Originally written and photographed for NationofChange.org
This is part two of a two part series (at least for now) questioning the motives and intentions of the law enforcement agencies surrounding the attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia in August. Read part one here.
If you’ve read my previous pieces for NationofChange, you’d know I was on the ground photographing the abject chaos of the briefly permitted rally by white supremacists, Nazi’s and “proud boys” in Charlottesville on August 12th. I went there expecting a bit of a ruckus, but not to be covering memorials and witnessing firsthand brutal racially charged attacks.
I also didn’t expect to be part of a federal hate crime investigation, either (or am I?). In over a decade of witnessing and documenting Ferguson, OWS, and more, this was the first time I witnessed a complete lack of care from law enforcement agencies.
Thanks to the continued effort by The New York Daily News’ Shaun King, I was finally contacted by an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The Agent, a Mr. DeLoatch, III, is based out of the Richmond office, but for this investigation working out of Charlottesville.
Agent DeLoatch and I had a 25 minute long phone call, where we at NationofChange officially offered photos that I took on the scene of the attack of De’Andre Harris in Charlottesville. The agent thanked me, and quickly asked for more, asking in fact for everything I took over the weekend. A request that I had to deny, as other images that I took showed sources and could easily be taken out of context by an administration that seems obsessed with the idea that the violence was equal on ‘both sides.’
Trump: “I think there is blame on both sides, you had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”
As a journalist that got his start under the Bush Administration, I am very wary of the FBI. Greg Palast and I were once interrogated by the FBI during our investigation into the faulty emergency planning that allowed Hurricane Katrina to cause so many deaths and damage in New Orleans.
With that said – the human in me wants these bastards caught. So I have provided 24 images (as I write this) and will provide more. One of these images that NationofChange has previously published has been used to identify several of De’Andre’s attackers. And we’re happy to say that as of printing – two men are under arrest.
The first is Dan Borden, the white helmeted, white supremacist that used the parking arm as a weapon against De’Andre.
The second is Michael Alex Ramos, wearing a white tank top and often called by the terrible name “a wife beater” and a red Make America Great Again hat, who beat De’Andre with punches and kicks. Ramos, turned himself in – but not first before doing a clean cut interview with a local TV station – claiming that he’s not a racist, and just concerned with free speech issues.
This is all thanks to the online investigators, like Shaun King that have been using my photos and others taken that day to scrounge around the internet and find the bastards that attacked Harris that day.
The FBI and C’Ville police on the other hand seem to be uninterested at best. Or, they’re being incredibly and oddly secretive about it.
The basic processes that law enforcement investigations go through have not been done from the moments after the attack. No evidence was collected – evidence was even washed away either by police or by parking attendants at the lot that the attack happened.
So my photos are the only documentation of things that normally would be collected.
De’Andre is a young black man, so my cynical journalist brain wouldn’t be all that surprised that the investigation was faulty. But – in my experience, in the moments after the terrorist attack that took Heather Heyer’s life and injured so many more, the investigation and police reaction into her mortal injury wasn’t much better.
When I arrived on the scene, after some of the more critically injured were already rushed away, multiple people with injuries were on the ground being treated by street medics and their friends – all the while the police stood idly by. The police were there though, using their bearcat to menace journalists and victims with a smoke grenade launcher. They were not there to secure the crime scene. Pieces of the car that killed Heather and victims shoes were scattered on the ground, long after all the victims were taken away.
As the FBI hasn’t issued any press releases about Charlottesville in weeks and I’m not finding any journalists that are able to get any info out of them – I decided to ask them some questions – out of transparency, I decided to just publish the back and forth here:
Here are the questions I sent to the FBI:
Is the DOJ/FBi planning on, or already have dropped any federal charges against them?
Specifically any charges with hate crime status as these were a group of admitted white supremacists, yelling racial slurs like “nigger” at De’Andre and his friends right before this.
Also, I’m curious on why, if the FBI is investigating Harris’ attack, I haven’t been formally interviewed, or even had such a request? In our 25min conversation I was never asked about what I saw, as one of the only witnesses outside of those attacking him.
Are you concerned about the police stand down and complete lack of interest in collecting evidence, getting info from witnesses at the crime scene and especially helping De’Andre at the time of the attack? Seems to me as that’s a civil rights investigation upon itself.
Here’s the response:
This is a sensitive, multifaceted ongoing investigative matter; therefore I am not going to discuss our investigative process nor potential charges for any individuals identified or yet to be identified in this investigation.
“Hate crimes are not only an attack on the victim, they are meant to threaten and intimidate an entire community. Because of their wide-ranging impact, investigating hate crimes is a high priority for the FBI. The FBI takes all tips seriously and is dedicated to bringing those responsible for events that occurred in Charlottesville to justice. While we cannot comment on current investigative actions, the FBI is committed to investigating crimes that are potentially hate-motivated.”
I, of course replied immediately asking:
Is there even an investigation by the FBI into De’Andre Harris’ assault or is it being left to Charlottesville Police Department? Or another dept?
I will not elaborate any further than the statement already provided.
One more try:
Last question for now – So the FBI has no interest in interviewing me, the primary witness to a hate crime that happened 25 feet from the Charlottesville Police Dept?
Now a response from the FBI agent:
Mr. Roberts –
As a follow-up to our “telephone interview” and your subsequent conversations with Special Agent Douthit, we are interested in any “witness” input from you to include the photographs you indicated you would provide.
Please feel free to contact me directly as a witness to any activity you may have observed during to rally, not already provided.
I look forward to speaking with you again soon.
Well, based on this I guess it’s on the witnesses to aggressively find and investigate who to talk to and how. It also seems that it’s up to us to push our law enforcement agencies to act. This is Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice we’re talking about here – so, I’m not too hopeful.
But I’d be glad to be proven wrong.