The lawsuit filed by an anonymous Baton Rouge police officer in November 2016 couldn’t have been more shaky. At issue was the officer’s involvement in a July 9, 2016, protest of Black Lives Matter in response to the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling. “Officer John Doe,” reads the complaint, suffered injuries while assigned to patrolling the protest, and he was seeking damages from activist DeRay Mckesson and Black Lives Matter.
The case against Mckesson rested in large part on allegations in paragraphs 17 and 19 of the officer’s complaint. Highlights: “At the beginning the protest was peaceful until activist began pumping up the crowd,” reads the complaint. Mckesson, it continued, “did nothing to calm the crowd and, instead, he incited the violence on behalf of the Defendant BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
One protester “under the control and custody” of Mckesson and Black Lives Matter hurled a piece of concrete or rock at the assembled police, injuring the plaintiff, according to the lawsuit. “OFFICER was struck fully in the face and immediately knocked down and incapacitated. OFFICER’S injuries include loss of teeth, injury to jaw, injury to brain and head as well as lost wages and other compensable losses,” the complaint says.
Horrific. Yet the complaint mounted no evidence that Mckesson had committed, encouraged or incited this attack. A federal judge in Louisiana, Brian A. Jackson, in a Thursday ruling, declared that Black Lives Matter is a movement and not an organization that can be sued. As for Mckesson himself, the judge pretty much scoffed at the complaint’s lack of rigor. The officer, noted Jackson, “merely states – in a conclusory fashion – that Mckesson ‘incited the violence’ and ‘g[ave] orders’ … but Plaintiff does not state in his Complaint how Mckesson allegedly incited violence or what orders he allegedly was giving.”
And no, the officer couldn’t sue Mckesson for an alleged failure to “calm” things down during the protests. ” ‘Civil liability may not be imposed merely because an individual belonged to a group, some members of which committed acts of violence,’ ” Jackson wrote, citing a past Supreme Court decision.
A garbage suit, in other words.
Just watch how it was elevated on Friday morning’s edition of “Fox & Friends.” To set the mood, the leading morning show on cable news played a clip of a moment that Fox News viewers can by now recite via memory: An August 2015 Black Lives Matter protest in which marchers chanted, “Pigs in a blanket; fry ’em like bacon.”
Springboarding off of that video, “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy said, “There you’ve got a Black Lives Matter demonstration a while back in St. Paul, Minnesota.” With that, he introduced Fox News’s former judge Jeanine Pirro for some analysis of Jackson’s ruling. After expressing some skepticism over the judge’s declaration that Black Lives Matter cannot be sued, she zeroed in on Mckesson:
Pirro: In this particular case, DeRay Mckesson, the organizer, actually was directing people, directing the violence — you can sue him, but guess what the judge said? You know what, he was engaging in protected free speech. Now I want you to guess who appointed this federal judge.
Co-host Brian Kilmeade: Ronald Reagan?
Kilmeade: Didn’t think so.
Pirro: Barack Obama. And you know what, the amazing part of this is, that DeRay Mckesson, and about 90 of the people who were protesting … actually got $100,000 from the city of Baton Rouge because Baton Rouge, they said, was very offensive to them and the police were militarized and although no one was injured, they felt that their civil rights were violated. What is wrong with this country today? The problem is when you have federal judges who make decisions based on politics. … You’ve got a police officer who was injured. He was injured at the direction of DeRay Mckesson. DeRay Mckesson walks away with $100,000 for an organization that is amorphous. We got a problem in this country.”
Pirro’s remarks drew a reaction from Mckesson on Twitter:
A fact: Mckesson and about 90 other protesters were due to receive “a few hundred dollars apiece” in a settlement over their arrests during the protests. And here’s how one account described the complaint that triggered the $100,000 settlement: “The federal class-action lawsuit alleged that law enforcement used excessive force during the protests, made arrests without cause and violated demonstrators’ civil rights.”
Here was a remarkably efficient instance of the sort of race-baiting that’s all too common on Fox News’s opinion shows. In less than two minutes, Pirro and her hosts at “Fox & Friends” — who, of course, couldn’t muster an opposing thought — managed to allege that Mckesson, a black man, “directed” violence against a police officer, with the support of a judge, also a black man, whom Pirro singled out during her segment. Who was nominated by a certain black president. All on a program that, in other contexts, loves to chat about the imperative of uniting the country.
Nor did Pirro’s words constitute garden-variety “Fox & Friends” stupidity. They are actionable.
Mckesson tells the Erik Wemple Blog that he is consulting lawyers regarding his options.
Via a statement from Fox News, Pirro tells the Erik Wemple Blog: “Based on 32 years in law enforcement, you can only be found not guilty after a trial. McKesson was not tried. I was quoting paragraph 17 and 19 from court documents.”
This post has been updated to note that “Fox & Friends” is an opinion show.