After months of controversy, a black man brutally beaten by white supremacist demonstrators has just been found not guilty of assault charges relating to the same incident. DeAndre Harris, the Charlottesville counter-protester who was brutally beaten by white supremacists in a parking garage during the far-right neo-Nazi protests that descended on the city last year, was cleared of those charges on Friday.
Harris, 20, was acquitted of the assault charges in a Charlottesville courtroom. it was not a jury trial, to be clear. The verdict was rendered by Judge Robert Downer, who found Harris not guilty of the charges he received in the aftermath of the violent white supremacist protests.
Harris' attorney, as BuzzFeed notes, argued that the charge against his client was "clearly retaliatory" ― Harris was originally charged with felony assault last October, but it was later reduced to a misdemeanor.
Harris' case drew widespread attention and criticism, in large part because he was charged with assault after a video showed a mob of people threatening and beating him. The charge was ostensibly due to Harris swinging a flashlight at one of the white supremacist demonstrators. But, according to The Washington Post, the judge concluded that Harris had swung the flashlight because he believed the demonstrator in question, Harold Ray Crews, was attacking his friend with a flagpole.
The charges against Harris were hyper-controversial from the moment they were announced, owing to the fact that he himself had been the victim of a vicious assault, captured on video, by a gang of 10 attendees of the white supremacist rally. Four of them are currently facing charges relating to the incident; Harris suffered a spinal injury, and required stitches to mend a gash to his face.
Harris, a former special education assistant, according to the Post, was not the only victim of violence during the Charlottesville rally. It was that same Aug. 12 afternoon that a right-wing demonstrator plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racist counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring several others. Heyer's death became a flashpoint for anti-racist activism, and she was memorialized at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, earlier this year.
The white supremacist demonstrations also drew a highly controversial response from President Donald Trump, who blamed the violence both on the white supremacists and the anti-racist counter-protesters.
Also, following the event, video emerged of a Ku Klux Klan leader named Richard Wilson Preston firing his gun in the direction of a black man. Nobody was harmed in the incident, and Preston has since been arrested and charged, although at the time of the incident the police reportedly made no move to stop or apprehend him. Preston argues he fired the shot in self-defense.
A crowd of supporters gathered outside the Charlottesville courthouse in support of Harris on Friday, and they were met with precisely the outcome they'd hoped for when his acquittal was announced. Activists are also calling for charges to be dropped against two other black men accused of committing crimes in the midst of the white supremacist demonstrations, Corey Long and Donald Blakney. Long is charged with using an improvised flamethrower device, while Blakney is charged with "malicious wounding."
It remains to be seen what will happen to Long and Blakney, but with the judge's decision on Friday, Harris at the very least has been acquitted of all criminal charges relating to that Aug. 12 incident. Some of his alleged attackers still face potential legal repercussions, however ― one of them, Jacob Goodwin of Alabama, was arrested last year as a result of internet sleuthing which identified him as a suspect in the beating.