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3 men are being charged with assault for the waterfront brawl in Alabama

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

We start this hour in Montgomery, Ala., where we now know more about a near riot over the weekend that's been viewed online by millions of people in the last few days.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For those who have not seen it, this started at a dockside. Police describe a dispute over which boat should dock where. The videos showed men from a pontoon boat attacking the co-captain of a riverboat. Police have made three arrests. Because the men in the pontoon boat were white and the riverboat captain was Black and there's video, this triggered a lot of conversation.

MCCAMMON: Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott joins us now from Montgomery. Good morning, Kyle.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Hey, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: So a lot of people have seen these videos online, but just tell us about what happened. What do we know about what led up to these moments?

GASSIOTT: Well, the police chief said at a press conference yesterday that the men in the pontoon boat had refused to move their vessel after the captain repeatedly asked them over loudspeaker to move. At that point, the co-captain, who is Black, came to the dock in a smaller boat to ask them to move. And that's when a man from the pontoon boat lunged and hit him, Sarah. And people on the river boat and nearby started to tape the event, and it sounded like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Ooh.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: There you go.

(CROSSTALK)

GASSIOTT: Other people from the pontoon boat joined in, overwhelming and beating the co-captain. And that prompted onlookers to jump in and start fighting with each other. So in short order, Sarah, not only were fist being thrown, but people began to hit each other with folding chairs and even to fall in the water. And it mostly broke down along racial lines, but not entirely.

MCCAMMON: And, Kyle, you said the fight fell largely along racial lines. Is there any indication that the white men seen beating the Black boat captain could face hate-crime charges?

GASSIOTT: Well, police say they're facing charges of misdemeanor assault. They consulted with the FBI and the district attorney about charges such as inciting a riot, but the evidence just wasn't there to charge them for that or a hate crime. Race was just not a determining factor in the charges, according to the police chief. Now, I will say so far it's only been white men that have been charged. These individuals are 48-year-old Richard Roberts, 23-year-old Allen Todd and 25-year-old Zachary Shipman. One of them has turned himself in. And as of last night, it wasn't clear about the others. Police say more charges, though, Sarah, could be coming against other individuals.

MCCAMMON: Now, Montgomery, of course, has a very long history, both in the slave trade and the civil rights movement. How is this fight being talked about there in that context?

GASSIOTT: Well, OK, so here are two perspectives. Right after the incident, Steven Reed, who is the city's first Black mayor, called the events intolerable, but he doesn't believe that it's going to have lasting negative effects.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVEN REED: You know, no one incident, you know, defines it, the city, or not in particular, when it's an isolated one like this was. From our standpoint, we believe that if we're going to be a different city, we have to put that in practice. We have to put that in policy.

GASSIOTT: Now, I did hear a different reaction from Michelle Browder, who is also Black and gives tours of civil rights landmarks, including the same riverfront dock where enslaved people were brought in the 19th century. She says this incident speaks to a larger issue she sees in Montgomery and elsewhere, where Black people are tired of being attacked.

MICHELLE BROWDER: Folks I know in the Black community, sometimes we just want to see somebody win. You know, we are living in an age now where you can't mistakenly knock on a door for the fear of being shot through the door. We're normalizing violence against Black bodies once again.

GASSIOTT: But having said that, she also knows from history that Montgomery has been a place of healing, and she hopes that it can be again going forward.

MCCAMMON: Kyle Gassiott with Troy Public Radio in Alabama. Thanks, Kyle.

GASSIOTT: Thank you, Sarah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Kyle Gassiott