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A waterfront brawl in Montgomery, Alabama, went viral. What happened and why?

The riverfront worker who was attacked said he “held on for dear life” as a group of white boaters jumped him in a large brawl that broke out at the Montgomery Riverfront in Alabama on Aug. 5.

In a handwritten account he filed with law enforcement after the Aug. 5 melee and obtained by NBC News, Dameion Pickett recalled what happened the day when the men refused to move their boat so a dinner cruise riverboat could dock.

“A tall, older white guy came over and hit me in the face. I took my hat off and threw it in the air,” he wrote. “Somebody hit me from behind. I started choking the older guy in front of me so he couldn’t anymore, pushing him back at the same time.”

Pickett has not made a public statement regarding the incident and did not respond to NBC News' request for comment.

Videos that went viral on social media showed a group of white men attacking Pickett. The footage caused an outcry, with the Montgomery mayor addressing the altercation and police issuing arrest warrants.

Allen Todd, 23, and Zachery Shipman, 25, have been charged with one misdemeanor count of assault in the third degree, a spokesperson for the Montgomery Police Department said.

Another man, Richard Roberts, 48, faces two third-degree assault charges and turned himself in on Aug. 8.

A fourth suspect in the case, Mary Todd, 21, turned herself in on Aug. 10 and was charged with misdemeanor third-degree assault.

A fifth suspect, Reggie Ray, 42, turned himself in on Aug. 11 and was charged with disorderly conduct. Police had previously sought Ray after he was seen wielding a folding chair in the melee on social media videos.

So what exactly happened? Read on for a full explanation of this now-viral incident.

What happened at the Montgomery Riverfront

A large brawl broke out Saturday, Aug. 5, shortly before 7 p.m. at the Alabama capital after Pickett attempted to clear a dock along the river so that the Harriott II Riverboat could dock, witnesses told NBC News . The brawl was fueled by alcohol and adrenaline, witnesses also said.

When a group of rowdy boaters refused to move their pontoon at the Montgomery Riverfront, they attacked Pickett when he untied their boat to make way for the riverboat, witnesses said.

In video shared with NBC News , after a group of what appears to be white men ran along the dock to attack the worker, who is Black, more people joined in and appeared to defend Pickett. Other footage shared with NBC News shows people punching and shoving one another, with one person falling into the water as police struggled to contain the chaos.

The Riverfront is a popular destination with a park, stadium, amphitheater and riverboat.

What police say about the fight

Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert, in a news conference on Aug. 8 , confirmed that a group of private white boaters had attacked a Black dockworker, identified as Pickett. Later, police would identify Pickett as the assistant boat captain of the riverboat.

He had been trying to move the private boaters' pontoon to make way for the riverboat.

As passengers aboard the riverboat — more than 200 — waited at least 30 minutes, Pickett tried to get the rowdy private boaters to move. Several members of the private pontoon group then attacked Pickett, Albert said.

Albert added that police arrived on the scene at 7:18 p.m. local time — about 18 minutes after the riverboat captain had called. He said 13 people were detained, questioned and then released.

What did the attacked dockworker say about the incident?

In a handwritten statement filed with police and obtained by NBC News, Pickett said he asked the group “five or six times” to move their boat.

When he and a dockhand were ignored and given the finger, he says, they untied the group’s pontoon boat, moved it “three steps to the right” and re-tied it to a post so the Harriott II could dock.

“By that time, two people ran up behind me,” Pickett wrote, adding that a man in a red hat yelled, “Don’t touch that boat motherf---er or we will beat your ass.”

He said the men continued to threaten him and then one of them called another man over.

“They both were very drunk,” Pickett wrote, adding that then the pontoon boat owner went over “started getting loud … He got into my face. ‘This belongs to the f---ing public.’ I told him this was a city dock.”

That’s when the brawl began. Pickett wrote, “A tall, older white guy came over and hit me in the face. I took my hat off and threw it in the air. Somebody hit me from behind. I started choking the older guy in front of me so he couldn’t anymore, pushing him back at the same time.”

Adding, “Then the guy in the red shorts came up and tackled me … I went to the ground. I think I hit one of them.”

Sharing more recollections from the fight, he said, “I can’t tell you how long it lasted. I grabbed one of them and just held on for dear life.”

