“It is what it is. It’s no sweat.”
That’s the statement Corey Long gave today outside the Charlottesville General District Courthouse after he was convicted of disorderly conduct for lighting an aerosol can and pointing it in the direction of white supremacists on August 12.
Community activists wiped tears from their eyes and hastily left the courthouse when Judge Robert Downer sentenced Long to 360 days in jail, with all but 20 suspended, after Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania advocated for no jail time.
“I find that this behavior was very serious,” Downer said when he went against the prosecutor’s recommendation.
After the conviction, Long’s legal adviser offered a few more words than his client.
“Corey Long was and is and remains a hero,” said Malik Shabazz, president of Black Lawyers for Justice, to cheers from the dozens of community activists who showed up in support of the 24-year-old who they say protected the town during the Unite the Right rally that left three people dead and many injured.
Shabazz echoed what the activists have been saying since his client was charged: “Corey Long did nothing wrong.”
He advised that in Virginia, inmates with good behavior only serve half of their sentenced time for misdemeanor charges, and said Long will likely be incarcerated for 10 days. Long was ordered to report to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail on June 22.
Shabazz told Long they’ll be the “proudest days you will serve in your life,” and reminded him and the crowd that Martin Luther King Jr. was also arrested and convicted.
As white supremacists filed out of Emancipation Park on August 12, immediately after law enforcement had declared the Unite the Right rally an unlawful assembly, Frank Buck testified that he heard someone say, “Kill the nigger.” He then saw Baltimore Ku Klux Klan leader Richard Preston point his handgun at Long, who was outside of the park and holding the homemade flamethrower with his arm extended. Buck said the flames were first between 20 and 24 inches, and then a bit shorter.
“I thought [Long] was going to be shot and killed,” Buck said. “I then heard the gunshot.”
He says he saw the bullet hit the ground near Long’s feat, causing a tuft of dirt to shoot into the air. He then saw Preston lower his gun and exit the area.
“I lit the can because he wouldn’t get out of my presence,” Long told the judge, though it is unclear whether he was referring to Preston or another man who can be seen swinging a rolled up flag at Long in a photo of the incident that has since gone viral.
Richmond-based defense attorney Jeroyd Greene said Long had been spit on and called racial slurs that day, and that Long first sprayed his aerosol can without lighting it. He only lit it when he perceived a threat, which doesn’t make a case for disorderly conduct, the attorney argued.
In fact, Greene said two men, including Preston, who fell out of line with their white supremacist allies and moved toward Long once they walked down the steps at the park, were the true aggressors who acted disorderly.
“There’s no evidence that they’re doing anything at all but walking down the steps,” said Platania, who argued that lighting the aerosol can was enough of an “annoyance or alarm,” which is required to prove a disorderly conduct had been committed.
Downer said the state’s disorderly conduct statute is complicated and problematic, and in his 17 years of experience, he’s seen only a few people convicted of the crime.
“I don’t have the least bit of doubt of his guilt of disorderly conduct,” Downer said. “It clearly motivated people to react in a way that involved a breach of the peace.”
Preston pleaded no contest May 9 to a charge of discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, a class 4 felony that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and fine up to $100,000.
Long was also accused of assault and battery by rally attendee Harold Crews in a separate incident, but Platania said he was unable to reach Crews, and the charge was dismissed.
In the crowd of activists outside the general district court was Kendall Bills, the daughter of local philanthropists Michael Bills and Sonja Smith, who was also involved in August 12 litigation after Dennis Mothersbaugh, whom she calls a “neo-Nazi,” punched her in the face during the rally.
The video of the Indiana man clocking her has also gone viral. Mothersbaugh pleaded guilty to assault in November.
“He was sentenced to a decent amount of jail time, but, more importantly, I was not subject to the intimidation and harassment that now men of color—especially DeAndre Harris, Corey Long and Donald Blakney—are facing in this community,” she said. “As a white woman, I was protected. My case was settled quickly.”
Bills said she took to the streets on August 12 to do exactly what those three black men did, which was “trying to protect and defend our community,” but she hasn’t faced the same “inappropropriate judicial harassment” and retribution the men continue to face in their personal lives.
“The city of Charlottesville should be ashamed today,” she said. “I am proud to be a Charlottesville community member many days, but today is not one of them.”