It was supposed to be a gathering of University of Virginia students in one classroom Wednesday night, but a crowd of more than 300 people assembled at the campus after the arrest of Martese Johnson.
The crowd came together a day after 20-year-old Johnson was taken into custody by agents from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and the governor called for an outside agency to investigate the use of force used in the arrest.
Johnson was among the protesters.
The protest grew large enough that Charlottesville police re-routed traffic around the major streets the campus. Officers then rounded up and left the scene of the demonstration.
"We had no idea it was going to be this size," Charlottesville police Lt. Tom McKean told BuzzFeed News. "We'll let them have their protest, as long as they're peaceful."
But minutes later, when students and other protesters realized they were being limited to a quarter-mile stretch along University Avenue, they took their march into the city.
The group passed mostly-empty bars and restaurants lining the streets near campus, crossed the Drewary Brown Bridge and Ridge Street (which bisects the campus and downtown), and continued through the town's picturesque downtown mall until they arrived at the police station.
Along the way, they recited chants that first gained popularity at protests in Ferguson, New York City, and Washington, D.C. "Hands up, don't shoot!" "No justice, no peace/no racist police!" "Black lives matter!"
"Ferguson isn't an island," said Kwame Utu, a 31-year-old Ph.D candidate in anthropology at the University of Virginia. "We're all in for the fight of our lives."
Many of the students at the protest said they knew Johnson, who was repeatedly described as a popular student and member of the Honor Committee and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
Some students wondered if Johnson's status on campus helped draw a crowd and attention to an issue that they say has gone overlooked for a number of years.
"It's sad but I don't think it'd be the same crowd out here if it didn't happen to Martese," said Assa Diaw, a 22-year-old fourth-year student. "Even though we've all dealt with some degree of racism here in Charlottesville."
At least one protester was seen being handcuffed by police and taken into custody.
Protesters were seen blocking streets near the city, and officers appeared to be trying to get them to clear the roadway.
The university's Black Student Alliance called for a meeting Wednesday night over Johnson's arrest after pictures of his bloodied face circled through social media.
The meeting moved from a classroom, to a university amphitheater, and eventually city streets.
In addition to the protests, the website for the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control appeared to be offline, but it was unclear why. Officials at the agency could not be immediately reached.
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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