Pickett was eventually helped by other people but noticed the brawl was getting out of hand, writing, “One of my co-workers had jumped into the water and was pushing people and fighting.”

He added that his nephew joined the melee and he had also seen his sister being choked during the fight.

As more chaos ensued, the riverboat had not been tied to the dock but Pickett helped the passengers off the boat. He wrote that he apologized “for the inconvenience. They all said I did nothing wrong.”

“Some of them were giving me cards with their names and numbers on it. Some said they had it all on film, so I pointed them out to MPD,” he added. After the altercation, he was treated at the emergency room where he was treated for bruised ribs and bumps on his head.

What witnesses say about the brawl

Witnesses told NBC News a similar version of events. Christa Owen said she was aboard the Harriott II with her husband and daughter when the brawl broke out.

“What was hard is we were all on the boat and witnessing our poor crewman being attacked by these guys, and we couldn’t do anything about it,” Owen said.

“It was really difficult to watch, and, like I said, we felt helpless, because we were forced to be spectators,” Owen added.

Owen was among those who recorded the altercations, explaining that it was “inexcusable behavior.”

Additionally, Leslie Mawhorter also on Harriott II, added: “They just didn’t think the rules applied to them. It was so avoidable. This never had to have happened. Everything just spiraled from there.”

“I knew something was going to go down, because their attitude was just, ‘You can’t tell us what to do.’ They were going to be confrontational regardless of who you were,” Mawhorter continued.

Have police made any arrests?

Four men and one woman are facing charges , according to police: Richard Roberts, 48; Reggie Ray, 42; Allen Todd, 23; and Zachery Shipman, 25, and Mary Todd, 21.

“There was no need for this event to take the path it did,” Albert told reporters earlier this week. “The people of Montgomery, we’re better than that. We’re a fun city, and we don’t want this type of activity to shed a dark eye on what this city’s all about.”

Was the fight racially motivated?

In the press conference on Aug. 8, Albert said investigators do not believe the incident was racially motivated.

He said that the local FBI and district attorney’s offices are involved in the ongoing investigation. 

“I don’t think you can judge any community by any one incident. I think it’s important for us to address this as an isolated incident, one that was avoidable,” Albert said. “One that was brought on by individuals who chose the wrong path of action.”

What the mayor of Montgomery said about the altercation

On Sunday, Aug. 6, Mayor Steven L. Reed released a statement saying that “justice will be served” after individuals attacked “a man who was doing his job.”

“Last night, the Montgomery Police Department acted swiftly to detain several reckless individuals for attacking a man who was doing his job. Warrants have been signed and justice will be served,” the statement posted on social media read. “This was an unfortunate incident which never should have occurred. As our police department investigates these intolerable actions, we should not become desensitized to violence of any kind in our community.”

“Those who choose violent actions will be held accountable by our criminal justice system,” the statement concluded.

Reed shared how he felt about the incident during a press conference on Aug. 7.

"I feel like it’s an unfortunate incident. Our statement that we put out the other day is that it’s something that shouldn’t have happened and it’s something that we’re investigating right now," Reed said. "We’ll continue to go through that process before we take any additional steps."

When asked if Reed thought the incident was racially charged, he said the brawl is still under investigation, and that authorities are "investigating all angles."

The investigation is ongoing.

EDITOR'S NOTE (Aug. 11, 2023 at 6:30 p.m. ET): Previous police statements listed the man attacked as Damien Pickett and one of the suspects as Zachary Shipman. On Aug. 11, officials corrected their names' spellings to Dameion Pickett and Zachery Shipman. This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling.

Liz Calvario is a Los Angeles-based reporter and editor for TODAY.com who covers entertainment, pop culture and trending news.

youtube montgomery riverboat

Anna Kaplan is a news and trending reporter for TODAY.com.

youtube montgomery riverboat

Sam Kubota is a senior digital editor and journalist for TODAY Digital based in Los Angeles. She joined NBC News in 2019.

Mayor vows justice after massive brawl breaks out on Alabama riverfront

Multiple video clips of a brawl on the riverfront in Montgomery, Alabama, went viral on social media Sunday night, and the mayor reacted with a vow that justice would prevail.

