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Why #MontgomeryRiverfrontBrawl Gained New Meaning in Black Conversations

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

It’s summertime but, contrary to George Gershwin’s classic tune from “Porgy and Bess,” the livin’ was not easy at the event memorialized in a social media hashtag as simply #MontgomeryRiverfrontBrawl.

Brawl, indeed. The melee is a mess to sort out, but my guess is that alcohol was involved.

What else explains the rapid and ridiculous escalation of an argument over moving a boat on a sunny Alabama summer day into an all-out, racially tinged melee with multiple arrests?

Yet, in the age of social media, the melee in Montgomery quickly went viral on the web, literally inviting anyone to add their own soundtrack and commentary — and many people did.

In case you somehow managed to miss it, the man who received the first blow was Damien Pickett, co-captain of the city-owned Harriott II, a riverboat carrying about 200 passengers that couldn’t park in its proper dock because a smaller pontoon boat was parked in its designated space.

Pickett spent 45 minutes on his boat’s PA system ordering the smaller boat to move. But the people in the docked boat, who happened to be white, ignored Pickett, who happened to be Black.

Video from various angles shows the Black man confronting people from the other boat on the dock. While Pickett is talking to one man, a second man comes rushing up and inexplicably pushes Pickett as if he can’t ball up a fist to punch him. Visibly frustrated but trying to keep his cool, the co-captain tosses his cap in the air and turns back toward the white men defensively.

By now, more white men join the fight. Others appear to be trying to separate the two combatants.

Then, like a cavalry charging from over the hill to help rescue the good guys in an old Western, suddenly a stampede of other Black men comes in from all directions — including from the river. That young Black man, who apparently came from the riverboat, was quickly dubbed variously on the internet as “Black Aquaman,” “Aquamayne” and “Blaqueman.”

Police charged three white men and one white woman in the brawl. A Black man wielding a folding chair and caught on video turned himself in and was charged Friday.

The folding chair, wherever it came from, suddenly became new fuel for satire on Black Twitter, an informal online gathering of Black community news and views — or, as one friend of mine describes it, “people being Black across lots of social media platforms.”

Sometimes it’s clever, sometimes it’s lame but in the wake of the #MontgomeryRiverfrontBrawl, Black Twitter seemed to be set on fire.

 

The boat co-captain was simply “doing his job,” said Montgomery police Chief Darryl Albert.

Indeed, that’s how it looks on video — and there were too many witnesses and smartphones for anyone to claim that the Black folks started it.

That certainty, in my view, helps to explain the outpouring of amusement and celebration that popped up on social media after this story broke.

A lot of it involved folding chairs. One of the favorites in my house is a photoshopped image of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., statue holding a folding chair.

Another one features a photo of a young Black man with a folding chair strapped at his side and captioned, “Just got my open carry license.”

As a man to whom many people have turned to explain the ways of Black folks (actually, I can hardly think of a more qualified observer), I am not surprised to hear some ask me bemusedly why Black folks find so much to celebrate in this somewhat historic moment.

My explanation: When you have seen the system work against you as often as African Americans have, it’s easier to be jubilant when the system works the way it’s supposed to.

The sight of Black people rushing to the defense of an endangered Black person and the police responding by properly subduing the suspects, especially in a city with all the historical baggage Montgomery carries with it from the civil rights era, you gain a new appreciation of how the system can work, when it’s supposed to. You can see it in the tweets.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

©2023 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


(c) 2023 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

 

 

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