The presumption of innocence is a crucial component of the American judicial system, and it doesn't go away just because an alleged crime is caught on camera.
So far, five people have been arrested following the Montgomery Riverfront brawl, where a large fight broke out after the Hariott II riverboat was blocked from docking by a pontoon boat.
Videos of the melee have gone viral and garnered national attention. Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed has been vocal about bringing those involved to justice, so much so that he may be tainting the jury pool and making it impossible for the suspects to receive a fair trial.
"Thanks to the diligence and dedication of MPD, the Harriott II Crew and the help of witnesses, the four assailants who came from out-of-town to cause chaos and sow divisiveness are now in custody," Reed posted to Twitter on Friday, the same day the fifth suspect, Reggie Ray, who is black, turned himself in to the authorities for allegedly hitting someone with a folding chair during the brawl. "The case is not quite yet closed, but our message is clear.
Thanks to the diligence and dedication of MPD, the Harriott II Crew and the help of witnesses, the four assailants who came from out-of-town to cause chaos and sow divisiveness are now in custody. The case is not quite yet closed, but our message is clear.— Mayor Steven L. Reed (@MayorofMgm) August 11, 2023
In Montgomery, not… pic.twitter.com/Shwk4gVWic
"In Montgomery, not only will we protect our team members, but we will protect our citizens. If you violate the sanctity of our community and the safety of our citizens, then you will be brought to justice."
Since the brawl appeared to be initiated by a white man attacking a black man, media outlets and some public officials have been trying to ascribe a racial motive to the incident, even going as far as suggesting the FBI seek hate crime charges.
Montgomery police chief Darryl Albert and Mayor Reed initially said there was no evidence the fight was racially motivated, but Reed has more recently been leaning into the white-versus-black narrative, saying the brawl did "meet the moral definition of a crime fueled by hate."
"A lot of people saw what happened. They were uncomfortable by it. They were uncomfortable by the racial perception of it," Reed said Saturday on MSNBC's "The Saturday Show with Jonathan Capehart." "I was uncomfortable by the same thing. And certainly as a black man here, as the first black mayor of the city of Montgomery, you wonder whether or not this is a step back."
"Those who were arrested and committing the assault on the gentleman who was doing his job are not from Montgomery," Reed continued. "I don't think it's emblematic of the city, but I do think it speaks to a level of discord that's in the environment, in the atmosphere still around race, not just in Alabama but, again, throughout this country."
In light of Reed's rhetoric regarding the motive and guilt of the suspects, many are wondering how they could ever get a fair trial in Montgomery.
"Practically, it does make it hard to have an impartial jury. Much like it was almost impossible to have a fair trial for Derek Chauvin in the George Floyd case," Laura Clark, interim president of the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty, told 1819 News. "I think it for sure opens the door for a mistrial or appeal. Now proving the jury was likely swayed by his words is the key, but it's hard not to be. He's a public figure and their mayor. Not to mention the other media outlets calling it a hate crime."
Reed said police are still investigating the incident and looking into whether they can find evidence to change the FBI's opinion about whether or not hate crime charges can be brought.
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