As DeAndre Harris’ attorney played video footage of a group of white supremacists beating him to the ground in the Market Street Parking Garage on August 12, Harris sank back in his chair and closed his eyes.
Today, he was on trial in Charlottesville General District Court for an encounter that happened just moments before the bloody beatdown, when he was walking down Market Street and testified that “everybody just stopped.”
Harris said he turned around to monitor the situation, and that’s when he says he witnessed League of the South member Harold Crews “driving his flag into Corey [Long].”
Long—who is now widely recognized as the tall, muscular black man who appears to be wielding a homemade flamethrower at a white supremacist in an August 12 photo that went viral—is one of a few people Harris attended the Unite the Right rally with. Harris said he had seen people using flagpoles as weapons throughout the day.
So when he saw the tip of one poking into his friend’s torso, that’s when he took a Maglite out of his backpack and swung it in the direction of the flagpole. His attorney, Rhonda Qualiana, said you could hear the flashlight hit the pole in the video.
Harris came to the rally carrying a bag full of water and a white towel to cover his face in the event that tear gas was dispersed, he testified. An unknown white man dressed in all black had handed him the Maglite and a face mask for protection just prior to the incident.
After he swung it, Crews—the North Carolina man who brought the assault charge against Harris—claimed he was struck on the left cheek, which left two abrasions.
While Judge Robert Downer said he believed Crews’ testimony, he said, “I cannot find beyond a reasonable doubt that [Harris] intended to hit Mr. Crews.”
And though the judge formerly instructed several rows of activists in the courtroom that outbursts were prohibited, they erupted in applause and whistles when he found Harris not guilty of the misdemeanor.
As part of a campaign community activists are calling “Drop the Charges,” members of groups such as Black Lives Matter, Congregate Charlottesville, Showing up for Racial Justice and Solidarity Cville have demanded that Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania acquit Harris, Long and another black man, Donald Blakney, from the charges they’ve faced as a result of protecting the community from neo-Nazis on August 12.
Outside the courtroom after the verdict—where, not long before, Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler made his rounds through the screaming crowd, exchanging middle fingers with activists and filming a police officer who smacked his arm and caused him to drop and allegedly break his phone—activists chanted, “Being black is not a crime,” after the verdict.
Among a sea of signs in support of Harris, the 20-year-old who was working as a lead counselor at the local YMCA and a teacher’s aide at Venable Elementary School, one stood out: “Venable families stand with Dr. Dre.”
Quagliana said Harris would not be speaking to the media or the activists.
“Your enthusiasm and support has meant everything to DeAndre,” she said to the crowd of approximately 75 people. “It’s almost hard for me to not be emotional.”
The attorney said the day was also very emotional for her client, who has been searching for the woman who initially gave him aid on the steps of the NBC29 building where he lay after he was removed from the parking garage on August 12. Quagliana said he wants to thank her.
“DeAndre and his parents want peace in this community,” she added.
Black Lives Matter-Charlottesville organizer Lisa Woolfork said the acquittal of a victim whom white supremacists tried to turn into an assailant was a cause for celebration.
“Our community is much safer because of this verdict,” she said.