Whether it was a hoax or footage of an actual assault, an amateur video filmed in Columbus has created quite a stir this week on a popular hip-hop website.
Two unidentified men, purportedly provoked by "homophobic" slurs, are shown confronting and then repeatedly slapping another man under a pavilion on the Chattahoochee RiverWalk near the North Highlands Dam. The video, which was removed from YouTube because it violated the site's policy on "shocking and disgusting content," had generated more than 620,000 views by Wednesday afternoon on www.worldstarhiphop.com, where it was uploaded Friday.
"It has gone viral," said Tommy Youngblood, a college student from Montgomery, Ala., who told the Ledger-Enquirer he filmed the incident with his iPhone about six months ago. "Everyone around the world has been tweeting the video and commenting about it."
News of the video's popularity was first reported Sunday by the Gay Star News, a British online news organization.
Youngblood, 19, said two friends of his from Phenix City -- whom he declined to identify -- confronted two men at a table under the pavilion because they were offended by anti-gay language they were using.
"They were talking loud enough for everyone in the park to hear them," Youngblood said.
Youngblood's friends are shown engaging in a testy exchange with one of the men. They then begin slapping him -- knocking him to the ground -- before leaving the pavilion. The man did not appear to be seriously injured by the incident.
"To me, I don't think it was a crime," Youngblood said. "They were actually protecting themselves."
Others who viewed the footage disagreed. One local attorney said there was "no doubt" a crime had been committed, but that it would be a "toss-up" as to whether it would be prosecuted.
Bill Mason, a well-known Columbus defense attorney, also watched the video and said it appeared to depict a battery.
A police investigator reviewed the video over the weekend, but a formal inquiry was not opened because no complaint was filed and authorities "never really had anything to go on," Police Chief Ricky Boren said. The would-be victim -- whom authorities believe may have lived among the homeless people who frequent that part of the RiverWalk -- has not been identified, even after local homeless advocates reviewed the video.
"If we can come up with a victim, we'll most assuredly look at it and we'll give them an opportunity to sign a warrant if they want to prosecute this," Boren said Wednesday. "If we have someone that comes forward that says that they were a witness or they were a victim of this thing, we'll pick it back up."
Authorities also were weighing the possibility that the video was staged. Among the questions Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said she had was whether the incident was "a spontaneous event" or a setup in which "a desired scene was created."
"I wonder why the filmer is laughing, and is there to film the totality of the event," Tomlinson wrote in an email.
Youngblood, who offered to sell the clip for $5,000, said he is majoring in mass media and often carries a camera or filming equipment with him. In a telephone interview Monday, he insisted he'd filmed the incident and that it was a genuine depiction of events. But he changed his story in later correspondence this week, saying alternatively that the clip had been sent to him from an "unknown number" and that he found it online.
In the Monday interview, Youngblood said one of his best friends had been "killed for being gay," and that he uploaded the clip to "show that this is what happens to homophobes who bash or talk abusive to gays with strong backbones."
"Stuff like that happens all the time," Youngblood added, "but it's normally the other way around."
Warning: This video contains graphic language and violent behavior. Viewer discretion is advised.