From Comedy to Tragedy: what I saw at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville

20708406_1686411514766643_3696740697917868792_nThe first thing I saw when I approached the Unite the Right rally on Saturday, August 12 here in Charlottesville was a guy across from Market Street Market selling bottled water for $2 out of his car, saying, “I figured I had to make the most of it.” The next thing I saw were a group of Unite the Right protesters gathered on the corner of Market Street and 3rd Street NE, dressed like middle-schoolers going to a war games-themed birthday party, with make-shift helmets, shields, and batons. All this was at first quite comical. The group paused on the corner for a moment, issued an obscure kind of war cry, and marched fast toward the park with various photographers running backwards quickly trying to capture the action.

At the park, the Unite the Right protesters had already gathered in a double fenced off section of the park, and you could stand and view them like exotic animals in a zoo. They all faced outward, pressing against the steel fencing, and harassed and verbally abused onlookers, many of whom returned the favor. There was a lot of vulgar harassment of women from the group, and I heard one guy say to a woman, “You’re a little chubby around the edges, but I’d f##k you, Bitch.” There were women with them, too, and I noticed how they had no expressions on their faces as the men they were with said this stuff. Still, it all seemed comical. Were these guys serious? Meanwhile, I spotted what appeared to be self-styled, bearded militiamen walking around in fatigues and assault rifles with odd assortments of insignia on their “uniforms.” They all looked very serious, and no one I spoke to could tell me exactly why they were there, but at that point their inscrutable countenance seemed comical, too. Were they expecting some kind of armed ambush from some opposing guerrilla army? Meanwhile, various public officials and notable citizens milled about, seeming a little amused by this particular circus that came to town. They could stand safely at the edge of the fencing around the park and observe various white supremacists and neo-nazis spewing slogans and insulting people. I saw friends and colleagues and we had time to chat. A couple of local guys had thought to put loud speakers on the top of a nearby building, and they had the words of James Baldwin playing in a continuous loop. Nearby a guy had set up an easel and he was painting comic book-style portraits of Robert E. Lee and Donald Trump.

20708191_1686411471433314_8139878792168219992_nOn the steps to the Market Street entrance to the park a group of clergy, including Harvard scholar Dr. Cornell West, blocked the entrance and quietly demanded that the Unite the Right protesters gathered below them “stand down” and not enter the park. this standoff went of for a few moments, until the Unite the Right protesters finally walked up the steps and pushed them violently aside.

That’s when things seemed to shift, that’s when it started not to be so comical. Fights in the street broke out shortly after that between Unite the Right protesters and counter-protesters. And over the next 45 minutes or so that intensified. At one point I was standing beside one of Charlottesville’s city councilors as he tried to film the scene, and had to nudge him aside as a smoke bomb canister came hurling toward us. Rocks, tear gas, bottles filled with bleach, and balloons filled with urine would follow. I saw bloodied heads and faces. I saw scared people running past me, other who looked like they would gladly smash you in the face if you looked them. A saw a TV crew flee the tent they had set up under across the park. I watched as an African-American TV camera man tried to put his camera on a tripod, but was having trouble because his hands were shaking so much. I heard someone say, “The cops have vanished.” And sure enough, I looked around and the state police who had been standing along the fencing earlier were gone.

20728279_1686410811433380_2776422500373341158_nI then looked up and a screaming, angry mob of white supremacists and neo-nazis had totally taken over the park, ringing its edges with their home-made riot gear. Not only was this not comical anymore, it was frightening. Why weren’t police stepping in now? At that point, you knew something bad was about to happen, that people were going to get hurt, that a surge of violent energy had been let loose on our town. Within the hour, three people would be dead, and dozens injured.

Hugged & Shoved: hugging protester says she was roughed up by city police

At Saturday’s Klan Rally Protest, Charlottesville resident Heather Rose Ratesic Dorsey, who was there to protest the Klan, gave one of the state troopers guarding an entrance way for the Klan a hug (see photo left).

“I have always been taught to respect everyone and I am sure that they needed more than a hug at that point,” says Dorsey.

About an hour later, however, after the Klan had left, Dorsey was shoved to the ground by a city cop (number 67) while standing on the north sidewalk of High Street.

“I wasn’t doing anything when someone behind me stepped on my flip flop,” she says. ” I turned around, it was a cop. I asked him to get off my shoe and he grabbed my arm and threw me to the ground.”

She suffered wounds to her arm (see photo right), had her flip-flop broken, and was treated and released at MedExpress. Dorsey says a city police sergeant came to her house that night to take pictures and file a report.

