When activist Mercutio Southall Jr. was curled up on the ground getting kicked, punched, and choked by Donald Trump supporters at a campaign rally in Birmingham, Alabama, he thought, “I can’t die today. I’ve got shit to do. I have little kids. Fuck these people.”
The single father of three, who was raised in the civil rights cradle of Selma, Alabama, told ThinkProgress that he decided to go to Trump’s event with two friends in order to speak out against the frontrunner candidate’s “racist” rhetoric.
“The things that he’s been saying about black people, Latino people, immigrants, refugees — we felt it was very disrespectful,” he said. “This is a city where some of the biggest battles of the civil rights movement happened, where four little girls got bombed up, so we aren’t accepting of anything like that kind of talk down here. I mean, this man came to our city a couple of weeks before Christmas, saying we should not let in Middle Eastern refugees. If I’m not mistaken, I think Jesus was a Middle Eastern refugee. So we were not going to stand idly by and see the rise of the next Hitler. We knew we had to stand for something.”
Southall said he felt unwelcome as soon as he arrived at the event, when Trump supporters physically recoiled from him and his friends. “There was like a six feet space on either side of us,” he said. “The message was: this was not our town. This was not our place.”
The three tried to get close to the stage so they could have a chance to ask Trump a question. Before the event started, Southall’s friend began livestreaming himself, saying to his camera, “We want to show [Trump] he’s not welcome here.” Upon hearing that, a nearby man knocked the phone out of his hand, prompting Southall to come to his friend’s defense. The three started chanting, “Black lives matter.”
What happened next was captured on video by a CNN reporter: a crowd of Trump supporters converging on Southall, punching, kicking, and choking him while chanting, “All lives matter.”
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) November 21, 2015
“It was just a sea of white faces,” he told ThinkProgress. “A lady kicked me in the stomach. A man kicked me in the chest. They called me n*****, monkey, and they shouted ‘all lives matter’ while they were kicking and punching me. So for all the people who are still confused at this point, they proved what ‘all lives matter’ meant. It means, ‘Shut up, n*****.'”
On Sunday, the morning after the rally, Trump told the hosts of Fox & Friends that Southall deserved what he got.
“Maybe he should have been roughed up,” he said. “It was disgusting what he was doing…This was a very obnoxious guy, a troublemaker, looking to make trouble.”
Local police seemed to agree. Using language nearly identical to how Jim Crow-era Birmingham Police chief Bull Connor described Martin Luther King Jr., police spokesperson Lt. Sean Edwards told CNN: “I would be a little cautious with Mercutio Southall. He has been an agitator from day one. Mercutio is always the agitator.”
Reporters also brought up the incident with Robert Kiger, the leader of the pro-Trump super PAC “Citizens For Restoring USA.” Kiger told CNN that the Black Lives Matter movement is a “farce.”
“They don’t really have a cause they’re trying to bring to the forefront,” he said. “If they did, they’d go to Baltimore or Chicago.”
When the CNN anchor challenged him, saying, “So they don’t have the right to protest at a Trump rally?” Kiger responded: “No they don’t, really. Look, I wouldn’t go into a black church and start screaming ‘white lives matter.'”
Setting aside the implication that a Trump rally is a ‘white space’ analogous to a black church, Southall has not confined his demonstrations to political rallies. The former police academy student and Cub Scout master was arrested last year during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in a local Walmart. He was tasered and arrested this summer while protesting the death of 18-year-old Kindra Chapman in police custody in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. A Black Panther movement admirer and firm believer in armed self-defense, Southall has also been arrested for openly carrying guns he legally owns.
Reflecting on the current state of race relations in his home state, where his family marched for voting rights a generation ago, Southall said, “It’s very scary for a black parent with black sons. It’s 50 years past the civil rights movement and in Birmingham, Alabama, just a couple of blocks away from the Civil Rights Institute, I was lynched in broad daylight in the presence of police officers. How am I supposed to feel about that? Happy and accepting and free? I definitely don’t feel free. I don’t think this is the dream Martin Luther King was talking about.”
Birmingham Police announced Monday that Southall and his two fellow protesters will not be charged, nor will any of the people seen attacking them.
Southall says he and his lawyer are “definitely talking about my legal options” but have not yet decided to sue. As he continues to grapple with both physical and emotional pain from the incident, he says he doesn’t believe the police force will take his complaint seriously because of how they behaved at the time.
“I was being choked right in front of a Birmingham Police officer and all he did was try to stop me from hitting the man who was choking me,” he said. “But I’m supposed to trust y’all now?”
Birmingham Police say they have tried unsuccessfully to reach out to Southall about filing a complaint.
Verbal and physical altercations at Trump rallies — especially directed at protesters of color — is fairly routine. Another recent rally took a dark turn when attendees shoved and spat on immigration advocates. The following week, Trump supporters were filmed dragging and kicking an immigration activist while others yelled “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
Trump’s campaign responded to these incidents by ordering reporters to stay inside a pen at his rallies, restricting their ability to interview protesters and supporters alike.
For Southall’s part, he says he will continue to try to live by the words of Malcolm X, seeking to end racial oppression “by any means necessary.”
“For my children, my babies whose diapers I changed, who I sang to in their mom’s belly, who I read to and watched grow into beautiful young men, I’m not going to sit by and let shit keep happening like this while my sons are growing up in it,” he said. “I will learn from history, because I have no interest in repeating it.”