Visu.News Co-Founder on Democracy Now!

Co-founder of Visu.News, Zach D Roberts, appeared on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! discussing his work in Charlottesville, VA.

Democracy Now! Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Another suspect in the brutal beating of a young African-American man during the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been arrested in Georgia. Thirty-three-year-old Alex Michael Ramos is charged with malicious wounding for allegedly attacking anti-racist protester Deandre Harris during the Unite the Right rally. Earlier this week, police in Ohio also charged 18-year-old white supremacist Daniel Borden in connection to Harris’s attack. The police have faced criticism for failing to quickly investigate and arrest Harris’s attackers. Photos and video showed at least six white supremacists punching, kicking and beating Harris with large metal poles. Harris, who is a hip-hop artist and assistant special education teacher at an area high school, later described the attack to photojournalist Zach Roberts.

DEANDRE HARRIS: We was just all standing here, and then we was walking down as they were walking down. And then I think we got like right here, and they just rushed us.
REPORTER: Where’s here?
DEANDRE HARRIS: Yeah, like right here, in this open way right here.
REPORTER: So right in front of—the police station is right here.
DEANDRE HARRIS: We see them rush in, and then I turn around, and I start running. And I think I fall. I fall over here. I keep hearing all this chaos going around on me, and I feel myself getting hit. So I’m trying to get up and run, but I can’t. Every time I got up, I just lose consciousness and fall back out, ’til the last time I got to open my eyes, and I see all my friends there. And they pick me up and take me over there so I can get help. I was gashed in the head, broke my wrists, chipped my tooth, busted my lip, got a bunch of cuts and abrasions all on my knees and elbows. I got eight staples in my head.

AMY GOODMAN: That video of Deandre Harris was shot by Zach D. Roberts, who works with and Zach also captured photographs of the attack, which were used to help identify the assailants. Zach joins us now from Syracuse, New York. And we’re joined in Los Angeles by Lee Merritt, civil rights attorney who’s representing Deandre Harris.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Zach, describe what happened on that day, what time it was, where you were, how close the police station was Deandre to this attack.

ZACH ROBERTS: So, I was walking along, following the white supremacist/Nazi rally—rally march that had happened after they cleared the park and called it an unlawful assembly, so the permit had been ended. They’re walking along the street, actually in the direction of the police station and where the parking garage was, which is right next door to it. They share an alleyway. And suddenly, a fight breaks out behind me. Deandre Harris comes running out and is followed by about a dozen white supremacists, who are chasing him with clubs, helmets and shields and every sort of weapon they could find. And they shove him into a parking arm. He falls down. They keep beating him, kicking him, using whatever they can find. Borden, the guy with the white helmet that you see, that was, thankfully, finally arrested in Ohio, he used the parking arm to hit Deandre Harris, who, finally, thanks to his friends, was able to get away and hide out in a parking—the parking staircase, and finally, with no help to the police, then get across the street away from all the white supremacists.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Zach Roberts, have you been interviewed by the FBI or the Charlottesville Police Department to give an account of what you witnessed?

ZACH ROBERTS: I did talk to the FBI for about 25 minutes. And the only thing that they had any interest in—I tried telling my story to them, but the only thing they had any interest in talking to me about was how they would get all of my photos, everything I had. Now, mind you, that’s around 300 gigs. And if you go to their website to upload files, they allow four uploads of files, and it’s a 256-meg limit, which means that anybody sharing an iPhone photo would have a problem sharing more than—more than a handful of images. So I’m not quite sure that they actually want to.

The Charlottesville Police Department, mind you, finally contacted me through my photography website, not via the—not via the FBI, not via my cellphone, not any sort of contact whatsoever that you would imagine that a law enforcement agency would do. And when I did call them, he was gone. And then I called him again the next day, and he told me he didn’t have time to talk to me, because they were trying to finish up things, you know, before the weekend.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Lee Merritt—

ZACH ROBERTS: And that we would talk sometime later.

AMY GOODMAN: Lee Merritt, can you talk about how Deandre is doing? The police station was right there, right behind this attack?

LEE MERRITT: It was literally feet away. We believe that there are uniformed officers seen on camera shortly before this attack and immediately after it. And so, their failure to intervene—I can tell you that the law enforcement behavior in this case was unique. If that had been any other pro-militant group, particularly a black militant group, there would have been a roundup, and that those groups would have not been allowed to leave without being questioned, without being interviewed. And their failure to act immediately resulted in the loss of critical information. There are four—still at least four people who actively participated in the attack of Deandre who were caught on camera, who have not been identified, who have not been charged. And the effort to do so seems to be heavily reliant on journalists, like my co-guest here and other people—in general, the community, to do the work of law enforcement.

To answer your question, Deandre is recovering physically. He’s had a cast. He’s had his chipped tooth replaced. He’s had the staples in his head removed. But mentally, he’s still suffering from anxiety. He’s found it very difficult to operate in crowds. He tried to go into the mall recently, he discussed with me, and had to leave just because of an anxiety attack, which makes it very difficult to do his job, which is to be a teacher, to be up in front of students. And so, he’s had to resign his post from the Charlottesville public school system. And we’re working on getting him treatment and care so that he can fully recover mentally as he’s on the mend physically.

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to the two arrests so far, Lee?

LEE MERRITT: Again, while we’re happy that arrests are going forward, with the extradition or extraditing of Alex Ramos from Georgia and the arrest of Borden in Ohio, these two men were identified immediately by journalists who covered the rally. There have been no additional identifications of any of the other participants by law enforcement. And so, we just hope that people don’t settle with these two arrests and that law enforcement doesn’t think that the job is done with these arrests. I’m also concerned in these arrests that they have been undercharged. Each were charged with one felony account of a malicious assaulting. We’re talking about a group of white supremacists who attacked a young black male at a white supremacist rally while shouting racial slurs. If this isn’t the—if this doesn’t set the table for hate-based criminal charges, I don’t know what will.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Lee Merritt, civil rights attorney representing Deandre Harris, and Zach Roberts, freelance journalist, thanks so much for being there.

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