A black man who was physically attacked by Donald Trump supporters at a rally on Saturday said he is ready to pursue hate-crime charges against those responsible.
Mercutio Southall’s attorney told The Daily Beast he and his client are working to file a complaint with an Alabama magistrate for misdemeanor assault charges against several men seen kicking and dragging Southall during a Birmingham, Alabama, event. David Gespass said he and Southall may also pursue felony hate-crime charges against the men who allegedly called Southall a “nigger” and a “monkey.”
Gespass said Southall was diagnosed with a mild concussion and released from a hospital on Tuesday morning.
Birmingham police spokesman Lt. Sean Edwards told The Daily Beast on Monday that they are not now investigating the attack because they have determined it to be misdemeanor assault, which requires Southall to file a police report and appeal to a magistrate before an investigation can begin.
Alabama law stipulates that to rise to the level of felony assault the victim must suffer serious injury or a deadly weapon must be used. Gespass said supporters’ feet may count as a deadly weapon and that the alleged racial slurs “would elevate it from a misdemeanor to a felony.”
Gespass said Trump could be implicated in conspiracy to the alleged hate crime, too.
As Southall was being attacked, Trump told the crowd: “Get him the hell out of here, will you please?”
As he is hauled away by security, a chant begins: “All lives matter, all lives matter, all lives matter!”
“It would seem to me, and this is, again, something that must be thought through more carefully, that aiding and abetting a crime makes you a participant,” Gespass told The Daily Beast. “And particularly given the history of incidents such as this at other places, I would say that Trump has a moral and very possibly a legal responsibility to do what he can to ensure people’s safety.”
Southall isn’t the first minority to be attacked at a Trump event. In October, immigration-rights activist Ariel Rojas was forcibly dragged from a Trump event just outside Miami after chanting the word “Equality” with other protesters. Before Rojas was hauled out, Trump supporters tried to tear up signs held by the group.
“It’s a striking image, really—a Trump supporter literally ripping up the word ‘equality,’” Rojas told The Daily Beast.
After Rojas hit the ground, Trump supporters began a raucous chant: “USA, USA, USA!”
The attacks on Rojas and Southall raise questions about security for minorities at Trump events, his attorney said. A plainclothes Birmingham police officer did intervene, but it was apparently to protect a Secret Service agent who was attempting to break up the melee.
All the while, Trump kept talking and taunting Southall.
“It’s true that if there are immigrants or people of color in the crowd, they are there not to support Donald Trump,” Gespass said. “And I think that that is something that security should take into account.”
The Birmingham event was staffed by private security for the venue, several police officers and, of course, Trump’s Secret Service detail. Whether there should have been more considering what happened to Southall, a representative of Birmingham police wouldn’t say.
“I don’t want to touch that,” said Lt. Edwards. “Our department is very familiar with Mr. Southall and that’s just what he does at times. I think it’s worked out pretty good because he’s gotten a lot of attention.”
He also got a concussion out of the ordeal.
“We know now that Trump’s supporters are prone to that kind of violence, and I think it’s time that we start asking some serious questions,” said Gespass. “One, for a presidential candidate either expressly or by omission to condone such behavior, would in any rational society, would this disqualify him from being a candidate, much less president?”
When Rojas was dragged out of the Miami event, Trump wasn’t forced to address the incident by the media. That wasn’t the case following Southall’s assault, and Gespass noticed something very different this time around.
“There is what may be an important point here, and that’s that there’s been a real change in Trump’s attitude,” the attorney noted. “Back in Miami, Trump was saying, ‘Don’t hurt this guy,’ but now with [Southall], he’s saying, ‘Well, he deserved it.’”