Imagine suing an idea.
Well, you don’t really have to imagine, since a Louisiana police officer tried to do just that. Injured in a protest, the officer tried to sue the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Judge Brian A. Jackson stated “A hashtag is patently incapable of being sued.” He also tried to sue “Black Lives Matter,” but as it is not as much of an organization as it is a movement, there is no defendant to sue.
The third part of the suit had also originally been dismissed, however, an appeals court reopened it, and it reached the Supreme Court this past week. The unnamed officer was injured by a demonstrator who threw a rock that broke his teeth, as well as injuring his jaw and brain. The demonstrator was not found, so he decided to sue Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson under the explanation that Mckesson had incited the violence that led to his injury.
And don’t get me wrong, it was my first thought to feel bad for anyone who receives injuries to their brain (as well as in general, but there’s just something about the permanence of brain injuries, you know?). However, for a group of people who use the status and danger of their career to justify murdering so many black Americans, it seems even more ridiculous to sue for injuries that they claim are part of the dangers of their job.
Judge Jackson ruled in favor of Mckesson, stating that he was protected by the First Amendment, as well as citing a 1982 Supreme Court decision in case NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. The appeals court that reopened it, however, let the case proceed, and Judge E. Grady Jolly wrote on behalf of the court that McKesson should have known that leading the protestors to a highway would lead to violence.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that allowing lawsuits such as this would hand government officials a powerful tool to suppress black citizens rights to protest. Similarly, Mckesson said in an interview with The New York Times that “the police want protestors to be too afraid to protest.”
The ACLU asked the Supreme Court to hear Mckesson’s appeal this past Friday, with a petition presenting the question, is a “leader” of a protest liable for the damages inflicted by an unidentified individual, when said leader has not directed nor validated the individual’s actions?