Court Rules Police Officer Can’t Sue “Black Lives Matter” Hashtag

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Oct 26, 2017

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Black Lives MatterA Louisiana judge has ruled that “Black Lives Matter” is a social movement and not a legal entity that can be sued.

“Black Lives Matter” (BLM) is an international activist movement that originated in the African-American community as a protest against violence and discrimination towards black people.

The movement began using the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” in 2013 after George Zimmerman (a white man) was acquitted of second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of an African-American teenager named Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, claimed that he acted in self-defense.

The BLM movement has especially focused on the deaths of unarmed African-Americans while in police custody.

The BBC collected information about the race of those shot by police and found that about half the victims were white and half were members of minority groups.  Since Blacks represent a minority of the US population (13%), it was concluded that Blacks are being shot a rate 2.5 times higher than whites.

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Protests

The first BLM protest was held in Ferguson, Missouri after the police shooting death of Michael Brown.

More than 500 people participated in a non-violent Ferguson protest.

However, later protests have sometimes included violent confrontations.

Five police officers were killed at a match against police shootings in Dallas in July of 2016, and three more were killed at protests in Baton Rouge that month.

As the New York Times reports, a member of the Baton Rouge Police Department filed suit against several defendants including “Black Lives Matter” and DeRay Mckesson, a prominent supporter of the movement.

The officer argued that the defendants should be held responsible for injuries he suffered when responding to the “Black Lives Matter” protests in July of 2016.

The officer was struck by a rock or a piece of concrete, lost teeth, and suffered damage to his jaw, head, and brain.

The officer alleged that Mckesson helped incite violence at the protest. Mckesson denied that he endorsed violence.

The officer sued both Black Lives Matter Network, Inc., and “#BlackLivesMatter.”

The judge found that individuals and legal entities such as corporations could be sued, but a social movement could not:

“Black Lives Matter,” as a social movement, cannot be sued, however, in a similar way that a person cannot plausibly sue other social movements such as the Civil Rights movement, the L.G.B.T. rights movement, or the Tea Party movement. If he could state a plausible claim for relief, a plaintiff could bring suit against entities associated with those movements, though, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Human Rights Campaign, or Tea Party Patriots.

Hashtag

In particular, the judge found that a hashtag couldn’t be sued:

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. Amending the Complaint to add “#BlackLivesMatter” as a Defendant in this matter would be futile because such claims “would be subject to dismissal”; a hashtag is patently incapable of being sued.


Photo Credit: Black Lives Matter protest march, Fibonacci Blue, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

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