NEWS- Eight is enough: Youths strike downtown again
Teen males wearing white t-shirts assaulted several pedestrians July 6, upping the number of strangers randomly struck near the Downtown Mall to at least eight. As citizens become increasingly nervous about walking downtown, police have formed a task force to determine whether a number of similar attacks over the past few months are related.
"The only factual similarity is black youths wearing white t-shirts," says Charlottesville Police Captain Bryant Bibb, who stresses that police have no evidence indicating the assaults are gang related.
A man walking a few steps behind his wife on Belmont Bridge around 10:15pm July 6 was sucker-punched in the face by one of a group of 10 to 12 passing African-American teenagers, police say.
Shortly after that, at 10:50pm, another white male was beaten at 900 East Market Street near LexisNexis. The victim didn't report the attack: police heard about it from a witness, who saw a man being assaulted by a group of young black males. The witness yelled at the victim to get in his car, and the assailants started punching the car, leaving dents.
"Due to the time and location, we think they're related," says Bibb.
Later that evening– at 11:29pm– someone in a group of white t-shirt-wearing juvenile pedestrians threw a rock through the windshield of a car on Jefferson Park Avenue. Officers were able to detain some of the suspects, but the driver was unable to identify the rock thrower.
"We have some suspects," says Bibb. "We know who those kids are." But he can't say the JPA vandalism was connected to the earlier assaults. "I can't say they're not related. I can't say they are related.
"We can't connect events by white t-shirts," he cautions, because the garb is so common.
And at times controversial. Earlier this year, Jaberwoke restaurant on the Corner ignited a firestorm when it banned white tees and baggy pants.
Police have called in school resource officers, hoping their familiarity with city juveniles will help develop leads. They've also stepped up security in the areas of previous attacks, such as Garrett Street.
"Since this weekend, we'll probably be focusing more on the Belmont Bridge area," says Bibb, even though he acknowledges the randomness of the attacks makes focusing on one area problematic.
Police say that a 2am July 7 assault on a woman at the Elks Lodge on 2nd Street NW is not related to the teen attacks, but they have spotted some patterns in some other assaults:
• June 11 around 9:45pm in the 900 block of 9th Street SW. A black male walking alone passed four to six black male teenagers. He was attacked from behind and suffered injuries to the face, including a front tooth knocked out and another loosened. "We've identified two possible suspects in that case," says Sergeant Mark Brake.
• June 2 at 12:43am on Garrett Street. A husband and wife walking to their car were approached by eight young black males in white t-shirts. One struck the woman in the face with what police believe was a piece of asphalt. The gang fled toward Friendship Court, and police located a bloodied piece of asphalt nearby. The husband was unharmed.
• May 23 at 11:06pm in the Crescent Hall parking lot at 500 South 1st Street. A man was unloading a bike when a white pickup pulled up carrying three black males who roughed the man up and threw him to the ground. The victim's forehead was split, and he had a large red mark on his right cheek.
• May 23 at 11:50pm on Garrett Street. A young white male was approached by three black males, one of whom was walking on the north side of the street by himself and who asked the victim for a cigarette. When he complied, the other two males crossed the street. He heard laughing and then was struck at least 10 times with clubs. The man broke away and called police, but he suffered multiple wounds to his head, face, and back.
• April 28 at 2:32am in the 200 block of Water Street. After being jumped by three males– two black and one white– the victim was punched in the face multiple times. (This case is different from the others in that the trouble may have begun in Club 216, one of the assailants is white, not all were wearing white t-shirts, and police say the victim may have known the assailants.)
• March 30 at 11:16pm in the 200 block of West Main Street. Although not on the list of cases provided by police, the Hook reported an early April assault on Jamie Dyer, a member of the musical group Hogwaller Ramblers, who was walking from Water Street in front of the Ice Park when he noticed a group of five or six teens. Three boys knocked him to the ground and punched and kicked him before fleeing toward Water Street. Dyer called the attack a "thrash and dash," and the only description he could give to police was young black men wearing white t-shirts and baggy jeans.
"It's unusual we have a random attack and the victim is not robbed," says Sergeant Brake. "Historically, the motive is robbing that person."
The randomness of the attacks around the Downtown Mall has made habitués nervous.
A young woman who works on the Mall, lives on West Main Street, and regularly walks near where attacks have happened, worries if it's safe to walk to her boyfriend's house two blocks away at 11pm.
"It makes me paranoid if it's getting to be dusk, and that a couple was attacked and a woman put in the hospital," she says, requesting anonymity. "I'm not even safe if I'm with my boyfriend. This sucks when I could be with a group of friends and still worry."
And the fear is everywhere. "You see kids who fit the description everyday," she says.
She says her friends who live downtown are considering self-defense courses. "One thing I take into account every time I leave my house is I make sure I'm wearing shoes I can run in," says the 20-something.
City officials urge people to exercise caution, but they note that, statistically, Charlottesville has not seen a surge in violent crimes, and that numbers of assaults are actually down.
"We do feel the Downtown Mall is safe," says city spokesman Ric Barrick. "There's no reason to fear crime is on the increase."
Barrick, too, cautions against the use of the word "gang" and connecting organized criminal gangs like Crips and Bloods with the gangs of local teens, whom he calls "thugs who unfortunately feel like they don't have anything better to do."
The recent spate of violence has reminded residents of a series of stranger attacks in early 2002, mostly against white and Asian UVA students, in which nine Charlottesville High students, eight of whom were black, were charged and convicted. In those cases, several of the attacking students were football players, one of the ringleaders was a female, and none were described as wearing white t-shirts.
Police think a lot of people know about the recent attacks, and they hope parents, family, and friends of those involved will come forward.
"These are kids," says Captain Bibb. "Kids generally talk a lot, and you get a bunch of 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds, they're probably talking about it."