NEWS- Punch line: West Main attacks nothing new

Three different attacks were reported on West Main Street the weekend of July 21-22. Victims Donna Burke and Clarence Leake didn't know that people have been attacked over the past year.

The coverage of the recent spate of unprovoked attacks by gangs of white-t-shirted youths has led to complaints that they've been overblown. But for the past year, many assaults on West Main Street have gone largely unreported.

 Donna Burke and Clarence Leake were crossing Drewary Brown Bridge early July 21 heading toward downtown when they were approached by a group of six or seven black males.

"One asked what time was it– one little boy," says Leake, 31, "and [Burke] said 2:58. The little boy jumped in the air and struck me in the back of the head."

"I asked, 'What's going on?'" says Burke, 20. "He hit me in the face. The inside of my mouth was bleeding, and I had a black eye for a week."

The other teens– all wearing dark clothes, not white t-shirts, as previously reported– hit Leake in the back of the head seven or eight times, he estimates. "I turned around with my fist balled up, and they took off running," he says.

Unknown to the couple, theirs was not an isolated attack. Another man and woman had been assaulted on West Main a few minutes earlier, a man was hit early July 22, and sources say the police have been aware of similar incidents for the past year.

  In the earlier July 21 attack of another couple, the assailants were described as four to five black males wearing blue jeans and white t-shirts.

Are the two July 21 assaults related? "I don't think we know," says Charlottesville Police Captain Bryant Bibb. "One of the theories is these are committed by rival groups trying to outdo each other." 

He says the time and proximity of the two attacks are "awfully coincidental," but the different clothing leads police to suspect different groups.

Police arrested two 15-year-olds July 26 following the assault of a 34-year-old man at the intersection of Grove and the 10th Street SW connector. But at press time, police have not connected them to any of the other assaults. 

For some, reports of young thugs on West Main come as no surprise. "We've had incidents since last summer," says a long-time employee of the recently closed Starr Hill, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. She estimates the music hall called police 10 to 12 times.

She describes a Starr Hill guest who was punched in the face and suffered a broken nose. At a dinner last fall for UVA Jefferson Scholars, a woman coming to the event around 5:30pm had a brick thrown at her leg. And at a wedding rehearsal dinner, a young male came in, stole a purse and ran out. Three men from the wedding party gave chase into the alley between Starr Hill and Mel's Café. "There were about 12 to 14 kids there," says the former employee. "They were outnumbered."

She says none of the kids are older than 16, and that other Starr Hill employees have chased them over the railroad tracks to Hardy Drive.

"It's interesting [the attacks] are getting all this attention now that they've moved downtown," she says.

Author Henry Wiencek also witnessed an assault November 16, and narrowly missed being hit himself with a thrown bottle while attending a  poetry and song-writing competition co-sponsored by Starr Hill Presents, the Music Resource Center, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

Around 8:45pm, Wiencek stepped outside the Starr Hill venue and noticed a small group of kids down the street. When he turned his back, a soda bottle whizzed by a few inches from his head. He turned around and saw the teens disappear into the alley between Mel's and Starr Hill. Moments later, a couple emerged from the alley.

"A young man in his twenties was holding a tissue to his face," says Wiencek. "He sat on the ground and said, 'Two of them just hit me. They hit me for nothing.'"

The alley between Mel's and Starr Hill  leads to Hardy Drive and is a favorite getaway route for the West Main Street attackers.

The man refused Wiencek's offer to call the police. The next morning Wiencek decided to report the incident and called a non-emergency number. The woman answering asked, "What can we do? Is it happening now?" recalls Wiencek. "She said they'd get back to me– and they didn't."

Wiencek thought it unlikely police would catch anyone, but he did want them to be aware of the incident. "At the time I was very disappointed," he says.

He calls the attacks "extremely brazen" and "opportunistic," and admits, "It shook me that a bottle went by my head. I'd still be in the hospital if it hit me."

Now he thinks twice about going to West Main. "I'm nervous for the first time in my own town," he says. "I'm nervous about my son and his friends on the Corner."

When asked to comment about allegations that attacks on West Main have been going on for a year, Police Chief Tim Longo says he isn't exactly sure which assaults the former Starr Hill employee and Wiencek are talking about. "I can tell you that we are actively investigating those incidents that have come to our attention," writes Longo in an email. "Additionally, we continue to deploy a large contingent of resources throughout the city in an effort to prevent additional incidents from arising."

 Arthur Walker, daytime cook at Mel's Café, says he's not aware of the West Main assaults, and worries that because white t-shirts are ubiquitous, the attacks will smear all who choose that attire.

"You've got a thousand black kids wearing white t-shirts, and 975 of them are good kids," says Walker. "What these other [25] kids are doing needs to be stopped. That's crazy."

