Paying the consequence: Activists fined $15 for late-night street protest

Veronica Fitzhugh was one of seven community activists arrested June 8 for protesting the day's earlier conviction of Corey Long. Photo by Eze Amos Veronica Fitzhugh was one of seven community activists arrested June 8 for protesting the day’s earlier conviction of Corey Long. Photo by Eze Amos

When Corey Long was found guilty of disorderly conduct last month for pointing a homemade flamethrower at white supremacists on August 12, a slew of local activists who’ve dubbed him a “community defender” waited until the sun went down to take to the streets and protest his conviction.

In Charlottesville General District Court on July 19, seven of those activists were found guilty of stepping in the road with poor visibility and fined $15. (A number of those seven had already paid their fines and did not appear).

Around 9:30pm June 8, with signs and banners in tow, several dozen activists began marching around the Downtown Mall, chanting “Corey Long did nothing wrong” and “Cops and the Klan go hand in hand.” And it wasn’t long before things got more heated.

At the west end of the mall, their procession took a right onto Ridge-McIntire, where they began spilling off of the sidewalk and onto the street, and gained the attention of several city police officers.

The cops insisted they stay off the road, and by the time the group took another right onto Market Street, more than a dozen officers were following them. Crowds drew and traffic started backing up as the demonstrators continued to scream at the officers, demanding to know why law enforcement didn’t protect them during last summer’s deadly Unite the Right rally, and refusing to get out of the roadway.

It wasn’t long before the police started arresting them, and in one instance, they hauled activist Veronica Fitzhugh off a Market Street crosswalk and into the back of a paddywagon—her dress exposing her rear and her knees scraping the ground as they dragged her.

“We are, without a doubt, living in a historic moment,” said Sara Tansey, one of the community members charged. She read a statement to the judge on behalf of all of the defendants. “History has proven to us that some laws are bad laws, and some illegal actions will fall on the right side of history.”

Tansey continued, “We believe that when a black man is sentenced to jail time for defending himself against a mob of neo-Nazis, then we are in a moment that demands each member of society to question whether the law is just and whether our actions within the system will endure the test of time.”

Civil rights attorney Jeff Fogel represented the defendants, who each entered an Alford plea, which is not an admission of guilt, but an acknowledgement that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict them.

“I like the idea that if you have civil protests, that you’re willing to pay the consequences,” said visiting Judge Steve Helvin. “I’m certainly going to find y’all guilty.”

Defendants were ordered to pay $89 in court fees along with the $15 fine.

Outside the courthouse, Fogel said his clients were satisfied with the outcome.

“They didn’t want to make a big deal out of this,” he said.

Fogel, who was also present during the late-night protest in June, criticized police for insisting the activists stay on the sidewalk as they marched down Ridge-McIntire, where he says there was no traffic. “Police lose perspective of why they’re there.”