Montgomery Mayor Steven L. Reed said in a statement Sunday that several people involved in the fighting Saturday evening have been detained.

"Justice will be served," he said.

NBC affiliate WSFA of Montgomery reported that four arrest warrants have been issued in connection with the altercation.

It appears to show brawling that split combatants along racial lines. The fighting appeared to follow a riverboat's attempt to dock where a pontoon boat was moored.

A man who was apparently from the riverboat walked to the pontoon and exchanged words with someone, precipitating an all-out brawl between people associated with each of the watercraft.

Reed indicated that the man from the riverboat was attacked and that those who committed violence against him would face the justice system.

"The Montgomery Police Department acted swiftly to detain several reckless individuals for attacking a man who was doing his job," he said.

Police told WSFA that the fight was reported at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The city's Riverfront along the Alabama River is a summertime draw that features the riverboat, an amphitheater, a stadium and a park, among other attractions.

youtube montgomery riverboat

Dennis Romero is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital. 

What we know about the Montgomery Riverfront brawl

A group of White boaters attacked a Black co-captain on Saturday on a dock at Riverfront Park in Montgomery, Ala., sparking a massive brawl that resulted in assault charges and the city’s mayor calling for justice to be served to the boaters “for attacking a man who was doing his job.”

Three White men were charged with misdemeanor assault over the brawl after 13 people were initially detained by police for interviews , Montgomery Police Chief Darryl J. Albert said at a news conference with Mayor Steven L. Reed (D) on Tuesday. Those charged were Richard Roberts, 48; Allen Todd, 23; and Zachery Shipman, 25. Several people were detained after video clips of the brawl went viral on social media over the weekend.

Reed said in a statement Sunday that police “acted swiftly to detain several reckless individuals for attacking a man who was doing his job.” He called the fight “an unfortunate incident which never should have occurred.”

Here’s what we know so far about the incident:

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The riverfront brawl in Alabama reignites national debate over race

Dustin Jones

youtube montgomery riverboat

The Harriott II riverboat sits at the Riverfront dock in Montgomery, Ala. Three white men have been charged with assault for attacking the ship's co-captain last Saturday, which turned into a brawl along racial lines, as seen in dozens of videos online. Kim Chandler/AP hide caption

The Harriott II riverboat sits at the Riverfront dock in Montgomery, Ala. Three white men have been charged with assault for attacking the ship's co-captain last Saturday, which turned into a brawl along racial lines, as seen in dozens of videos online.

Warning: This story contains profanity and a racial slur.

Police in Montgomery, Ala., say that they have not found evidence that last weekend's riverfront brawl — in which a large number of people squared off against each along racial lines — rises to the level of a hate crime.

However, a week later, people who have seen videos of the fight, including experts, pundits and social media users, remain divided: Some are saying race had nothing to do with the incident, while others say the footage clearly shows how groups divided by race.

What's certain is that the incident has reignited conversations about race across the U.S.

I've spent my career explaining race, but hit a wall with Montgomery brawl memes

I've spent my career explaining race, but hit a wall with Montgomery brawl memes

What montgomery officials are saying.

Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday that the brawl doesn't meet the criteria for hate crime charges under federal law. He said that he also understands why people are raising the issue of race.

"That's why this department went above and beyond and looked under every stone for answers," Albert said, adding that the charges that were brought accurately reflect the evidence available at the time. Investigations are ongoing.

Steven L. Reed, Montgomery's first Black mayor , has promised to hold the people responsible for fight accountable. He says he has two different perspectives on the incident, one as a public servant and one as Black man.

youtube montgomery riverboat

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed (seen here on Aug. 8 speaking to the press with Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert in the background) says the people responsible for the fight will be held accountable. Julie Bennett/Getty Images hide caption

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed (seen here on Aug. 8 speaking to the press with Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert in the background) says the people responsible for the fight will be held accountable.

"At this point in the investigation, the FBI has not classified these attacks as a hate crime. As a former judge and as an elected official, I understand that and will trust this process and the integrity of our justice system," Reed said in a statement to NPR on Thursday.

