African Americans are celebrating that Damien Pickett, co-captain of the Harriott II Riverboat, was not murdered in Montgomery, Alabama, after he was physically assaulted by multiple European American men and women on August 5. Members of the crew and paying customers came to his defense, besting his attackers on a dock that once served as a slave port in a formerly well-known slave trading community.
Despite video evidence of the brawl, which clearly shows how it started, there remain critiques about the use of violence. Was it because of how it ended? Is it easier to watch an African American die senselessly or be rightly defended?
Pickett was just doing his job, asking the owners of the pontoon to move their boat so that the riverboat could dock. Instead of complying with his request and despite multiple explanations as to why the boat needed to be moved, several men and their female partners began to physically assault him. Two of the men who assaulted Pickett have since been taken into custody, according to reports.
Typically, the camera-phone recording or police body-camera video ends with an African American running for their life or pleading for it. Head held down on concrete or pushed into the grass and shot through or in the back while running, some would say the officer was just doing his job or he would write in the police report, “I feared for my life.” That’s what George Zimmerman said, a self-deputized neighborhood watch captain who murdered an unarmed seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman wasn’t found guilty, and neither were the murderers of Emmett Till, whom Martin was compared to after sparking a new wave of protests, despite their confession. Instead, fourteen-year-old Till, the catalyst for the civil rights movement who was kidnapped and beaten beyond recognition before being tied to a cotton gin fan and thrown into the Tallahatchie River, will receive a national monument.
His mother, Mamie Till, never saw justice and neither will the remaining survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre, despite living to tell the story. Their lawsuit was dismissed last month.
The family members of Birmingham’s four little girls saw justice, albeit decades later. It both upset and inspired Nina Simone who wrote the now famous protest song “Mississippi Goddam.” She was also lamenting the death of civil rights strategist Medgar Evers. He was murdered in the driveway of his home on June 12, 1963, by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, who was convicted thirty years later.
Earlier this year, Michael Corey Jenkins and his friend Eddie Terrell Parker alleged that six deputies from the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department in Jackson, Mississippi, entered their home without a warrant. They beat and sexually assaulted the men during the 90-minute ordeal, shooting one of them in the mouth.
The deputies have since been fired, a civil rights investigation is underway, and a federal civil rights lawsuit has been filed by the men. Like Pickett, they needed members of their community to intervene.
Nonviolence during the civil rights movement was a strategy—not a monolithic cultural characteristic of African American people. There were slave rebellions and insurrections, but has anyone seen the body of Denmark Vesey? And with the very real threat of lynching, which was supported by local and national authorities and only in 2022 became a federal hate crime, what other choice did they have?
But do you know who did have a choice? European Americans, those racialized as white. However, when there is talk of the ongoing white supremacist domestic terrorism that has largely been left unadjudicated, what follows is mostly silence.
How long exactly do you expect African Americans to sit quietly and watch members of their community be assaulted and worse still, murdered? Because everybody knows about Montgomery. Goddamn!