Dorsey says she’ll turn in a required handwritten complaint form on Monday, and pursue things from there. But the experience has rattled her in confusing ways. She says the photo of her hugging the trooper cause some unexpected backlash. Liberal FB friends called her a racist for hugging the trooper and unfriended her.

“I wasn’t there for a fight,” says Dorsey. “My emotions are all over the place. It’s like a nightmare to be honest.”

Up to Pasture: local artist has vision to turn Landmark into vertical farm

vert gardenTurning the abandoned and blighted Landmark Hotel into a vertical urban garden may sound like a fanciful, farfetched idea, but at least local artist Russell Richards has an idea. The same can’t be said for the City or the hotel’s various owners, who have offered only empty promises.

“I suspect the Landmark is never going to be completed,” says Richards, who has informally presented his idea to City Council, and is scheduled to give a TEDx presentation on the idea. “The longer it sits exposed, the more it deteriorates and devalues. But that’s what’s happening, for whatever reason, so I personally believe the thing won’t go forward.”

Earlier this year, current owner John Dewberry “swore” to one city official that he would begin the project before the end of the summer, but as anyone can see, that isn’t happening.

“I have admittedly gotten a lot of mileage out of the fact that everyone, everyone hates that hotel,” he says.

Richards says there’s a trend now among architects and engineers to design farms ‘up’, as kind of vertical greenhouses, and it strikes him that the Landmark could be an ideal candidate for such a thing.

As Richards points out, the walls are largely open and permit a lot of light to penetrate the interior, it faces southward to the sun, which strikes it throughout the day, there are no nearby buildings casting a shadow on it.

“A vertical farm would actually be a bit different from how I rendered it,” says Richards. ” It’d be closed off, like the greenhouse levels I depicted on the upper floors, permitting crops to be grown throughout the year regardless of weather conditions.”

Richards says that hydroponic and aeroponic growing methods allow crops to be grown quite densely- all the way up to the ceiling of any given floor, essentially- and use a minimum of water, and no soil. So the crop output of such a space would be far greater than the footprint of any given floor.

“It’s an amazing model,” he says. “I’m indebted to the research of Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University, who is credited with the idea- specifically his book “The Vertical Farm”, which is a wealth of information. In ten or twenty years, vertical farms are likely to be relatively commonplace.”

Though Richards admits a feasibility study would have to be done, and that the structural integrity of the building would need to be checked, he think it could work.

“If they can still build a hotel, they can build a vertical garden,” he says. “It remains to be seen whether or not the Landmark has been structurally compromised.”

Still, Richards admits he could be wrong.

“I try to be a realist,” he says, ” even with something like this, which might seem like a fanciful notion. But we’ll never know if we don’t have a look at it. I believe the idea has merit, and deserves further study.”

Knock at the door: Protesters accuse C-Ville Weekly of “inflaming racial tensions”

Protesters held up a banner referring to an editorial comment made by Cville Weekly editor Giles Morris.

Protesters held up a banner referring to an editorial comment made by Cville Weekly editor Giles Morris.

A crowd of protesters gathered in front of the offices of Cville Weekly today, outraged by a December 29 story the local paper ran that, according to one protest organizer, “threw gasoline on the fire of racial tension in our community.”

Indeed, the story, titled, “Knockout: Victims of brutal Downtown Mall assault want arrests, and answers from police,” told the dramatic and frightening story of a couple, Marc Adams and Jeanne Doucette, who claimed they were randomly targeted during a “late night stroll” on the DTM and brutally beaten by three black males in what they characterized as a “knock out game” style attack carried out for nothing more than vicious sport and fun. The story, after the Drudge Report linked to it, quickly went viral, prompting comments so hateful and racially charged that Cville Weekly had to shut down their comment section. Indeed, the story for many readers, commentors and bloggers across the country was evidence of a frightening kind of “black mob violence” in Charlottesville.

There’s just one problem. It didn’t happen that way.

As a police investigation revealed, there was no random “knock out” style attack by three black males, but rather a “verbal altercation” that escalated into a “physically confrontation” between the couple and “two” black males. Police also reported that Adams, who originally claimed to have been beaten unconscious, suffered “a loose tooth and some soft tissue damage.” What’s more, in a DTM interview with the two men who were charged with simple assault and released, it was revealed that they were both college educated, had no history of criminal violence, and were members of the gay community. According to the two men, who believe they have been unjustly charged, it was actually the couple (who they described as being “plastered” drunk), who were the aggressors. Both men recently filed assault charges against the couple. The two men also claimed that a third black male, who was not a part of their group, intervened during the altercation and struck Adams.

