"A couple’s late night stroll on the Christmas-lit Downtown Mall turned to terror in the early morning hours of Friday, December 20, when they were brutally assaulted by three men in what appears to have been a random act of violence." -Cville Weekly
Cville Weekly, just months after being the target of a protest following racists comments in the paper's "Rant" section, which was later removed as a feature, will again become the target of protesters on January 31. Organizers of the protest accuse the paper of publishing a story "about a late-night brawl on the Downtown Mall in an inflammatory, racially charged way that stirred fears and greatly exacerbated existing racial tensions."
Indeed, a December 29 story in Cville Weekly titled "Knockout: Victims of brutal Downtown Mall assault want arrests, and answers from police" painted a horrifying picture of a white couple assaulted for nothing more than vicious sport by three black males, in what the alleged victims characterized as a "knock out" style attack. The story quickly went viral, prompting racially charged comments, blog posts, and discussions across the country, which forced the editor of the Cville Weekly to shut down the comment section beneath the story. A story that ran in The DTM, which featured an interview with Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo, questioned the alleged victims' account of the incident, which Longo believed was "inaccurate." Later, of course, the police investigation revealed that there was no unprovoked "knock out" style attack, and that the altercation began with a "verbal confrontation" between the two parties that escalated into a "physical confrontation." In an interview in The DTM, the two men who were eventually charged in the assault painted a dramatically different story about what happened that night.
While the primary organizers of the protest, Kiara Redd-Martin and Kishara Joy Griffin, who have founded a group called Operation Social Equality, have chosen to reserve their comments for a planned press release this Friday, Jeff Winder, a coordinator for Wayside Center for Popular Education, which was instrumental in organizing the first protest against Cville Weekly, has lent them his "behind the scenes" support and posted an announcement about the protest on the organization's website.
"I'm involved because I see the damage to race relations that happens when media outlets act in racially biased, irresponsible ways as Cville did in this case and want to be part of changing that," says Winder in an email to The DTM. " I am inspired by Kiara and Kishara and the role they have already had in changing the media story about this and their ambition to take on the bigger questions."
While the protest will take aim at the Cville's coverage of the incident, it will also take aim at the paper's response to the public reaction of that coverage, and specifically to comments made by the paper's editor, Giles Morris.
"Rather than respond to community concerns about the nature and consequences of this coverage, " says the Wayside blog post, "Morris responded with defensiveness and increasingly problematic statements about race in Charlottesville going so far as to state, “The educated, mobile, professional class that is Charlottesville’s future doesn’t have a race problem...”
The protest is scheduled for Friday, January 31 from 4:30pm to 6pm.
Update: 01/25/14 Press release issued
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Kiara Redd-Martin (434) 242-5539
Cville Weekly Inflames Racial Tensions With Irresponsible Story
Protesters Descend on Office to Demand Accountability
Charlottesville, VA - Months after a popular protest forced an apology and a change in it's editorial policy regarding hate speech, Cville Weekly finds itself under fire again - this time for racially-charged, sensationalist coverage and editorializing of a late night brawl on the downtown mall. On Friday, January 31st A diverse crowd will gather will march to the paper's offices at 308 E. Main St. where they will protest from 4:30 until 6 pm.
“We believe it was negligent journalism,” said Kiara Redd-Martin, a 24-year old graduate of Old Dominion University, and organizer of Operation S.E. "Reporting the story in this manner with so little investigation fueled people's fears and inflamed racial tensions based on false premises." The article repeatedly speculated that the incident was a "knock-out game" type of attack despite the fact that the validity of this racially-charged terminology has been called into question by law enforcement officials and more reputable news outlets nation-wide.
Regarding the planned protest, co-creator of O.S.E Kishara Griffin said, “We need to hold our powerful institutions accountable. The defensive response by Cville editor Giles Morris reflects a complete lack of understanding that irresponsible reporting like this has consequences." Griffin, a graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington, continued, "Morris is presenting himself and the paper as if they are doing visionary work to change the conversation about race in Charlottesville. We need to let him know just how delusional that is while these incidents continue to happen."
Among the outcomes that protesters hope for is that Morris and the staff at Cville will undergo training that deepens their understanding of the nature of systemic racism and the responsibilities of journalists within that system.
"The way this story was handled was offensive and the editor’s later comments on the caseare shameful as he chose to question the city’s moral obligation to preserve the black race, going as far as stating that the 'educated, mobile, professional class' of Charlottesville doesn't have a race problem. Giles Morris - It's time to check your attitude about racism. Until you do, we will be here, in the streets, in the media and in the offices of your paid advertisers calling you to accountability," said Kiara Redd-Martin.