"However, my perspective as a Black man in Montgomery differs from my perspective as mayor. From what we've seen from the history of our city — a place tied to both the pain and the progress of this nation – it seems to meet the moral definition, and this kind of violence cannot go unchecked."

He also says that as more information becomes available, his office will work with the U.S. Justice Department to "thoroughly vet whether new evidence reclassifies the incident as a hate crime per FBI protocol."

How the brawl unfolded

Dozens of videos of the incident last Saturday began surfacing earlier this week, including one from Alabama political reporter Josh Moon, who shared a video of the fight on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. It shows that the incident at Montgomery's Riverfront Park appears to have started after a group of people docked their pontoon boat in a space reserved for the city's riverboat, the Harriott II.

youtube montgomery riverboat

A screenshot from one of the videos of the brawl in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday. The video shows a fight that broke out between a boat co-captain and several men who appeared to be parking their pontoon boat in a space reserved for the city's riverboat. @Josh_Moon/Screenshot by NPR hide caption

A screenshot from one of the videos of the brawl in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday. The video shows a fight that broke out between a boat co-captain and several men who appeared to be parking their pontoon boat in a space reserved for the city's riverboat.

After 45 or so minutes of announcements over a loudspeaker asking for the pontoon boat to be moved, the Black co-captain of the Harriott II, named as Dameion Pickett in court documents, and a white 16-year-old deckhand, who NPR isn't naming because he's a minor, went ashore to move the craft so the riverboat could dock, said Albert, the police chief.

Pickett, 43, was confronted by several men from the pontoon boat, and heated conversation escalated to a fight. Video appears to show Richard Roberts, 48, striking Pickett first. Allen Todd and Zachery Shipman joined the fight, punching and kicking Pickett.

Another Harriott II crew member, Crystal Warren, witnessed the incident from aboard the riverboat. Her son is the 16-year-old deckhand, who was allegedly assaulted by people associated with the pontoon boat . She said in a sworn statement to police that she heard one of the men yell, "F*** that n*****" as Pickett was trying to move the vessel.

4 people are being charged with assault for the waterfront brawl in Montgomery

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

Warren also said that one of the men fighting Harriot II crew members was heard saying he was "getting his gun." She said a riverboat employee tackled the man as he appeared to try and get the weapon.

As of Friday, Roberts has been charged with two counts of 3rd degree assault, while Todd, 23 , and Shipman , 25, each face one count of 3rd degree assault. They are scheduled to be arraigned on these misdemeanor charges on Sept. 1. (A fourth person, Mary Todd, 21, has also been charged with one count of 3rd degree assault.)

NPR attempted to reach the defendants for comment, but those efforts were unsuccessful.

Why conversations about race are hard for officials

It's not surprising that authorities have been reluctant to discuss race, says Christina Ferraz , a public relations consultant who specializes in reaching communities of color.

Public officials can be risk-averse on the topic because of its general divisiveness in today's "culture wars," says Ferraz .

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"As this conflict may be identified as racially motivated, but not yet been charged as a hate crime, it can be considered slander and defamation of character for a public official to make a statement on the conflict without anyone being charged," Ferraz tells NPR. "Public officials can be sued and this can negatively impact their brand reputation with donors and constituents."

NPR reached out to the Montgomery Police Department for further comment, but did not receive a response.

One historian says the question of race is clear

Formal hate crime charges haven't been made, but observers like Derryn Moten , a professor of American history at Alabama State University, are blunt when describing Saturday's attack: "I completely reject the idea that race had no part or played no part in that incident."

To those who disagree, he says, "That's not what my eyes saw, that's not how my brain understood what I was looking at."

Moten, who also serves as chair of the university's Department of History and Political Science, says the fight took place in the area where enslaved people were brought in by boat on the Alabama River — and mere blocks from warehouses where they were held before being sold at auction.

Media outlets and pundits have been discussing these ties between Montgomery's racial history and the brawl. But Moten says what happened in Montgomery isn't exclusive to the South; it's a national problem.

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"The incident that happened in Montgomery is not unique to Montgomery," he says. "I don't want, or would not want, anybody to think, 'Oh, these are the types of things that just happen in the South.' No. Sadly, they can happen anywhere in the United States."

