The UVA assaults: CHS in shock over arrests
Usually when UVA students are beaten up, it’s easy to assail the attackers, especially if they’re rich fraternity boys and one of their daddies owns Federal Express.
The recent series of attacks on UVA students are different. The alleged attackers are 10 popular black students at Charlottesville High, “good kids,” according to one CHS parent. And City officials are doing everything possible to dispel the notion that the attacks were racially motivated.
So hot is the issue that the City called a press conference February 8, and Mayor Blake Caravati extended sympathy not only to the victims of the attacks but to the families of the attackers as well.
Police Chief Tim Longo has refused to acknowledge that race was a factor in the attacks, despite a couple of suspects allegedly admitting as much during police questioning. Longo used the word “sensitive” at least four times in answering reporters’ questions, and stressed that the situation “involves the lives of young people and their families.”
David Duke’s white supremacy group, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, called for the youths to be charged under hate-crime statutes— upping the tension levels and causing Caravati to lose sleep, he says.
“This is our issue, and we’re capable of taking care of this on our own,” Caravati says. “We don’t need the Aryan Nation coming in here and telling us how to handle it.”
Caravati also warns about the dangers of using the words “hate crimes.”
“Is that what you want to be known for as a city?” he asks.
Charlottesville High was staggered by the whole affair. The day the story of football star Gordon Fields’ arrest came out in the Daily Progress, “people were in the halls reading the paper and crying,” reports CHS 11th-grader Jaime-Jin Lewis.
And even a week after news of the arrests, another CHS student described the mood as one of disbelief.
“At the lunch table, someone commented how weird it is we go to school with these people and how we’d never believed they’d be this aggressive,” says Lewis. “It took us by shock because it seems like such a big-city event and we’re such a small city.”
“We read articles about the attacks going on,” says a 10th grader, who requested that her name not be used. “We didn’t believe someone so close could have done it.”
The 10th grade student was acquainted with Fields. “Some people think he got suckered into doing it,” she says, “because he wasn’t that way. Some of the others I can see doing it, and I’m glad to see them out of here.”
This student describes those arrested as part of the “football player” group. “They were all very big, and everybody knew them. They had their own little group,” she says.
Were the attacks racially motivated? “I think they wanted to thrill-seek,” speculates the student. “I don’t think race drove the attacks, but it might have been a factor.”
Principal Bobby Thompson says much the same thing. “I think it was more, ‘Let’s go to the university and holler at university students.’”
Whatever hijinks inspired the attacks, the results were charges of felonious assault, and several of the victims ended up in the hospital. One suffered a broken cheekbone that required surgery. Another missed class for several days after being kicked in the head.
The whole contretemps raises the question of whether there are racial problems at Charlottesville High— and are they any different from society at large? The answers given to The Hook vary.
“I don’t have racial issues,” says Thompson. “We’re a typical high school. Fights never, ever are white and black.”
“Yes and no,” says Lewis, who is Korean and who has black friends. “At lunch time there are definite barriers” between white students and black students. Yet Lewis says the orchestra is very diverse, “which isn’t typical of orchestras.”
On the other hand, a CHS parent describes the orchestra, string ensemble, and band as “all white, except for a couple of kids who are from elsewhere.” And the cheerleaders are all black. “It’s a very segregated, divided environment,” this parent says, adding, “The kids choose this. It’s more a symptom of our culture than from this event.”
The CHS 10th grader, who is white, says there is a lot of racism at the school. For example, blacks say they hate whites, or “a black girl on the bus was saying she didn’t want to sit beside a white girl.”
Jamara Williams, an 11th-grader who is black, doesn’t think there’s a racial problem, nor does she think the school is segregated. “You can’t blame the whole school for what a few students did.”
And one CHS parent theorizes that the school is split more on socio-economic than racial lines.
To address the tear in the fabric of the school’s student body, faculty, and community, Principal Thompson met with 20 students— 10 black, 10 white— last week to gauge their reactions to their peers’ arrests.
“The student body is pretty concerned,” Thompson said. “Of course they’re concerned about the kids at UVA. And they’re concerned about the way the media has depicted the high school— that we have mobs running up and down the halls jumping on kids and robbing them, and that’s just not so.”
Media accounts of the assaults mentioned that a few of the UVA victims were robbed, but The Hook was unable to find any accounts of mobs robbing students in the halls of CHS.
The students are also bothered by the media’s portrayals of Fields, according to their principal. “He’s just a teddy bear,” says Thompson.
Thompson has launched a publicity campaign to deal with media portrayals that he says make CHS seem like an inner city school. He appeared on the internal school news program last Friday, and students have written letters to the Daily Progress and also to the Cavalier Daily to assure UVA students that CHS students aren’t going to come over and assault them. And City public affairs officer Maurice Jones is going to film a roundtable of CHS students to appear on public access Channel 13.
Students at CHS “are very proud of the diversity here and the fact they’re around kids of different colors” says Thompson. “That’s one of the reasons we don’t have racial tensions.”