Charlottesville: DeAndre Harris found not guilty of assault

DeAndre Harris, beaten by white nationalists at August rally, cleared of misdemeanour assault and battery charges.

DeAndre Harris
Organisers say the men were charged because the police failed them [Zach Roberts/AP Photo]

DeAndre Harris, an African American beaten by at least six white nationalist demonstrators at the August 12 Unite the Right rally, has been found not guilty by a court in Charlottesville.

Harris, whose case was decided by a judge on Friday, had been facing charges of misdemeanour assault and battery.

His defence team had argued that he was acting in self-defence.

A video of Harris’s beating went viral in the days following the white nationalist rally, prompting an outcry.

Harris was initially charged with a felony, but it was later reduced to a misdemeanour.

Four of his attackers have also been charged.

The rally was originally called to protest against the removal of statues of leaders of the Confederacy – the rebel states that seceded briefly from the United States in the 19th century when Abraham Lincoln took power on an anti-slavery platform.

Counter-protesters and anti-racist demonstrators gathered to confront those gathered for the rally, and in the ensuing violence, Heather Heyer, 31, was killed when James Fields Jr allegedly drove his car through a crowd. Hundreds of counter-protesters were injured.

Injury allegation

Harold Ray Crews, a member of the white nationalist League of the South, alleged he was injured by Harris shortly before the beating took place.

Activists in Charlottesville called on authorities to drop the charges against Harris.

Demonstrators outside the court on Thursday afternoon [Al Jazeera]
Demonstrators outside the court on Thursday afternoon [Al Jazeera]

On Thursday evening, dozens of locals held a vigil in front of the court where Harris appeared, which is also near to the garage where he was beaten.

Organisers agreed with the defence’s argument, saying they failed to see how an African American in the middle of a white nationalist demonstration could be charged with misdemeanour assault and battery of his attackers.

“These men were victims of hate crimes all day long. They were spat upon. They saw Nazi flags,” Grace Aheron, one of the organisers of the vigil, told Al Jazeera.

Harris was not the only African American charged in relation to the August rally.

Donald Blakney has been charged with a felony count of malicious wounding for allegedly hitting Eric Mattson, a member of the Hiway Men, a group with members across the US who were at Charlottesville to protect both the “Constitution” and the Confederate monuments.

Blakney faces a grand jury on April 16 that will decide whether or not to indict him.

Corey Long was charged with misdemeanour assault and disorderly conduct for wielding a “flamethrower” to push back white nationalists.

Stream of spray paint

Long is shown using a lighter to ignite a stream of spray paint to keep back a man attempting to hit him with a Confederate flag, a common symbol of white nationalists.

A video later released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia showed white nationalist Richard Wilson Preston screaming a racial epithet at Long and firing a gun in his direction.

Preston has been charged with unlawful discharge of a weapon, a felony.

Preston fired on Long shortly after this photo was taken [Steve Helber/File/AP Photo]
Preston fired on Long shortly after this photo was taken [Steve Helber/File/AP Photo]

Long will appear in court on the charges on November 13.

Aheron stressed that these men were “outnumbered not only in terms of numbers but also firepower” and “police were nowhere to be seen all day long”.

An independent review of events surrounding the rally conducted by Tim Heaphy, a former US attorney, found that Charlottesville and Virginia state police did not adequately protect civilians at the demonstration.

A statement from Commonwealth Attorney Joseph Platania delivered to Al Jazeera said his “office will endeavor to work with law enforcement to identify, gather, and evaluate all admissible and relevant evidence” related to the alleged incidents.

Platania has no plans to drop the charges, though it should be “assumed the men are innocent” until proved otherwise, the statement said.

“To say that DeAndre was in any way a threat to public safety was a slap in the face to everyone in our community who endured the trauma of August 12,” Aheron, the Charlottesville activist, said after Harris was acquitted.

“The next step is to immediately drop the charges against Corey Long and Donald Blakney,” she concluded.

Source: Al Jazeera