He says that race is a factor in many of the issues that currently divide the country, including critical race theory, what some politicians and conservative activists refer to as "cancel culture" and "wokeness," police use of deadly force, and how American history is taught.

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"The time period that we're experiencing socially and politically in our country is really interesting in that there seems to be an effort among some, for lack of a better word, to sanitize American history, particularly American history as it relates to enslavement, as it relates to immigration, as it relates to the forced migration of Native people," Moten says. "And all of this done in an effort to paint the United States as exceptional. And I think any honest person who reads American history would find it impossible to accept that notion."

Despite the painful racial fault lines of the U.S. today, Moten says he remains optimistic that things will get better with time, and that "good ultimately will triumph."

"I'm a student of history, so I have a lot of evidence to back that up," he says, citing the reunification of Germany, the end of apartheid in South Africa and, closer to home, the success of the Montgomery bus boycott .

"I think one of the difficult things for a lot of people to accept is that we have to work constantly at making sure that equal protection means equal protection for all. That equal rights means equal rights for all. And that we can't rest on our laurels."

Correction Aug. 12, 2023

An earlier photo caption incorrectly referred to a dock worker instead of a boat co-captain.

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Videos Show Brawl At Montgomery’s Riverfront Park, And It Was A Glorious Day In Black History

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Montgomery Riverfront Brawl

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M ontgomery, Alabama, is now the location of at least two iconic moments in Black history.

On March 25, 1965, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators on a nearly 60-mile march from Selma to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery. And on Aug. 25, 2023, the spirit of MLK looked down over the city’s Riverfront Park and thought to himself: “You know, I largely stood for nonviolent resistance—but they shot me anyway, so I’m finna get my lick back!”

By now, most of y’all have seen the melee that occurred Saturday on the dock at Montgomery’s Riverfront Park. You’ve likely seen it from multiple angles, in fact. You’ve probably heard all of the commentaries. You’ve watched as Black Twitter rejoiced while the rest of Twitter erupted in various responses ranging from overall condemnation of violence to wondering why everyone keeps making everything about race.

I suggest paying attention to Black Twitter because that’s where the cultural context lies.

Let’s begin with how it all started.

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According to witnesses, the brawl on the docks began when a riverboat arrived where a pontoon boat was blocking it from docking.

Witnesses said the Black dock worker who became a victim of violence brought on by the Caucasian occupants of the pontoon boat had simply informed the boat’s owners that they needed to move. Now, you may be shocked and dismayed to find out that, in Alabama, white people responded to a Black authority figure telling them where they didn’t need to be by trying to lynch said Black man with fists instead of nooses —but Black folks weren’t surprised at that part. What happened next, however, was quite the delightful surprise.

Black people across social media appear to agree that the Black dock worker tossing his hat into the air was basically the negro spiritual version of the bat signal.

And his people did not ( *in the voice of Lady Mormont from Game of Thrones * ) refuse the call.

A Black man swam across the river to answer the call.

Black men hopped off the boat to answer the call.

https://twitter.com/ElkingtonR79841/status/1688540683785601024

An older Black man, who was clearly looking for a place to set down his folding chair only to find white people’s heads kept getting in the way, answered the call.

Speaking of the man with the chair, there’s a lot of controversy, even among Black people, over whether or not he took things too far. After all, it’s difficult to decipher whether the woman he used as a WWE training dummy was part of the brawl, one of the people trying to break things up, or whether she was simply too slow to get the hell out of the warzone.

But I think we can all agree that, at this point, when white people wear red they just look like they’re in full MAGA regalia, which would make them an existential threat to Black people anyway, especially around a scene where white violence had erupted. Either way, the wise words Slim Charles told Avon of House Barksdale come to mind:

I just like to imagine that the Black man, who we saw handcuffed at the scene, is currently sitting in jail enjoying the extra jello cups his fellow Black inmates left by his lunch tray to pay tribute.

Also, fear not, Black people. The white folks who started the fight got arrested too after Black bystanders pointed them out because the “no snitch” policy simply does not extend to white thugs hopped up on Jason Aldean energy drinks who felt entitled to attack a Black man for doing his job because they didn’t like being told to move by someone their ancestors would have enforced “whites only” laws against.

https://twitter.com/ChelseyBrejanee/status/1688443625200345088

“Last night, the Montgomery Police Department acted swiftly to detain several reckless individuals for attacking a man who was doing his job,” Montgomery Mayor Steven L. Reed said in a statement Sunday, according to the Montgomery Advertiser . “Warrants have been signed and justice will be served.”

