Louisiana Record

Saturday, April 4, 2020

ACLU asks Supreme Court to overturn decision to allow Baton Rouge officer's lawsuit against protest organizer

Federal Court

By Zeta Cross | Jan 2, 2020

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Activist DeRay Mckesson | facebook.com

Citing free speech and the right to protest, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision allowing a Louisiana police officer to sue Black Lives Matter organizer DeRay Mckesson.

“We’re asking the Supreme Court to defend the First Amendment right to protest,” a post on the ACLU’s official twitter account said in December after the ACLU filed a petition for review on behalf of Mckesson in mid-December. 

At issue is the right of a Baton Rouge police officer, identified as John Doe, to seek damages for the serious injuries the officer suffered during protests in July 2016 after Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was killed by Baton Rouge police.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision in April that allowed Doe's lawsuit to move forward. 

“Mckesson should have known that leading the demonstrators onto a busy highway was most nearly certain to provoke a confrontation between police and the mass of demonstrators, yet he ignored the foreseeable danger," the ruling states.

Mckesson, who lives in Baltimore, is acknowledged as the leader and one of the organizers of the Baton Rouge Black Lives Matter protest, which began as a peaceful demonstration.

The protesters were blocking a public highway when police in riot gear showed up to make arrests. The officer’s complaint names Mckesson as a person who was “giving orders” during the protest. 

The violence began when some protesters began throwing water bottles from a convenience store at a line of police. During the altercation, one protester picked up a piece of concrete and hurled it at the police officer's face. The officer was knocked out. He lost several teeth and suffered brain injuries and a jaw injury. 

Mckesson is not accused of throwing the piece of concrete. He is named as the prime leader and organizer of the protest.

The lawsuit says Mckesson encouraged people to join the protest. It places blame on Mckesson because in Louisiana blocking a public highway is against the law. By encouraging people to join the protest, the lawsuit says, Mckesson was encouraging them to break the law.

In the announcement of the filing of the Supreme Court petition, the ACLU said that what is at stake is the right to protest.

“The goal of lawsuits like these is to prevent people from showing up at a protest out of the fear that they might be held responsible if anything happens,” Mckesson said at the announcement of the filing of the petition.

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Organizations in this Story

U.S. Supreme CourtAmerican Civil Liberties Union