By German Lopez
The situation is illustrative of why many people of color don’t trust the police.
A video shows a black man surrounded by white men donning racist symbols. The men hit him with weapons, and he falls to the ground. He is kicked. He stands up and attempts to flee, collapsing. But he finally gets away.
Yet while many of his attackers remain uncharged, he now has an arrest warrant in his name as a result of the clash, according to the Washington Post.
The video, which went viral shortly after the protests in which white nationalists, members of the Ku Klux Klan, and neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, shows members of those protest groups attacking DeAndre Harris, a black 20-year-old. According to his attorney, Harris ended up with a concussion, a head laceration that required staples, a fractured wrist, a knee injury, and other abrasions and contusions across his body as a result of the clash.
For many, the video symbolized the aggression and hatred behind the racist demonstrations — culminating in a literal assault on a black man.
Law enforcement has so far charged just two of the men who assaulted Harris with malicious wounding: 18-year-old Daniel Borden of Ohio and 33-year-old Alex Michael Ramos of Georgia. Most of the men involved have not been publicly identified, despite an official investigation and unofficial efforts by activists online, led by Black Lives Matter activist and columnist Shaun King. (Activists have identified a third man, but police have not confirmed his identity or filed charges.)
While that investigation continues, Harris now faces an arrest warrant and felony charge for unlawful wounding. A man — identified as Harold Ray Crews by Harris’s attorney — said he was wounded by Harris during the filmed encounter. Video of the incident shows Harris swinging a flashlight at Crews after Crews apparently tried to jab a counterprotester with the pole of a Confederate flag.
Harris’s attorney, S. Lee Merritt, told the Post that Harris’s flashlight didn’t “make significant contact.” He also provided photo evidence to the Root that he said shows Crews being hit by a masked white man with what appears to be a metal pipe, claiming that’s the incident that led to Crews’s injuries.
If that’s true, why the potential arrest warrant and charges? It has to do with the low bar in the process for issuing an arrest warrant in Virginia: After filing a police report, a victim can approach a magistrate for an arrest warrant against someone accused of a crime. The magistrate then needs only probable cause based on the victim’s testimony — a fairly easy requirement — to file an arrest warrant. This is what Crews reportedly did.
Whether this leads to formal charges depends on the local prosecutor, who declined to comment to the Post on a pending legal investigation. Harris, who is a hip-hop artist and educator from Suffolk, Virginia, and his attorney are now making arrangements with police for his surrender, Merritt told CBS News.
But racist activists online are already celebrating. White nationalist Hunter Wallace, for one, claimed this proved the story “was another race hoax.”
Did you hear the news? DeAndre Harris is going to jail. Yeah, he is being booked this morning. His whole story was another race hoax pic.twitter.com/x7CKF1jF7q
— Hunter Wallace (@occdissent) October 10, 2017
With this latest development, a situation that already looked bad now looks even worse. There have been many protests about the massive racial disparities in law enforcement, particularly as police have made little notable progress in the Harris investigation over nearly two months. Now the black victim of a vicious attack faces potential felony charges. It all further adds to the growing distrust toward the criminal justice system.
This only compounds distrust in the criminal justice system
For the past few years, there have been a lot of protests against the criminal justice system, built on the perception that it’s very unfair to black communities in particular.
The Charlottesville protests demonstrate this. There were many criticisms at the time about why police did little to stop clashes between protesters and counterprotesters. (Virginia’s governor later suggested that police were simply outgunned by the racist protesters, so it was too risky to intervene.)
The attack on Harris is emblematic of this. A black man was brutally assaulted by several protesters, and police didn’t interfere as he was knocked to the ground and tried to get away (although it’s hard to make out police in the videos, given that so many protesters dressed up in riot gear). The official investigation has dragged on for months — with only two of the men who attacked Harris so far charged. And it’s been left to activists online to actually investigate who the remaining perpetrators against Harris were.
Then Harris was charged. As King told the Post, “I am disgusted that the justice system bent over backwards to issue a warrant for one of the primary victims of that day, when I and others had to fight like hell to get that same justice system to prosecute people who were vicious in their attacks against Harris and others. Now, we’re seeing white supremacists celebrate on social media, bragging about Harris’s arrest. They’re hailing this as a victory.”
It’s not just this one case, though, but also broader disparities in the criminal justice system. Based on nationwide data collected by the Guardian, black Americans are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to be killed by police when accounting for population. In 2016, police killed black Americans at a rate of 6.66 per 1 million people, compared to 2.9 per 1 million for white Americans.
There have also been several high-profile police killings since 2014 involving black suspects. In Baltimore, six police officers were indicted for the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. In North Charleston, South Carolina, Michael Slager was charged with murder and fired from the police department after shooting Walter Scott, who was …read more