“This was an unfortunate incident which never should have occurred,” Reed said. “As our police department investigates these intolerable actions, we should not become desensitized to violence of any kind in our community. Those who choose violence will be held accountable by our criminal justice system.”

But, again, while Reed and others view this moment in contemporary Black history as an “unfortunate incident,” Black folks view it as a time to celebrate Black unity.

Sorry, but I really need to circle back to the Black man who swam, because Michael B. Phelps aka Aqua Mayne aka Boy-Got-Gills Scott-Heron aka Black Ariel ‘s brother, can not be denied his dues for doing a lot more than wading in that water.

Anyway, now that all the smoke has cleared, the Black delegation has put a number of proposals on the table, including making Aug. 5 a national Black holiday, and my personal request to change the name of the boat that was trying to dock from “Harriott II” to “Harriet Tubman’s Move-B*tch-Get-Out-The-Way-Mobile.”

It was a glorious moment that shall not be forgotten. Salute!

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The Montgomery boat brawl and what it really means to “try that in a small town”

The viral fight valorized Black resistance — and punctured Jason Aldean’s racist “small town” narrative.

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A riverboat tied to a river dock.

One of the key facets of extremism is the element of plausible deniability. As such, “ dog whistles ” — coded language used to mask a deeper extremist or discriminatory rhetoric — have become a pervasive part of the way we talk about politics and the culture wars. They’re also exhausting to unpack.

No matter how diplomatically or plainly you point out the underlying racism or bigotry of a specific image or turn of phrase, there’s always someone eager to take the code literally, to dismiss its context, its subtext, and clearly harmful impact. They’re happy to claim this is just what happens when you pucker your lips and blow, and any hateful dogs that come running are just a coincidence.

Then a song comes along like country singer Jason Aldean’s risible “ Try That in a Small Town .” The lyrics and accompanying video are layered with references to Black Lives Matter protests , sundown towns (“see how far you make it down that road”), and white protectionism (“good ol’ boys ... we take care of our own”). The video’s main location was no less than the site of historical lynchings , a particularly unsubtle jab. Inevitably, however, when you attempt to illuminate this racist imagery, a “Try That in a Small Town” defender will show up. They will assert that the whole thing is really just about, as Aldean himself tried to assert , “the feeling of community” and the desire for a return to “a sense of normalcy.”

Normal, to Aldean, seems to be a reality where Black protesters don’t disrupt the everyday lives of white citizens — even if those citizens are, as the song suggests, stockpiling guns and turning paranoid eyes on any and all outsiders. This attempt to reframe socially sanctioned racism as “just a community looking out for itself” has long been a part of the discriminatory tactics used against Black Americans, from lynch mobs to the racist, KKK-apologetic Birth of a Nation , to the legal defenses used by white men who murder unarmed Black ones. It’s a cultural tactic used not only to disenfranchise Black Americans but to then gaslight them about their own reality and experience. It’s a tactic that turns aggression into “self-defense.”

It’s one big reason, out of an infinitude of reasons, that the world was transfixed earlier this week when video surfaced of a group of Black boat workers in Montgomery, Alabama, appearing to voraciously fight back after a group of white pontoon boaters began attacking a Black boat captain.

What happened at the Montgomery boat brawl

The white boaters, coming from nearby Selma, had allegedly repeatedly caused trouble at the dock by parking their pontoon illegally in the spot reserved for a large tourist riverboat, the Harriott II. On Sunday, August 5, the riverboat had been waiting for around 45 minutes, with passengers aboard, to dock. Damien Pickett, the riverboat’s first mate and co-captain, disembarked in order to move the pontoon boat himself. In response, according to reports, at least three of the boaters attacked Pickett, punching him in the face, beating and kicking him.

