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Montgomery Riverfront Brawl

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Montgomery, Alabama, is now the location of at least two iconic moments in Black history.

On March 25, 1965, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators on a nearly 60-mile march from Selma to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery. And on Aug. 25, 2023, the spirit of MLK looked down over the city’s Riverfront Park and thought to himself: “You know, I largely stood for nonviolent resistance—but they shot me anyway, so I’m finna get my lick back!”

By now, most of y’all have seen the melee that occurred Saturday on the dock at Montgomery’s Riverfront Park. You’ve likely seen it from multiple angles, in fact. You’ve probably heard all of the commentaries. You’ve watched as Black Twitter rejoiced while the rest of Twitter erupted in various responses ranging from overall condemnation of violence to wondering why everyone keeps making everything about race.

I suggest paying attention to Black Twitter because that’s where the cultural context lies.

Let’s begin with how it all started.

According to witnesses, the brawl on the docks began when a riverboat arrived where a pontoon boat was blocking it from docking.

Witnesses said the Black dock worker who became a victim of violence brought on by the Caucasian occupants of the pontoon boat had simply informed the boat’s owners that they needed to move. Now, you may be shocked and dismayed to find out that, in Alabama, white people responded to a Black authority figure telling them where they didn’t need to be by trying to lynch said Black man with fists instead of nooses—but Black folks weren’t surprised at that part. What happened next, however, was quite the delightful surprise.

Black people across social media appear to agree that the Black dock worker tossing his hat into the air was basically the negro spiritual version of the bat signal.

And his people did not (*in the voice of Lady Mormont from Game of Thrones*) refuse the call.

A Black man swam across the river to answer the call.

Black men hopped off the boat to answer the call.

An older Black man, who was clearly looking for a place to set down his folding chair only to find white people’s heads kept getting in the way, answered the call.

Speaking of the man with the chair, there’s a lot of controversy, even among Black people, over whether or not he took things too far. After all, it’s difficult to decipher whether the woman he used as a WWE training dummy was part of the brawl, one of the people trying to break things up, or whether she was simply too slow to get the hell out of the warzone.

But I think we can all agree that, at this point, when white people wear red they just look like they’re in full MAGA regalia, which would make them an existential threat to Black people anyway, especially around a scene where white violence had erupted. Either way, the wise words Slim Charles told Avon of House Barksdale come to mind:

I just like to imagine that the Black man, who we saw handcuffed at the scene, is currently sitting in jail enjoying the extra jello cups his fellow Black inmates left by his lunch tray to pay tribute.

Also, fear not, Black people. The white folks who started the fight got arrested too after Black bystanders pointed them out because the “no snitch” policy simply does not extend to white thugs hopped up on Jason Aldean energy drinks who felt entitled to attack a Black man for doing his job because they didn’t like being told to move by someone their ancestors would have enforced “whites only” laws against.

“Last night, the Montgomery Police Department acted swiftly to detain several reckless individuals for attacking a man who was doing his job,” Montgomery Mayor Steven L. Reed said in a statement Sunday, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “Warrants have been signed and justice will be served.”

“This was an unfortunate incident which never should have occurred,” Reed said. “As our police department investigates these intolerable actions, we should not become desensitized to violence of any kind in our community. Those who choose violence will be held accountable by our criminal justice system.”

But, again, while Reed and others view this moment in contemporary Black history as an “unfortunate incident,” Black folks view it as a time to celebrate Black unity.

Sorry, but I really need to circle back to the Black man who swam, because Michael B. Phelps aka Aqua Mayne aka Boy-Got-Gills Scott-Heron aka Black Ariel‘s brother, can not be denied his dues for doing a lot more than wading in that water.

Anyway, now that all the smoke has cleared, the Black delegation has put a number of proposals on the table, including making Aug. 5 a national Black holiday, and my personal request to change the name of the boat that was trying to dock from “Harriott II” to “Harriet Tubman’s Move-B*tch-Get-Out-The-Way-Mobile.”

It was a glorious moment that shall not be forgotten. Salute!


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