Around 1 a.m. on January 30, three young black women from the University of Albany accused a group of white men of assaulting them on a crowded bus and shouting racial slurs throughout the attack. But on Monday, February 29, the three students were charged with misdemeanor assault, while two of them also face charges of lying to police.
After the accusations, the trio of young woman received sympathetic news coverage around the country. Students at the University of Albany held a rally to support the young women: Ariel Agudio, 20; Alexis Briggs, 20; and Asha Burwell, 20. At the rally, Burwell tearfully told the crowd, “As black women, we are shocked, upset, but we will remain unbroken.” Even presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted about the event, and local authorities promised a prompt and thorough investigation.
Crowd cheering as one of the students who says she was attacked begins speaking through tears. pic.twitter.com/OfRjSIpRwM
— Rachel Yonkunas (@Rachelon10) February 1, 2016
Now, Albany police say that video footage, witness testimony, and social media evidence all indicate that Burwell and her friends were the aggressors in the fight, while the white men were attempting to break up the altercation. The trio was arraigned this week in front of Albany City Court Judge Rachel Krester, who called the allegations “shameful” if proven true. All three pleaded not guilty.
“The video and audio evidence and the statement of every witness demonstrate that no male struck the three women,” University of Albany police said in a statement. “The evidence indicates they were actually the aggressors in the physical altercation, and that they continued to assault the victim despite the efforts of several passengers to stop them.”
Immediately following the fight, Burwell called 911 to report a hate crime, telling police that “Me and my friends were jumped on a bus because we are black” and that at least 12 “guys continuously hit us in the face.”
The CDTA bus contained surveillance cameras that captured both audio and video recordings of the assault, and at a time when 89% of Millennials maintain a social media presence, police also had ample cellphone and social media evidence to bolster their case. Burwell, the little sister of NFL player Tyreek Burwell, actively tweeted about the attack in the days following the incident, and the women were hailed as heroes by many online supporters.
On January 29, Burwell tweeted, “I begged for people to help us and instead of help they told us to ‘shut he f*ck up’ and continuously hit us in the head,” and, “I can’t believe I just experienced what it’s like to be beaten because of the color of my skin.”
If found guilty, the young women could face up to a year in jail.
Ironically, Agudio’s lawyer Mark Mishler asked people not to rush to judgement, telling the Albany Times Union, “It is also unfortunate that some in the media and public appear to have reached a conclusion as to what occurred in this incident without actually having the information needed in order to reach such a conclusion…Ms. Agudio, an exemplary young woman, an excellent student who has never previously been in legal trouble, asks that people not rush to judgment in this matter.”