McLEAN, Va. (AP) — A Virginia man says police failed to come to his aid as he was beaten by white supremacists during Saturday’s violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to three deaths.
Photos and video of the beating inflicted on 20-year-old Deandre Harris have gone viral. Police said Tuesday they are investigating the incident, portions of which were captured on video. One person of interest has been identified, but no arrests have been made, city spokeswoman Miriam Dickler said in a text message.
Harris was beaten in a parking garage right next to the city police station.
Zach Roberts, a documentary photographer, said he told police officers immediately after the beating what occurred and that he had photos of the attack, but they were not interested at the time.
Hundreds of white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and others converged on Charlottesville Saturday, ostensibly in an effort unite right-wing factions in a city that became a flashpoint due to a prolonged debate about what to do with a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Rally participants clashed frequently with counter-protesters. One man linked to white nationalist groups, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio, has been charged with murder and other counts after a fatal hit-and-run crash that killed woman and injured 19 others.
Harris, an instructional assistant at Charlottesville City Schools, did not respond to messages from The Associated Press seeking comment. A GoFundMe page set up to help him with his medical bills quickly raised more than $125,000.
Police have set up a hotline for people to report crimes that occurred over the weekend. At a press conference Monday, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas said police received 250 calls for service Saturday. He said that in many cases, perpetrators of assaults would “strike and then disappear into the crowd.”
But the video and photos captured by Roberts depict a different scenario. In an interview, Roberts said Harris and his friends were yelling back and forth at each other as the white supremacists tossed racial epithets and Harris told the protesters to “go home.”
The white supremacists chased Harris, who ran and crashed into a wooden parking gate barrier, Roberts said. He did not see if any specific event precipitated the escalation from a verbal confrontation to a physical one.
Harris, in a subsequent video interview with Roberts, said he would fade in and out of consciousness as he was struck with poles and the broken wooden gate. Photos taken by Roberts show Harris on the ground being beaten by men armed with poles and sticks.
“I keep hearing all this chaos around me,” Harris said. “I feel myself getting hit. … Every time I get up, I lose consciousness.”
He suffered a broken wrist and a chipped tooth, and had eight staples in his scalp to close a head wound.
A man who said he’s with the League of the South, which identifies itself as a Southern Nationalist group, said Tuesday that Harris and his friends started the incident by attacking one of his friends.
“You have the fake news saying this guy (Harris) is an innocent victim, and my friend had to get hospitalized,” said Brad Griffin of Eufaula, Alabama. He cited video of a white man getting bandaged for a head wound, as well as a video that does not clearly establish who may have struck first.
Roberts, who was filming in connection with a documentary investigating voter suppression in Virginia, said the attack occurred in the hour or so preceding the fatal automobile attack that killed 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer.
Roberts estimated that the attack lasted about 30 seconds before Harris’ friends came to his aid, and most of the white supremacists scattered. But Roberts took photos of one man who drew his handgun and aimed it at Harris’ friends. The man put his gun away and withdrew when he saw he was being photographed, Roberts said.
Greg Palast, director of the documentary for which Roberts was filming, said he’s willing to share any video and photos with police if they want them, but no one has contacted him.
To Roberts, the video of the attack on Harris is proof that violence by white supremacists ranged far beyond the single car attack that killed Heyer.
“It stops in its track the argument that the violence was an isolated incident,” Roberts said.
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