Two of the three SUNY-Albany students who were involved in an alleged racial hate crime incident on a bus in January of last year have avoided the more serious charges against them.
Ariel Agudio and Asha Burwell were convicted this past week on two counts of “falsely reporting an incident”; however, they were acquitted of five assault and harassment charges.
The case goes back to the early morning hours of January 30, 2016, when three black female students claimed they were taunted with racial slurs and attacked by a group of white men.
As news spread of the incident, people from Albany President Robert Jones to Hillary Clinton expressed support for the girls. Jones even stuck to his guns, so to speak, after evidence came to light which disproved the students’ story.
Surveillance and cellphone video footage and eyewitness testimony did not align with what the trio had claimed; in addition, the 911 call one of them (Agudio) had made displayed a rather jovial demeanor which included Agudio’s quip “I think it’s so funny … I just think it’s so funny how, like … I beat up a boy!”
Months later, Alexis Briggs confessed to fabricating the whole tale. In a plea deal, she avoided jail time. Agudio and Burwell rejected any deals and hence ended up going to trial.
Throughout the whole affair, local activists stood by the young women. The author of a local Black Lives Matter-affiliated “open letter” said “When we see city and university officials not offering any neutrality or even support for these young women, for us, that’s totally unacceptable.
“Black and brown women are vulnerable at all times to violence, and oftentimes are not believed in response to any violence that they endure. They’ve [law enforcement] pursued it in a very aggressive manner, which is quite dissimilar to how they’ve pursued other incidents.”
The Facebook page “Indefensible” sprang up, complete with the byline “The Wrongful Prosecution of the UAlbany Three.” It made the “case” that the charges against the students need to be considered in context — “the ways both race and racism are viewed through competing lenses in society, and how dismissing the narratives of the most marginalized can perpetuate existing systems of oppression.”
Activist Masai Andrews of NY Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration wrote on Facebook:
Here’s why I don’t care who “started” the fight:
1) Some people deserve to be punched in the face. I graduated from SUNY Albany; this was the main thing I learned while there. Violence can take many forms. One of those forms is the onslaught of bro-racism, bro-misogyny, and bro-entitlement that occurs on campus. Just because you’ve never been hit with a Guinness bottle at Kegs & Eggs doesn’t mean you aren’t constantly under attack while existing in that space. We should acknowledge that “starting a fight” is a lot more than throwing the first blow. What some people call “instigating violence” is often self-defense. And I say that as a veritable pacifist.
2) It’s important to remember that “throwing the first blow” doesn’t mean one deserves to be held down and beaten by bystanders. If it does, then I know some toddlers who need to be jumped immediately. …
… assuming the entire incident was inexplicably made up; we still know three Black women were injured—with at least one potentially sustaining a concussion—and all three garnering cuts and contusions. We know Black students are outnumbered 5 to 1 on the SUNY campus. We know that SUNY Albany, like most college campuses, is a bastion of racism and misogyny. We know Black students, and Black women in particular, are constantly subjected to an onslaught of micro and macro aggressions at the hands of White students and faculty. Why, then, should we not rally behind #DefendBlackGirlsUAlbany?
As the trial approached this month, four charges were dropped against Agudio because “victims of those charges were not available to testify.”
During last week’s proceedings, cellphone footage of the scuffle was shown to the jurors. While the former UAlbany students who shot the footage said they did not hear any racial slurs, under cross examination by the defense they said “it was loud and chaotic and […] don’t know why the fight started or what exactly was said.”
In the same article, ABC News 10 felt compelled to ask race activist Alice Green her opinion of the attack footage:
“We’re all anxious to learn the truth of what happened,” [she] said. …
“Videos that were shown to me by the DA and other videos that I’ve seen have not shown anything that could really be seen as the truth because they’re very difficult to determine.” …
“If there’s racism involved it colors your responses to things so and often white America doesn’t understand what racism looks like so you know it will still be there. The questions will still be there no matter how this turns out.”
According to Spectrum News, much of the trial “centered around whether or not the word ‘ratchet’ is racist.” The defense even spent time arguing that the phrase “get a job” — which one of the victims uttered to the girls — is racist “when spoken to a black woman.”
After the verdict came down, defense attorney Frederick Brewington said “These young ladies who said all along that they had been victimized on a bus and that they were not the ones who assaulted or harassed anyone has been made to be clearly true by the verdict of this jury.”
District Attorney David Soares responded thusly: “Falsely reported incidents create immeasurable harm, not the least of which is the doubt, cynicism, and suspicion a person with a legitimate claim will likely receive in the future.”