Updated August 2018: Following the attack activists led widespread efforts to identify the six white supremacists shown assaulting DeAndre Harris. To date, only four have been identified, arrested and charged for maliciously wounding him. In March 2018, DeAndre Harris was acquitted of the assault charges filed against him.
In a move to demonize and intimidate DeAndre Harris, the victim of a brutal, racist attack during the now infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, a local judge issued a warrant against Harris for the “unlawful wounding” of white nationalist Harold Ray Crews.
However, Harris’ attorney, Lee Merritt, quickly released photos and a video on social media that provide clear visual evidence that Crews was hit by someone else who appears to be a white counter-protester.
The judge’s efforts to pin the attack on Harris have also been undermined by Merrit’s assertion that Harris was already at the hospital being treated for wounds during the time of the incident involving Crews.
On Thursday Harris turned himself in and was released on bond. According to the Washington Post, “Harris’ attorney has said that Harris did nothing wrong and that authorities don’t have probable cause to charge him.”
The developments in this case have rightfully fueled anger and further exposed how white supremacy and racism are deeply embedded in our criminal justice system. According to The Root, “Harris’ attorney slammed this new development as being “clearly retaliatory” on the part of white supremacists since Harris has turned to social media to identify those who beat him.”
However this footage also illustrates some of the challenges around using video and why it’s important to think about how it may be used by opposing sides.
We know that white nationalists are using videos to fuel their irrational, hateful and increasingly dangerous online campaigns. This includes harassing, doxing, and even posting bounties to identify people they believe to be members of the anti-fascist or Antifa movement. And if you look in the Twitter comments about the video, antifa group members are pointing to ways that they’re being targeted because of the release of this video.
It’s important to note that the vicious beating of DeAndre Harris landed in the media spotlight thanks to eyewitness video. Activists and journalists like Shaun King used the footage to identify the white supremacists involved, leading to the arrests of several perpetrators of the violence. Efforts to verify the events depicted in the video and identify the attackers were especially important because according to counter-protesters and media reports, the police did not make much effort to intervene in violent situations and ignored complaints of violence during the rally.
Eyewitness footage also led to the identification and arrest of James Alex Fields Jr., the man who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer at the same rally in Charlottesville. However shortly after posting footage of the attack online, eyewitness Brennan Gilmore and his family began receiving death threats and became the target of numerous online attacks by white nationalists.
Even when videos are shared with the best intentions to expose an injustice witnessed first hand or seen online, there can be unintended harm to the filmer or the witness that is trying to help, as we saw with the victim of the United Airlines incident earlier this year. Similarly, after Ramsey Orta filmed and published the video of Eric Garner being killed at the hands of the NYPD, he and his family faced harassment and surveillance both on and offline.
As we’ve seen time and time again, video can play an important role in exposing the truth and providing valuable evidence.
However sometimes it can be safer and more strategic to share videos privately to appropriate parties like lawyers, advocates or trustworthy reporters who can help verify the content and circumstances before sharing the footage more broadly.
Regardless, we want to urge people to think carefully about the risks to themselves and others before publicly posting video online. Here are some resources on blurring identities and thinking safely and ethically about sharing videos of human rights abuses: