The Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia has now made clear his position in a broadcast on Washington, DC’s WTOP radio at 10:00 a.m. this morning, in the “Ask the Governor” program. Noting that he would be meeting later today with the Panel of Experts that he had convened on 25 March. As part of Executive Order 40. the measure was taken following the arrest of UVa student Martese Johnson, in which — according to the majority of the bystanders and the three ABC Agent-officers themselves — at least one of the Officers and Mr. Johnson actually tripped and fell on the brick sidewalk, rather than their having intentionally taken steps to bring Mr. Johnson to the ground.
The subsequent injury to Mr. Johnson that ocurred was as the direct result of the fall, which was an accident. It is also understandable that Mr. Johnson may not have realized at the time that is was was happening — and he still may not realize this — especially in light of the attention that was focused on what appeared to be a grave abuse, and one which has not received sufficient attention when it actually is happening, which makes this incident a bit more complex.
Nonetheless, the photo — and the video that was taken by a bystander — was widely distributed to all media outlets, both here and around the world, which seemed to give the likely impression that Mr. Johnson had sustained a beating, or that he was otherwise the victim of brutality, on the part of the Agent-officers.
An effort was made on the part of the Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, to hold an official public gathering in the City Council Chambers which was a lengthy iteration of what seemed to be the full details of the event and which was to serve to make clear the evidence on which that Office made the decision to set aside both charges — Swearing or Public Intoxication; and Obstruction of Justice Without Force — against Mr. Johnson; as well as the decision not to file charges against any of the three Agent-officers.
In the latter case, the evidence showed that there was reason to believe that Mr. Johnson may have provided a fake ID (since the owner-operator declined to allow him to enter the premises because he had not been able to recite the proper zip code on the identification that he had provided); and in the former case, Commonwealth’s Attorney Chapman decided that it was in the best long-term interest of the community not to press charges for Mr. Johnson’s having been unwilling or unable to remain calm as he was being detained as the Agent-officers were attempting to ask him clarifying questions.
The Expert Panel has met on several occasions in the past six months, and this will likely be their last meeting today, before they issue their recommendations. Amanda Lacone, in WTOP’s LiveBlog writes:
“He’s meeting today with the a panel of experts to determine what is the right role of ABC for enforcing liquor laws. He concurs that the ABC personnel should be reinstated. He can’t comment on the final report’s contents, which is not a public record. The agents or the student (Martese Johnson) can release it if they like.”
Among the materials that are available to the public at-large. in looking further into this incident. is an array of documents that have been distributed to the Panel of Experts, now available online, at the Virginia ABC website:
“Expert Review Panel Materials:”
The Panel itself is tasked with “reviewing Virginia ABC’s mission, structure, policies and training, and will make recommendations for changes, if needed.” It is comprised of 20 members, convened for the Governor by Brian Moran of the Office of Public Safety, and among the stakeholders from across the Commonwealth are state agencies, and other local and state officials, representatives from the hospitality industry, and included at least one student representative — Abraham Axler, President at University of Virginia Student Council — and Christopher Konschak, attorney and director of the citizens’ group, Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
An article appearing in last month’s publication of the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association made available some related statistics had an interesting perspective:
“As it stands now, an overwhelming majority or underage drinking—92.2%—is perpetuated by unlicensed individuals, family and friends. Only 7.8% of underage drinking is attributed to licensed establishments. … A Department that, over the last 10 years, has seen a 30% reduction in agents and a significant increase in licensees, effectively doubling each agent’s workload.”
As to the position reflected by the Executive administration here today and elsewhere, at least one critic — Megan Rhyne, writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch — argues the opinion that the Governor has the discretion to release the Report of the Virginia State Police in this instance, rather than the ‘requirement’ not to disclose it.
Often overlooked in a discussion of the enforcement of the specific laws relating to underage drinking, has been an appreciation for the duty of communities, especially parents who may frequently look the other way — instead of taking an active role in protecting their teens who are so vulnerable to peer pressure to engage in binge drinking. In the case of underage drinking — since the bodies of young adults from their teens through age 21 are far more likely to experience greater damage to the organs which metabolize alcohol, especially in individuals with a history of ‘binge drinking’ or otherwise drinking to excess. This can entail damage that will remain with them throughout their lives, often leading to a diagnosis of alcohol dependence, rather than alcohol abuse.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, underage drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among underage youth.