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Bernice King reacts to Alabama riverfront brawl as DOJ says it is ‘tracking’ incident

Bernice King called the riverfront brawl in Alabama a moment reflecting the “nature of karma” and “generations of frustration” in a recent interview with theGrio.

The civil rights activist and youngest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King said she saw the viral incident of Black Alabamians coming to the defense of a Black boat operator being pummeled by a mob of white attackers in Montgomery as a “hell no moment.”  

Left to right: Bernice King; Reggie Ray, the man seen wielding a chair (right) during the viral Montgomery, Alabama riverfront brawl, has posted bail and been released from the Montgomery Municipal Jail. (Photo: Getty Images/Screenshot/ Smiley)

However, King also acknowledged that the melee was against the nonviolence that her father preached about. “Violence never gets us to where we want to go,” she cautioned. 

“We have to be careful not to relish that moment,” King warned. “It’s a difficult conversation because there’s so much more than the chair and everything that happened in that moment.”

The “moment” has captured the attention and consciousness of America and ignited old and existing racial tensions, so much so that a U.S. Department of Justice source told theGrio that it is “tracking” the viral Alabama riverboat brawl that occurred on Aug. 5.

According to witness testimony found in court documents, the white men involved in the brawl used the n-word against the Black co-captain, Damien Pickett, who attempted to move a pontoon boat that was blocking the docking location for the Harriott II riverboat.

While the incident has not been classified as a hate crime, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed told NPR as more information becomes available, his office will work with the DOJ to “thoroughly vet whether new evidence reclassifies the incident as a hate crime per FBI protocol.”

There’s also a question as to whether a Donald Trump rally that took place in the city the day before the brawl played any role in the melee. A 2018 study found that assaults increased in cities where the former president held his signature rallies. 

The white men who instigated the fight were arrested, and Reggie Ray, a Black man who used a folding chair to defend the Black co-captain who was attacked by the mob. Ray, 42, was charged with disorderly conduct. 

Lee Merritt, the attorney representing Ray, told theGrio exclusively, “Mr. Ray was involuntarily roped into the disorderly conduct initiated by a violent white mob.” He added, “Mr. Ray will continue to participate with the ongoing investigation concerning the same and is committed to being forthcoming about his limited role in the brawl.”

WOLFE CITY, TX – OCTOBER 05: Attorney Lee Merritt speaks during a candle light vigil in honor of Jonathan Price on October 5, 2020 in Wolfe City, Texas. Wolfe City police officer Shaun Lucas has been charged in relation to the fatal shooting of Price on October 3, 2020 after Price was allegedly trying to stop a domestic dispute. (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

Lee previously represented the family of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man chased, cornered and fatally shot by white vigilantes in a white Georgia neighborhood filled with pro-Trump lawn signs. The young civil rights attorney said he is investigating a civil lawsuit against the white “assailants” and has hired criminal attorneys to look into potential cases against “two of the accused.”

Ray’s efforts to defend Pickett with a white folding chair went viral, to say the least. But while King understands why many lauded his actions, she said, “Once the initial thing ended, that should have been it.”

Reflecting on the nonviolence practiced by her father and other demonstrators during the civil rights movement, King said they did so because “they believed that what they were doing to make great sacrifices was going to bring about a change.”  

She continued, “They were willing to face some things that were very violent and despicable because they understood that the fourth step of nonviolence, that unarmed suffering, is redemptive.” 

Just weeks before the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a historic nonviolent demonstration in Washington, D.C., the younger King said it’s one thing to be frustrated, but “we cannot justify this violence.”

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