This sounds like an all-too-familiar tragedy in progress: white-on-black violence, motivated by a sense of racist entitlement. Speaking to the Daily Beast after the incident, the boat’s captain, Jim Kittrell, stressed that the only motive appeared to be racial: “It makes no sense to have six people try to beat the snot out of you just because you moved their boat up a few feet. In my opinion, the attack on Damien was racially motivated.” Kittrell’s assumption seems to be bolstered by eyewitness testimony: One bystander, a victim’s family member, said in a sworn statement that she heard one of the white men drop the n-word before the fighting began.

It’s important to consider this incident in the broader context of Montgomery’s history, as well. Montgomery, one of the major historical fronts of the civil rights movement, is no stranger to racialized violence. It was there, in 1954, that a young Martin Luther King Jr. took up pastorship at a local church, where he became a spokesperson for the Montgomery bus boycotts alongside Rosa Parks. Through boycotts and years of sustained activism amid tense civil unrest, Montgomery protesters successfully challenged the rule of Jim Crow in the South and ultimately changed the nation. Montgomery also saw devastating segregationist violence throughout this period, including one of the most violent moments in the civil rights movement, “ Bloody Sunday .”

In 2023, coming after a cultural period of intensifying racialized protests, a group of white people whaling on an unsuspecting and defenseless Black man could have led to tragic consequences or, at the least, traumatized victims and onlookers.

What the video shows happening next, however, flipped the script: Seeing one of their colleagues being attacked, other Black boat workers rushed in to defend him and fight back. Bystanders also joined in, with one teen now known as “ Black Aquaman ” famously jumping into the water and swimming across the dock in order to help. One man, known to the internet as “Folding Chair Guy,” gained instant fame when he went after the three attackers with, you guessed it, a folding chair.

The suddenness of the fight, combined with the enthusiasm of the brawlers, the glee of the onlookers, and the fact that everyone had phones out recording the incident, made the Montgomery brawl — dubbed the Alabama Sweet Tea Party — into an immediate viral sensation. It produced everything from evocative Twitter reactions to a live swimming pool reenactment to a remix of Ernie Barnes’s iconic painting of Black partiers, Sugar Shack . The folding chair was instantly memorialized .

Most extraordinarily of all, no one rushed to mete out punishment for the Black dock workers who fought back. Though multiple fighters were briefly detained, all were released. Folding Chair Guy, real name Reggie Gray, has been dodging police requests to speak with him, but no one seems to be pushing too hard for his arrest either, although the investigation into the brawl is ongoing. At a press conference, Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert notably didn’t attempt to distort the power dynamics, stating simply that “several members of the Harriott II came to Mr. Pickett’s defense.” The three white attackers turned themselves in to police custody after warrants were issued for their arrest.

The prevailing public mood around the Montgomery brawl has not been racist backlash or anxiety over such a backlash, but rather deep satisfaction at a battle in which justice seems to have prevailed: The perpetrators were rounded up and the victims received a rousing defense from the community. For once, the marginalized underdog — a Black man being ganged up on by a group of white bullies — came out no worse for wear; Pickett reportedly walked away from the fight with only a headache and some minor cuts and bruises.

What it means to try that in a (not entirely) small town

The collective sense of satisfaction might be exactly the kind of communal security Jason Aldean was attempting to portray in “Try That in a Small Town.” This was, in fact, almost the exact scenario Aldean says he was attempting to capture in his ode to small-town vigilante justice: a group of outsiders come into town, refuse to obey the local customs or follow the local laws, and then get their asses duly whooped by the town citizenry.

While Montgomery is not a “small” town, its history of banding together to rout out racists is deeply relevant here. Montgomery is precisely the type of heartland town that deserves to have songs written about the bravery and commitment of its citizens to protecting one another, to fighting back against injustice — to defending its people and its way of life at all costs. But there’s plenty of reason to suspect that Montgomery wasn’t the kind of town — and this wasn’t the kind of scenario — that Aldean had in mind. We know that celebrating moments of Black defiance is incredibly rare in American history.

The Montgomery brawl represents an extraordinary triumphant moment in which Black resistance has been seen as a just force rather than a threat to the white establishment. Black shows of defiance, even when used in clear self-defense, are all too often wielded against the victim . Historically, instances of rebellion such as that of slave revolt leader Nat Turner have been used to justify more violence against Black people. Today, in cases where Black victims of police violence attempt to seek justice, the legal doctrine of “ qualified immunity ” — in which police have almost unlimited power to use force without fearing a lawsuit in response — is invoked.

