PROSECUTION OF UALBANY BUS INCIDENT STIRS COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS
Community support for Asha Burwell and Ariel Agudio, the defendants in the infamous University at Albany bus incident case, has reached an all-time high.
A collection of Capital District activists such as Black Lives Matter Upstate New York and the Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration have started to organize and protest what they believe to be troubling discrepancies in the prosecution of former UAlbany students, Burwell and Agudio.
The now infamous UAlbany bus incident occurred in the early morning of Jan. 30 around 1 a.m. Burwell, Agudio, and their friend Alexis Briggs entered a CDTA 11 bus after visiting a friend’s apartment downtown and eventually an argument brewed after another college student began singing loudly on the bus. This soon grew into a violent altercation in which Burwell, Briggs, and Agudio claimed to be on the receiving end of numerous racial slurs and taunts.
A few weeks later, on Feb. 5, the three were brought up on a myriad of criminal charges including third degree assault and having falsely reported an incident. Briggs eventually entered a plea deal while Agudio and Burwell plead not guilty.
Supporters of Agudio and Burwell have organized online, often through the hashtag #defendblackgirlsUAlbany. The common consensus among activists is that the charges brought against Agudio and Burwell are racially motivated and that much of the evidence, such as the CDTA surveillance video made available to the public are inconclusive. On Nov. 14, this argument was summarized in an online documentary titled “Indefensible.”
Through interviews with local activists as well as direct footage from police interrogations with Briggs, Burwell, and Agudio, “Indefensible” aims to clear up what the filmmakers believe to be “the many ways race factored into the initial assault and the ensuing reaction.”
In an email interview, the filmmakers requested that they remain anonymous to “keep the focus on the case and the women involved,” and hope to see a similar outcome to the recent reversal of Albany teenager Marquis Dixon’s nine-year sentence for stealing a pair of sneakers.
One thing that Dixon’s trial has in common with the bus incident trial are the “pack the court” protests that have had a presence at various hearings. On Nov. 18, roughly 40 protestors gathered at the Albany County Judicial Center, located at 6 Lodge St to show their support.
Burwell and Agudio arrived at 9:30 a.m. and were greeted with protestors cheering, “We love you!”
Present in the audience was Daphne Chandler, an assistant professor in the UAlbany Africana studies department. Chandler is one of the faculty supporters of Burwell and Agudio, and has written several letters to the school’s administration on behalf of a “people’s coalition” in defense of the two.
In a letter addressed to H. Carl McCall, Chairman of SUNY’s Board of Trustees, Chandler accuses the UAlbany Police Department of conducting “an extremely shoddy and discriminatory ‘investigation’ because UAlbany administration had at the same time decided that it would be in the best interest of the campus to elevate its budget above the welfare and treatment of its students.”
While it will still be some time before a final verdict is reached for Burwell and Agudio, activists show no sign of slowing down the #defendblackgirlsUAlbany movement.
Indefensible’s filmmakers believe that the trial’s outcome will greatly impact issues of race and gender.
“[It] will influence how the community and ‘the system’ respond to future incidents of racism and sexism. If the court does the right thing, the community will be empowered in knowing they can truly influence change,” the filmmakers said in an email. “If the courts make an example of these women, the community will have to make a decision about what they’re willing to do to prevent future injustices and to support these women moving forward.”