Charlottesville: Warrant issued for DeAndre Harris
A warrant has been issued for the arrest of an African American man who was assaulted by at least six white nationalists following a confrontation during the deadly August rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The arrest warrant was issued on Monday for DeAndre Harris, 20, for unlawful wounding, a felony charge that is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.
The confrontation took place after a friend of Harris attempted to take a Confederate flag, widely considered a symbol of white supremacy, away from one of the marchers.
A video of the assault was shared and viewed widely in the days following the “Unite the Right” rally, which saw hundreds of white supremacists marching in Charlottesville to protest the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee.
The video of the assault shows Harris being kicked and punched by a group of white supremacists.
Separately at the rally, a man with links to a white nationalist group, allegedly rammed his car into a group of anti-racist protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.
Jeff Fogel, who is currently in the running to become Charlottesville’s Commonwealth Attorney, told Al Jazeera that Charlottesville police have “a lot to explain,” noting that authorities have been slow to apprehend far-right protesters accused of similar misconduct.
According to a statement by the Charlottesville police, the alleged “victim went to the magistrate’s office, presented the facts of what occurred and attempted to obtain the warrant”.
The statement added: “The magistrate requested that a detective respond and verify these facts. A Charlottesville Police Department detective did respond, verified the facts, and a warrant for unlawful wounding … was issued.”
Regarding the statement’s claim that police “verified” the facts, Fogel said he takes “that to mean that the police claim [Harris] committed the offence. Now it’s up to the police department to show us the proof”.
A national campaign to identify and charge the six men who attacked Harris was spearheaded by Shaun King, a writer and civil rights activist.
King collected photo and video evidence of the assault and shared images of the assailants, leading to the identification of at least two, who were also charged with unlawful wounding.
King was outraged by the warrant, saying Harris “is a victim and only a victim in this”.
“I’ve reviewed all of the photo and video evidence at great length. It’s an abomination that he was charged,” he told Al Jazeera.
For many in Charlottesville, the warrant is a continuation of discrimination and inequality in their community.
On Tuesday evening, activists stopped a meeting of Charlottesville’s Planning Commission in a show of solidarity with Harris.
Protesters chanted slogans “Justice for DeAndre” and “Cops and the Klan go hand in hand”, among others.
“It is unthinkable that a young black community member would be charged with a felony while all but two of his white assailants are still at large,” CVille Solidarity, a group of Charlottesville activists, said in a statement.
“And even then, it took a national campaign for the Charlottesville Police Department to finally bring charges against those two of his attackers,” the group said, adding that police have targeted anti-racist activists since April.
Jason Kessler, one of the organisers of the August rally and a leader in Charlottesville’s white nationalist community, was confronted by such activists in May.
Kessler claimed that local activist and artist Veronica Fitzhugh shook his chair and screamed in his face, but admitted no physical violence occurred.
Still, Fitzhugh was charged with misdemeanour assault and battery and disturbing the peace.
Although misdemeanour offences typically allow for the accused to turn themselves over to police custody, Fitzhugh was arrested by five Charlottesville police officers at her home on June 1.
|White nationalists clash with a group of anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]|
Timothy Porter, an African American resident of Charlottesville, told Al Jazeera the system is “crooked” and allows police to “treat minorities (especially black men) however they want”.
Porter, who has been arrested by Charlottesville police in the past, claims he has little hope in the justice system, citing institutional protection for police who harass minorities: “Their bosses allow it, and the courts allow it”.
According to reports, Harris, who has since moved from Charlottesville, plans to turn himself in to authorities in the next few days.