by officers and arrested.
After being detained, all charges were dropped.
On the night of March 18, 2015, three white Alcoholic Beverage Control officers asked me for identification outside of a bar adjacent to the University of Virginia’s grounds. I showed them my I.D., which they wrongly assumed was a fake I.D. After a brief interaction with these officers, I was slammed to the ground violently, detained with handcuffs and leg shackles, and arrested without justification. 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.
The next morning, a video of my encounter with law enforcement went viral, and #JusticeForMartese became a nationally trending hashtag. Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Tanisha Anderson, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose. My name is now mentioned alongside theirs. These victims’ hashtags will probably exist forever, signifying a new historic era of social-media activism.
Most of those famous hashtags came at the cost of a precious human life. I am lucky to say this was not the case for me, but the list will continue to grow. According to The Guardian,as of the time of this writing, 880 people have died at the hands of “police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States” since the start of 2015. Of those 880 killings, 217 of the victims were black. Making up about 25 percent of deaths by law enforcement, African-American lives are lost at a higher rate than any other racial demographic in the United States.
I sustained three gashes on my head (one requiring 10 stitches to close), facial swelling, a busted lip, and cuts and bruises on my body. The scars on my face and head will likely remain for the rest of my life. The officers’ actions may not have been premeditated that night, but I do believe they were calculated. Thousands of students have been arrested for similar charges throughout the years, 1,670 by A.B.C. officers just last year, but it’s hard to imagine that most of them experienced the physical violence I endured in that brief period. Why would I be subjected to such violence when so many other students in similar circumstances—so many other students that same night—were left alone? 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. The United States’ policing issues are incomparable to any country in the rest of the world. The Guardianshares that “in the first 24 days of 2015, police in the U.S. fatally shot more people than police did in England and Wales, combined, over the past 24 years.” The truth of the matter is that police forces in America are over-militarized.
During my childhood in the South Side of Chicago, I believed that education and success would become my sanctuary. I grew up in some of the most violent and under-resourced neighborhoods in what is often called the “murder capital” of the United States. 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. When my brothers and I complained about materialistic things like new clothes, we were reminded that we had a place to sleep and groceries were usually in the refrigerator. By necessity, we learned to appreciate what many children in this country take for granted: food and shelter. Despite these hardships, my mother emphasized the importance of good health and togetherness within our family; she created a household environment where instead of feeling limited or disadvantaged, I felt emotionally supported and loved.
My mom did a great job taking care of us, but it was the constant financial struggle that motivated me to carve out a new life for myself and eventually my family. 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. Most of the young people in my community wanted better lives, too, but could not endure the poverty while following the rules of a society that had written them off at birth. We give more funding to prisons than schools, provide easier access to crippling debt than opportunity, and only offer jobs to poor communities that almost ensure mere subsistence over success. 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.
On March 18, 2015, what I had thought of as my long-worked-for sanctuary crumbled. Three A.B.C. officers did what they interpreted as their duty. They hailed from an agency whose mission consists of “protecting citizens by ensuring a safe orderly and regulated system,” but those officers’ definition of “citizens” does not include people who look like me. These officers would probably never admit to being racist, and it is because they truly believe that they are not. Still, their inclination to police a black male more violently than a white male conveys a different message. The officers did not see a University of Virginia student out with his peers; they saw a young black male with a high-top fade, a gold chain, some tennis shoes, and a hoodie. In their minds, I could not possibly have been a member of the “community” that they had sworn to protect.
Growing up in Chicago, I know firsthand how law-enforcement officers treat black people and members of low-income neighborhoods. Exclaiming my enrollment at a university that has never fully embraced minorities like me seemed, ironically, to be my last resort of claiming the sanctuary that I thought I had built. After years of working hard to change my life for the better, I realized that there were some things that would always be the same. There are no suits I can wear, words I can say, or achievements I can earn that will eliminate the centuries of fear and propaganda that have told this nation and the world that people who look like me are inherently a threat.
In the social-media tidal waves of police brutality, my story picked up traction. I was a University of Virginia student. I was “honorable.” I was supposed to be “one of the good ones.” And so my story had a plot twist. The media didn’t paint me as a weed-smoking kid with an attitude, like they were able to do posthumously to Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. The media didn’t refer to a previous arrest record, as they did in Freddie Gray’s murder. The narrative of a smart, black, politically active University of Virginia student being brutalized by A.B.C. officers directly contrasts the story often woven to validate black lives being taken by law enforcement. My story combats this victim blaming, and that is why it outraged so many people.
Raw Story reported that “more black Americans were killed by police in 2014 than were killed in the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001.” Trends indicate that this statistic will also be true for 2015. We are experiencing a new age of genocide, aimed at the destruction of black bodies. Our ambivalence coupled with inclinations to negatively judge has allowed us to accept police brutality in America. The men and women who have committed themselves to protecting and serving our citizens have allowed cultural biases to cloud their judgment and transform them into the very “criminals” they are tasked with pursuing. It has been too long, and we have lost too many lives to these crimes.…Read the rest here…