Lawyers seeking to tar the entire Black Lives Matter movement with the violence of a couple lone gunmen have filed a civil suit on behalf of one of the surviving victims of a 2016 ambush of police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Arguing that founding BLM organizers DeRay McKesson, Johnetta Elzie, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi “not only, incited the violence against police in retaliation for the death of black men shot by police, but also did nothing to dissuade the ongoing violence and injury to police,” the suit both seeks damages from the five named organizers and aims to render “#BlackLivesMatter” as a courtroom defendant.
While the suit seeks to keep the officer’s identity secret, he has been identified by multiple local media outlets as Nick Tullier, one of the three officers wounded non-fatally in the ambush. Tullier survived bullets to the shoulder, stomach, and head in the attack. Tullier’s own role guiding the lawsuit on his behalf is foggy; the court documents note that lawyers are working with a “duly court appointed curator” of Tullier’s affairs. Tullier, who was permanently disabled in the attack, has been in intensive recovery therapy for months and recently regained the ability to speak the word “hello,” as documented in a video posted by his fiance.
The two lawyers behind the suit previously brought another claim against McKesson, Elzie, Garza, Tometi, Cullors, and the movement they helped to found. An ongoing suit from 2016 seeks to hold the movement and its most prominent leaders liable for injuries suffered by another Louisiana police officer who was struck by a rock during a standoff with protesters in Baton Rouge the weekend after Alton Sterling was killed by city officers.
The judge in that case is still deliberating on whether or not “Black Lives Matter” is a coherent legal entity that can be targeted with a lawsuit. The same technicality is likely to be at issue in the new case as well.
But narrow legal questions aside, the broader ambition of the two suits is clear — and alarming. “I think the lawsuit first and foremost was intended to be a shot across the bow to anyone who has been publicly critical of police,” civil liberties lawyer David Roland told PBS. “It’s saying, ‘Unless you expressly disavow tactics that we don’t like, we’re going to come after you, we’re going to destroy you in court.’”
Each of the men who ambushed and murdered police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge last summer pointed to their outrage with police violence as motivation for their violence. Each man also acted alone, explicitly disavowed the reform-oriented street protest movements in favor of bloodshed, and made a premeditated choice to spill blood. The attacker in the Baton Rouge ambush was a member of a so-called “sovereign citizen” group, one of many in a ragtag underground movement whose adherents have frequently killed police during traffic stops and in intentional ambushes.
The lawsuit’s attempt to pin an assassin’s deeds onto the prime drivers of civil disobedience mirrors in the courtroom what conservatives have been doing in public rhetoric for some time.
Right-wing pundits leaped at the chance to blame BLM protesters for the Dallas massacre, even though the officers shot there had been escorting BLM marchers when they were attacked by a murderer who was not involved in the movement. Fox News coverage of tensions between police departments and their communities has long centered on the idea that protesters are waging a “war on cops.”
President Donald Trump is on record saying that the federal government should investigate BLM activities and should encourage local police to “go and counterattack.” The National Rifle Association recently published a slick web video depicting a straight-line connection between liberal Hollywood actors, anti-racism protests, civil unrest in American cities, and a wholesale attack on “our country and our freedom.”
The Louisiana lawsuit purports to list numerous examples of targeted killings of police that supposedly connect back to the hashtag it targets for damages. But it omits the ambush slayings of two officers in Iowa by a Confederate flag-waving Trump supporter in November.