Judge Rules Black Lives Matter Cannot Be Sued

By Free Radical

Alton Sterling.

Alton Sterling.


Last Thursday a federal judge in Louisiana ruled that Black Lives Matter as an entity cannot be sued. The case stems from a lawsuit filed by an unnamed Baton Rouge police officer who alleged that he was injured at a July 9 2016 rally following the death of Alton Sterling. The suit named Black Lives Matter and activist Deray McKesson who attended the protest as liable. Sterling was unarmed and was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police who answered a call for a man who allegedly sold CDs outside a place of business.

U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson threw out the case, which some observers have deemed as frivolous, arguing that “‘Black Lives Matter,’ as a social movement, cannot be sued. In like manner, a person cannot plausibly sue other social movements such as the Civil Rights movement, the LGBT rights movement, or the Tea Party movement.”

The suit also incorrectly labeled McKesson as the Black Lives Matter “leader and founder.” McKesson is not the founder, head, or designated national representative of the largely decentralized movement.

Jackson pointed out that a specific organizational entity arising out of a social movement such as the NAACP or the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party can be held liable. Yet the largely amorphous Black Lives Matter movement, often represented as a hashtag, can not. The judge reasoned, “attempting to sue a hashtag … For reasons that should be obvious, a hashtag — which is an expression that categorizes or classifies a person’s thought — is not a ‘juridical person’ and therefore lacks the capacity to be sued.”

This is a welcome victory among advocates seeking to end the very long and troubling history of police brutality and unchecked violence in the United States. It is also timely as demonstrations, some under the banner of Black Lives Matter, have been continuous in St. Louis following the controversial acquittal of Jason Stockley on September 16.

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