You may recall that last Saturday, several of Donald Trump’s supporters viciously attacked a protester at a Trump rally in Birmingham. Well, the victim’s attorney is in the process of pressing criminal charges against those responsible for the beating. He also added that his client is seriously considering filing a lawsuit against Trump himself.
On Saturday, when Black Lives Matter protester Mercutio Southall and two of his friends started chanting, a crowd of Trump supporters swarmed around him. A CNN reporter captured what happened next:
Southall was kicked, punched, and choked by these thugs. They also yelled racial slurs at him. Southall’s attorney, David Gespass, told The Daily Beast that his client suffered a mild concussion, and spent three days in the hospital before being released. Trump told Fox & Friends on the day after the rally that Southall’s behavior was “disgusting” and added, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”
For now, anyway, Birmingham police consider what happened to Southall to be misdemeanor assault. Under Alabama law, the police can’t investigate a case of misdemeanor assault unless the victim files a police report and appeals to a magistrate. Gespass said that he and his client are in the process of doing both. However, he believes there are two possible grounds for this to be elevated to a felony. The attackers’ feet could potentially be considered a deadly weapon, and the racial slurs could make the assault a hate crime.
Gespass also had an ominous warning for Trump–he could potentially have to answer for his supporters’ behavior under oath. He told The Daily Beast that Trump has “a moral and very possibly a legal responsibility” to ensure a safe environment for all who attend his rallies. Gespass went further in an interview with ThinkProgress, saying that he is looking for “tangible legal grounds” to file a lawsuit against Trump.
He believes that someone needs to take a long, hard look at the larger pattern at how Trump has responded to disturbing behavior from his supporters. For instance, when two men cited Trump as an inspiration when they beat a homeless Latino man, Trump only said that he had “very passionate” followers. And when someone yelled “white power” at a Trump rally in Mobile, Trump said it was a response to his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Gespass thinks that Trump needs to be held to account for this at some point. If not, he said, “this is going to become more and more dangerous.”
Gespass even hinted to The Daily Beast that Trump could face criminal conspiracy charges for the assault on Southall. Later, he admitted to ThinkProgress that criminal charges may be a stretch, though “it would warm the cockles of my heart” if Trump were frogmarched for them. As much as I despise Trump, I have to agree with Gespass that it will be very hard to justify criminal charges against Trump. To do so, you’d have to find a case where this sort of thing happened at a previous Trump rally. It would be proof that Trump knew this could happen and did nothing.
That being said, though, a civil lawsuit sounds like a slam dunk. Regardless of what you think about Southall’s behavior, what happened to him is something that should never, ever happen at a political rally in a democratic society. I’d pay money to see Gespass cross-examine Trump and ask him why he thinks his client “should have been roughed up.”
Admittedly, if Trump were to lose such a lawsuit, it, the damages he would have to pay Southall would amount to a rounding error for a guy who is worth $4.5 billion. But Gespass is right–it’s the principle that counts. The signal has to go out–candidates are responsible for their supporters’ behavior at their rallies.