A civil rights group is urging the Supreme Court to overturn a lower-court ruling that said a Black Lives Matter organizer has no First Amendment defense to a lawsuit filed by a Baton Rouge officer who was injured while trying to arrest protesters after the 2016 killing of Alton Sterling, reports the Advocate in Baton Rouge.
The American Civil Liberties Union and organizer DeRay Mckesson argue that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decision would gut protest rights established during the civil rights era if allowed to stand.
The Baton Rouge officer doesn’t claim Mckesson threw the chunk of concrete that seriously injured him. He does contend that Mckesson bears some responsibility as the leader of the protest outside Baton Rouge police headquarters.
Mckesson, of Baltimore, counters that the goal of such lawsuits is to prevent people from showing up at a protest “out of the fear that they might be held responsible if anything happens.”
“If this precedent lasts, it could make organizers all across the country responsible for all types of things they have no control over, such as random people coming into a protest and causing problems. We can’t let that happen,” Mckesson said.
The ACLU’s David Cole said, “If the law had allowed anyone to sue leaders of social justice movements over the violent actions of others, there would have been no Civil Rights Movement,” he said. A divided Fifth Circuit panel said the officer can sue Mckesson on the grounds he acted negligently by leading people to block a highway outside police headquarters.
Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was fatally shot after two white Baton Rouge police officers responded to a report that an armed man threatened someone at a convenience store.