Charlottesville: Anti-racist activist Corey Long’s trial delayed

Charlottesville organisers pledge support of African Americans on trial for ‘self-defence’ at white nationalist rally.

Charlottesville Long flame
Shortly after this photo was taken, a white nationalist shot at Long with a firearm, video shows [File: Steve Helber/AP Photo]

The trial of Corey Long, an African American man who was allegedly shot at by a white nationalist during last August’s “Unite the Right” Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia has been granted a continuance.

Community organisers gathered outside the courtroom on Tuesday morning wearing all black in support of Long, whose lawyers asked for the continuance. Organisers told Al Jazeera they believe the trial will take place in June.

Long has been charged with misdemeanour assault and disorderly conduct related to his use of a “flamethrower” at the rally. Long’s lawyers asked for the delay after being offered a plea deal, which they did not accept, activists said.  

Organisers feel Long was unjustly charged after white nationalists present during the August 12 rally told law enforcement they were assaulted. 

Video from the incident shows a white nationalist firing a gun in Long’s direction. 

Long “never should have been charged with a crime in the first place”, Charlottesville activists said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.

‘Unite the Right’

The “Unite the Right” rally and its fallout marked a new era for the far-right movement in the US, commonly referred to as the alt-right, a loosely knit movement including neo-Nazis, white supremacists and white nationalists. 

White nationalists of different ideologies gathered in Charlottesville to “defend” statues of Confederate leaders that local activists were fighting to have removed. 

Counterprotesters and anti-racist demonstrators gathered to confront those gathered for the rally, and in the ensuing violence, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when James Fields Jr allegedly drove his car into a crowd.

A photo of Long using a lighter to ignite a stream of spray paint to keep back a man attempting to beat him with a Confederate flag – a common symbol of white nationalists – went viral in the days following the rally.

Solidarity CVille, a network of community organisations, said the photo became “a symbol of resistance to the violent white supremacist attack on Charlottesville”.

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 during the “flamethrower” incident. Preston has been charged with unlawful discharge of a weapon, a felony, and his trial is set for early next month. 

‘Drop the charges’

Long is not the first African American to be charged in Charlottesville for events related to the August rally.

On Monday, Donald Blakney, a man from Charlottesville, went before a grand jury and was indicted for “maliciously wounding” a man from Arkansas who marched with the ‘Hiway Men’ group, who claim to be not white nationalists, but defenders of free speech. 

Blakney’s lawyers claimed he hit someone he thought was a white supremacist after being called a racial slur. His trial is set for August 30.

DeAndre Harris, an African American beaten by at least six white nationalist demonstrators, was found not guilty of misdemeanour assault and battery.

Activists have been working for months to convince Commonwealth Attorney Joseph Platania to drop the charges against all three men.

These men “were completely humiliated and degraded racially”, Grace Aheron, an activist with Showing up for Racial Justice – Charlottesville, told Al Jazeera. 

Aheron laid the blame on law enforcement, which activists in the Virginia city feel acted inadequately during the white nationalist rally.

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

In a statement from Patania’s office sent to Al Jazeera, the public prosecutor 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 declined to drop charges but said it should be “assumed the men are innocent” until proven otherwise, the statement said.

Source: Al Jazeera