Change Atlanta leaders called a press conference Feb. 25 to affirm they still support the gay man beaten in a brutal attack captured on video, but also support the men accused of beating him.
Dorian Moragne, Christopher Cain and Darael Damare Williams, all teenagers, have been arrested for beating Brandon White, 20, in a brutal Feb. 4 attack. Change Atlanta organizers initially decried the attack as a hate crime, but then called the motive into question after speaking to the mother of one of the suspects as well as his defense attorney.
Devin Barrington Ward said he was among those who first raised the alarm about the videotaped beating, which shows the attackers repeatedly shouting “faggot” at White as he his punched and kicked. But his support of the alleged attackers has many people accusing him of changing positions. At the Feb. 25 forum, Ward said he is supporting both sides.
“I stand behind Brandon White, and I stand behind Brandon White because he is my brother, even though I never personally met Brandon… Just as much as he is my brother so are the individuals that attacked him, and we have to as a community talk how we bridge the gap between the victim and the ones who inflicted the pain upon the victim,” he said.
All three teens arrested are black men, and Ward went on to say that far too often black men are imprisoned. He urged “the community” to look beyond the judicial system for closure. He said he and Change Atlanta are waiting to reserve judgment until the facts were settled.
Change Atlanta has made public its stance that White may have known his attackers, saying that if White is lying he needs to come forward and let the public and police know the truth. And, if White did know his attackers, Change Atlanta questioned if the attackers can really face hate crime charges.
Terik Jackson of Change Atlanta said his group would hold White accountable for telling the truth, but would continue to support him regardless of the situation.
“No, we’re not cutting off (our support),” Jackson said. “If we found that Brandon had somehow lied or misled us what would our response be? Guess what, the same response we are having with the other guys. We’re not going away, we’re not walking away.”
Gary Nichols, who was misidentified as a member of Change Atlanta by television station CBS Atlanta, attended the Feb. 25 press conference to clarify his position.
Nichols said publicly he felt “duped” by White and that the young men who attacked him did so because White was threatening to expose them for being on the “down low” with a video on his cellphone.
Nichols’ involvement in the controversy surrounding the attack on White comes from an effort to protect White in the wake of the video going viral. Nichols told GA Voice that he is an Army veteran, and along with a number of veterans reached out to White to offer him protection if he needed it.
White declined their offer, but Nichols said he and his group went into the Pittsburgh community to find out more.
“We went into their [gang members] space is what we did,” Nichols said. “Basic military procedure. We went into their space, stood on their corner, and took away their ability to operate.”
Once they had established themselves on Pittsburgh’s streets they began to hear from the community and local gang members, Nichols said. While he declined to share what he learned from gang members for fear of legal repercussions, Nichols stated that there is more to the story than what has been made public.
Jay Abt, the defense attorney for Moragne, said, “We cannot rush to judgment. I know there is a videotape out there, and I know that everyone who is interested in that case has seen the videotape, but please understand that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Abt has insisted that White knew his alleged attackers, while White’s attorney, Christine Koehler, said White did not know his attackers.
The press conference came after a “Community Dialogue” that started 45 minutes late and generally addressed the topic of violence prevention and response. Change Atlanta invited Ulester Douglas of Men Stopping Violence, the defense attorneys for Dorian Moragne and Moragne’s mother to speak.
Koehler has said she and White were not invited and would not have attended.
Tamara Moragne has made several appearances on behalf of her son, and has made similar statements each time. During the community forum she said, “I do not condone violence. I do not condone what happened at all,” before Apt motioned for her to stop speaking.
Douglas said that there is “state sponsored violence in the black community,” which is the root of violence seen in attacks like the one on White.
“The purpose of state sponsored violence is in part to advance a racist, capitalist, hetero-patriarchal system, and I think that we have to hold on to that, that is the purpose of state sponsored violence,” Douglas said.
Douglas suggested that in order to stop future attacks like the one on White, society should “think about voting,” a living wage, “decolonizing our minds,” and “create spaces for healing,” as a way to move forward.
“It is really perverse to look to the state, which is oppressing the modern society, for justice,” he said.
It was suggested several times by several different speakers that “the community” at large had been harmed by the beating and that “the community” needed to look outside the justice system for an answer, but the speakers did not specifically call for the charges against White’s alleged attackers to be dropped.