At the popular eatery, Walker sees kids wearing white t-shirts and baggy jeans all the time. "A lot of them I know," he points out. "I know their grandmothers." 

He believes that attacks are more likely closer to downtown. "Up in this area, they could be recognized," he says. "Hey, that could be Mrs. Jones' grandson."

And some of the attackers have been recognized. Clarence Leake says he's seen pictures of suspects. "The one who struck us, [police] had his picture," he says.

Leake suspects gang activity and says gang symbols like "Pspect" are all around town. He wonders if the random attacks are an initiation. "I don't see why the youngest one would be the one to be striking," he says. And he cites the similar attire of the attackers– in his case, dark clothing.

Two days after Leake and Burke were attacked, he got a cell phone, and the couple don't come downtown as often. "I don't feel like hanging here is a good thing," he says.

Burke grew up in Fluvanna and has lived in Charlottesville for 13 years. But for him and Burke, Charlottesville has changed from a "best place to live." Leake says they're now "thinking about getting out of here."




This is an easy one, takes a little effort but easy enough. Stake it out a few days here and there. Forty or fifty people spread out around the perimeter of 10 square blocks should do it. Set the little punks up, when something happens swarm in and pick them up. Follow up with some bar setting punishments and this will go away. It would be a crying shame for C'Ville as a city to succumb to this ridiculous and annoying behavior by a handful of derelicts. To not do something is setting the standard for crumbling behavior of the areas youth.

Ya see, what ya got here is your basic juvenile delinquent. So yas gotta ask yerself, "What does Johnny need, a little talkin' to, or a swift kick in the seat-meat?" There ya go. Spare the shoe leather, spoil the child.

First, why won't anyone report this for what it is and quit being so politically correct. Let's get to the point. These are BLACK white tshirted youths. Why can't anyone say it? And as far as I can tell no blacks have been attacked just whites. So I think that qualifies as hate crime. So where is the NAACP? Yeah that's what I thought. Please correct me if I am wrong. This is not overblown. It's just a matter of time before someone they attack gets killed in the process. This needs to be stopped now and there should be outrage that this is happening here and that the police have not been able to apprehend and prosecute more of them. And if the police don't get it under control soon maybe a few good citizens with weapons permits would be happy to eliminate the problem! I'm sure that would get everyone's attention.

That's where the resources are going.

In the rare event you actually get around that slow PT Cruiser and Minivan, you can get up to maybe 50 MPH on the bypass for a stretch of about 1/4 miles. Maybe.

But watch out, in the few and far between areas you can actually get up any speed in Charlottesville, there are A LOT of resources being devoted to slow you down, or cite you for an expired tag. Those are, after all, the most serious crime issues these days LOL!

Damn I feel a lot safer now that that Honda Civic is getting a ticket for a cracked windshield!

Way to go, Tim Longo...Sick 'em, boy!

I've been hearing about these attacks for some time and recall a comment by Longo that they might have change how they allocate resources/patrols. It seems like Policing 101 that you would do as David suggests--patrol the area etc. For what, two years now? The cops have been lamenting that gangs are moving in--so what are they doing to stop it? Especially at the early stages? Puzzling indeed. These "kids" are operating in a fixed area and are apparently on foot.

I'm planning a visit to the area in the fall, but these reports of what certainly sounds like gang-related activity to me are causing second thoughts. I won't cancel my trip, but I also won't be spending much time downtown or walking around Cville after dark like I have on past visits. Which means I won't be spending my money in local bars/restaurants like I normally would. Hey - maybe that's the incentive your city/police dept needs in order to get a handle on this stuff before someone is killed by these underage thugs.

Non-Resident, the city/police couldn't care less. If the tourist dollars stop coming in they simply double the residents water and sewer bills again. I have never seen anything like it.... my parent's water bill in the county is around $10 a month. My water bill in the city is now $85 a month.

OK, the weekend is here. How many random assaults will take place in the next two days and will actually be reported in the local media? I wager two.

I heard, secondhand, that the cook from ZydeCo (on the corner) was attacked by the train tracks last week but I didn't find anything about it in any of the media. That's why I'd like to see a comprehensive police blotter published each week - I am afraid we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg.

non-resident, I've been boycotting towntown for a couple of months now. I'm not doing it to force change (I did spend a fair amount of time and money there in the past, however) but to keep my family safe.

You know the photos of abducted kids on milk cartons? They're always on milk cartons, yet only when the media harps on a high-profile case, then follows up for a period of time with others does the public think: "whoa, it seems like there's a rash of these things!"

In fact, it's going on all the time, but we only know what we read in the papers, as Will Rogers once said.

Given the apparent lack of coverage (and a dearth of responses here, one of the few forums where local citizens can comment directly on these important issues, and be heard) I despair of my own kind.