As a gang of white supremacists was beating him bloody, De’Andre Harris thought he might not survive and wondered why police were not rushing to defend him.
A few moments before, the 20-year-old Charlottesville resident and four friends, all of them African Americans, were screaming curses at white nationalists marching along Market Street in downtown Charlottesville on Saturday and carrying neo-Nazi flags and yelling racial slurs.
The verbal confrontation soon turned ugly.
As Harris recounted in an interview Sunday, he suddenly found himself fighting as many as five of the marchers.
Harris, a hip-hop artist and assistant special education teacher at a high school, said he did not know why the marchers singled him out, though he had tied a white towel around his neck on which he had scrawled epithets directed at the Ku Klux Klan and police. As he fled into a nearby parking garage, the men caught up with him, hitting with their fists and wooden poles.
But a group of police officers who were only a few yards away when the fight broke out did not attempt to break it up, according to Harris and another eyewitness.
“They were trying to kill me out there,” Harris recalled. “The police didn’t budge, and I was getting beat to a pulp.”
In the garage, Harris fell against the garage entrance gate, snapping off the wooden arm and dropped to the ground. One of the marchers picked up the board and started hitting Harris with it, while others surrounded him and continued to pummel him with blows, video of the attack shows.
With blood pouring from his head, Harris tried to get back up but kept falling down under the continuous blows.
Vonzz Long, 23, who saw the attack on Harris, said that he implored police to come his friend’s help, but that they ignored him.
“They looked at me and didn’t say nothing,” Long said.
Miriam Dickler, a spokeswoman for the city of Charlottesville, said she was aware of Harris’ claims that the police did not come to his aid, but could not comment further.
“Our police officers, the Virginia State Police and other law enforcement agencies were around the area the entire day, responding to more than 250 incidents incidents and assisting people,” she said.
Zach D. Roberts, a freelance photographer who photographed the beating, said police were nearby when it started and did not come to Harris’ aid. But he added that they may not have been able to see inside the darkened garage.
At least one of the marchers was also bloodied in the melee, photographs show. The identity of Harris’ attackers could not be determined.
Eventually, one officer did come to Harris’ aid.
Harris somehow made his way to a stairwell. Roberts said an officer with the Charlottesville Police Department arrived and blocked anyone from entering the stairwell, where Harris had taken refuge.
“After five or six minutes, one officer showed up,” Roberts said. “The rest of them probably just went off with the march. They kind of just let it go.”
Harris received medical treatment from two volunteer medics and was later transported to Martha Jefferson Hospital, where he was treated for his injuries. Harris said that in addition to the head wound, which required eight staples, he suffered a broken wrist, a chipped tooth and a cut lip.
On Sunday, Harris returned to the scene of the attack, carrying the white towel he wore the day before, now stained with his dried blood.