At the protest in front of the Cville Weekly offices, one of those men, Malcolm Stevenson, a UVA grad and a former manager at Eppie’s Restaurant on the DTM, recalled his dismay at how he was portrayed in the original Cville Weekly story.

“When the [Cville Weekly] story came out,” he told the largely African-American crowd, “I thought, ‘of all people how is this happening to me?’ I am so not like that. I’ve walked through this life privileged. I don’t hit people, I use my words. And I don’t tell lies. But this can happen to any of us.”

“We have a social crisis in Charlottesville,” said Kiara Redd-Martin, who organized the protest. “I’ve lived here for 24 years, and I have never felt more unwelcome. The race problem is real. And we must fight it.”

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Jeff Winder, a coordinator for Wayside Center for Popular Education, which helped organize the protest, criticized Cville Weekly, and its editor Giles Morris, for “inflaming racial tensions” by publishing a story in a “racially charged way” without verifying what was reported.

“When you portray the news in such a way,” Winder told the crowd, “there are real consequences for real people, and real people get hurt.”

Winder helped organize a previous protest against Cville Weekly last year, when the paper ran racist comments in its former “Rant” section. Cville Weekly eventually removed the Rant section from the paper. Winder called on Morris and the Cville Weekly staff to seek further sensitivity training to better understand racial issues and how to report on them.

So far, Morris and CVille Weekly have been unapologetic about how the story was originally covered, despite the evidence that Adams and Doucette’s account of the incident appears to have been grossly inaccurate.

Indeed, given what we know now about Stevenson and Spears, and the fact that the police investigation revealed that there was no random “knock out” style attack, the accounts of the incident that Doucette and Adams post on Facebook prior to the publication of the Cville Weekly story are hard to ignore.

“We had never seen these men before and have no idea who they are. They just enjoyed punching, kicking, and hitting us. They laughed while they attacked us, high fived and gave the distinct impression that they just thought beating on us manically was a really good time. They didn’t even want our money,” wrote Doucette. “They were out to really hurt somebody and they picked us. It was like it was a game to them and it was fun for them to brutalize us. I realized they would hit me more the more times Marc told them to stop hitting me. It was surreal. I’m posting them [photos] here hoping somebody; somewhere will recognize these animals that need to be caged. This could happen to any of us in this community.”

Adams, too, described events in similar fashion, “I had never seen these guys before they were laughing an high fiving while they kicking me and punching Jeanne I truly believe it was straight up sociopathic violence a la clockwork orange without prejudice or rhyme or reason…..they didn’t hit me out of anger or to so me from doing anything they willfully Ganged up and decided they weren’t t stopping until I was seriously injured.”

Morris has, however, expressed dismay at how the public responded to the paper’s dramatic portrayal of these claims by Adams and Doucette, with many using it as evidence of “black on white violence” in Charlottesville, saying he simply read it as an “unresolved crime story that led into a number of complex local issues.”

Winder also took aim at Morris directly, referring to an editorial Morris penned that said that the city’s historic black neighborhoods would eventually “melt away” and solve the race problem, and that the “educated, mobile, professional class that is Charlottesville’s future doesn’t have a race problem.”

“What about Giles Morris telling us what the future of Charlottesville looks like,” he told the crowd, “This white, privileged male who just moved here from Wisconsin tells us what the future looks like?”

Winder then led the crowd in a chant:

“Hey, C-Ville, we’re here to stay, we are the future, we will build the way!”

Spears and Stevenson are scheduled to appear in court on February 5 for their involvement in the incident, while Doucette and Adams are scheduled to appear on March 21.

Long time coming for Lee Park Pride Festival

Interesting quote from Amy Sarah Marshall, president of the Charlottesville Pride Community Network in a Newsplex story:

“I think it’s been the mode to kind of go with the flow, keep things on the down low. People are still afraid to hold hands on the downtown mall,” the groups president, Amy Sarah Marshall, said. “People are still afraid to tell people at their job that they’re gay.”

Man, that’s stinks…gay people afraid to hold hands on the DTM? Come on, Charlottesville!

Well, the folks at CPCN are planning to do something about this. The first Pride Festival will be held in Lee Park on September 14 from 2 to 6pm. There will be music, food vendors, and a general big celebration. They are also looking for volunteers, sponsors, and performers. Contact festival organizers at festival@cvillepride.org to help out.