Black Lives Matter activist Mercutio Southall, who was choked and beaten Saturday by Donald Trump supporters in Birmingham, Alabama, is exploring legal action against both his attackers and Trump himself.
“He has to bear at least a moral responsibility,” Southall’s attorney David Gespass told ThinkProgress, noting that they are still investigating what “tangible legal grounds” they could use to sue the frontrunner GOP candidate. “If someone is aiding and abetting an offense, they are equally responsible for it. The question is whether Trump telling his supporters, ‘Get him the hell out of here’ qualifies. I recognize that it could be a stretch, and I’d be surprised the authorities would agree to criminal liability, but it would warm the cockles of my heart.”
Gespass added that legal authorities should look beyond Trump’s behavior during this one particular incident and examine the larger pattern of how he has responded to his fans injuring protesters and other people of color.
In August, after two men cited Trump as their inspiration for beating and urinating on a 58-year-old homeless Latino man, the candidate responded: “I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate.” After a supporter at a previous Alabama rally shouted “white power” multiple times within earshot of the stage, Trump told CNN that the attendees “were very receptive to the message of ‘making America great again,’ because they want to be proud to be Americans again.” After Southall was kicked, choked, and punched by Trump supporters, the candidate told the hosts of Fox & Friends that Southall deserved what he got.
“Maybe he should have been roughed up,” Trump said. “It was disgusting what he was doing…This was a very obnoxious guy, a troublemaker, looking to make trouble.” Whether all of these remarks translate into civil or criminal liability for Trump remains to be seen, but Gespass is hoping for some measure of accountability.
“If not, it is going to keep happening,” he warned. “Already, Trump has gone from kind of separating himself from the incidents to now actually justifying them. If that trajectory continues, this is going to become more and more dangerous. He appeals to the most racist and xenophobic instincts of white America and he recognizes that’s what he’s doing and he’s pandering to it.”
As for the men seen kicking and dragging Southall in a video of the incident, Gespass said the racial slurs they shouted — including “n*****” and “monkey” — could elevate the charges to a felony hate crime.
“The problem in this case is that we don’t know the identity of any of the people who assaulted Mercutio,” he said, noting that they would need help from the police, who have so far declined to bring charges against the assailants. Birmingham Police spokesperson Lt. Sean Edwards has told reporters he considers Southall “an agitator from day one.”
“The police have the video,” Gespass noted. “But because of the disparaging things they’ve said about Mercutio, we have no great faith they’re going to take him seriously.”
As for the suggestion made by Trump and conservative pundits over the past few days that Southall deserved to be “roughed up” because he interrupted the rally, Gespass emphasized: “He was simply presenting another point of view, one [Trump’s] supporters frankly need to hear and understand. And if they determined he was so disruptive that he needed to be removed, that’s a question for security personnel, not mob action.”