Members of Black armed militias gathered outside the courthouse and issued a warning to those who traveled to Mobile, Alabama to testify on Monday, saying that they would protect protesters against the threats they faced.
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On 1 October, Ahmaud Arbery, 29, was fatally shot by a Mobile police officer. The case is the latest example of frustration within the Black Lives Matter movement over “trigger happy” police officers across the country, and the fear expressed on Monday by some of those in attendance may have been the culmination of long pent-up anger, giving those attending the news conference hope.
The caravans in Mobile follow a similar one which drew 400 people to Tucson, Arizona, earlier this month to confront police, an incident which sparked an angry counter-protest to the pro-police march. The violence in Alabama was far less dramatic, but still an indication of the challenges Black Lives Matter activists face when mobilizing peaceful protests.
While Black Lives Matter is a national movement, some large cities have experienced clashes between activists and law enforcement. Baton Rouge, LA and St Louis, MO have seen police shoot and kill members of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mobile police did not respond to a request for comment, and the most detailed explanation they have given about what occurred on Monday is a statement from the chief, Lawrence Battiste, posted to Facebook.
“Like most hardworking law enforcement officials around the country, on Monday October 1, I had a momentary lapse of judgment when my police department went out into the community in response to a domestic disturbance call,” Battiste said. “Immediately after my misstep, we learned about the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery.”
On Monday morning, CBS News reported that Stephen Blackwell, from the M-48 Military Defense Group, would be a plaintiff in Arbery’s lawsuit.
Blackwell addressed supporters outside the courthouse on Monday morning. He said his group had been vocal about Arbery’s death and had been harassed by police outside of the courthouse, prompting a warning against violence from Arbery’s family.
Blackwell said that he was standing outside of the courthouse to say that “we will do everything in our power to protect [Arbery’s] killers”.
“If people want to go to the courthouse, they can come. If they do not want to go to the courthouse, we can tell them we are there, and we can protect them.”
Blackwell called the police presence “paranoid” and said there are “no organized plans” from law enforcement to keep protesters safe.
Though Blackwell said he was standing with Arbery’s family in a “supportive way”, Arbery’s family has accused the police chief of covering up Arbery’s death to protect himself and his family.
Charles Dixon, a participant in the demonstration and a leader of Mobile Movement 4 Justice, said he understood that Mobile’s police force are in an impossible position.
“In Mobile there are no ‘police unions’ and absolutely no respect for cops or the community,” Dixon said. “The police department needs an overhaul and must be revamped, just like it was every other department in Mobile that the mayor replaced.”
Participants at the news conference called for a change in the law to make it more difficult for police to kill suspects in the line of duty, and have asked the Justice Department to investigate the shooting.