The entire justice system, in other words, too frequently gets weaponized against Black Americans who assert themselves in the face of threats to their safety, property, and human dignity. Black citizens are rarely allowed to be “ heroic through defiance ,” to reclaim Black rebellion as an act of valor, or to wield reactive violence as a form of patriotism and idealism. That framing of violence is almost exclusively reserved for the kind of white supremacists Aldean’s song seems interested in protecting.

The Montgomery brawl was subversive, shocking, even refreshing in its memeability — not because violence is something to be enjoyed, but because the long arc of history, honed to oppress, simply could not withstand the glorious righteous fury of a bunch of boat workers who’d been forced to stand around for nearly an hour thanks to some entitled jerks who refused to follow the dock rules.

It’s worth asking whether the public’s reaction to the brawl would have been as laid back if the stakes hadn’t been so clear. These Black dockhands, after all, were working in the service of something undeniably anodyne, even arguably white-coded: a cruise on a 19th-century riverboat , with all the ties to antebellum history such a tour implies. Would this minor moment have been framed as heroic had the victims been trying instead to dock a summer cruise full of raucous Black partiers? If the dockhands had all turned out to be Black Lives Matter activists, would their rebellion have still been valiant?

It may seem silly to ask these kinds of questions about a heavily memed brawl involving a folding chair and a person known only as “Black Aquaman,” but this is exactly when we should be asking them. It’s the constant policing and challenging of ordinary Black existence by the white establishment — through microaggressions, or macroaggressions, like writing an entire song about how badly you want to lynch outsiders — that leads to the fomentation of anger that spills over into protest. That then gets used to justify more policing and challenging of ordinary Black existence.

That’s why the Montgomery brawl was, on a level, a brilliant deconstruction of the lie behind “Try That in a Small Town”: It effortlessly destroyed the song’s flimsily veiled conceit that the “community” that needs protection is that of innocent white people being besieged by scary Black protesters.

Perhaps that’s also why Aldean’s song, though it had a brief stint atop the Billboard Hot 100 after all the controversy surrounding it broke, immediately plummeted a full 20 slots. This was reportedly one of the biggest drops in history, and the biggest ever for a song that didn’t debut at No. 1.

The deepest irony of all this is that Jason Aldean — who grew up in the big town of Macon, Georgia, and now resides in the bigger town of Nashville — tries to court “ that small-town vibe ” without ever delving into what the vibe actually is. Anyone who’s from a small Southern town understands exactly what he’s referencing.

Like anywhere, small towns are full of wonderful individual people and affirming communities. But also like anywhere — and perhaps even a little more often than anywhere, given their size and emphasis on the collective — they can be subject to toxic groupthink. When the idea of a small town is freighted with notions of an “us” and a “them,” notions that can distort a sense of self and what exactly needs to be defended, they can also be as alienating, dangerous, and violent as anywhere else on earth.

That’s why narratives of Black defiance are all the more crucial as representations of what real community can be. A sweet tea party, indeed.

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Specialty pediatric clinic opens at carilion new river valley medical center.

Thomas Mundy , Multimedia Journalist

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. – The Carilion New River Valley Medical Center Pediatric Specialty Clinic is officially open.

“This is a culmination of a tremendous amount of work over the past several years to integrate our pediatric specialty services into the New River Valley to be able to support the patients here,” said Amy Kageals, senior director for Carilion Children’s outpatient services.

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The clinic is a specialty office, unlike your general care office.

“This is a pediatric specialty clinic office, so we won’t see the traditional sick patients here for ear infections or the flu,” said Kageals. “This is for pediatric patients who have specialty needs such as they have a congenital cardiac issue, [or] they have a developmental concern.”

The medical center previously was offering some specialty pediatric services, but now they have their own dedicated department.

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It is equipped with four exam rooms and a procedure room to handle anything that comes up.

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In this exam room, many of the patients will have serious health issues, but instead of having to drive to Roanoke every time they need to see a doctor, they will have access right in the New River Valley.

“Our hopes are to get the care closer to home,” said Pierce. “Right now, we have children that will drive two to three hours or more to get to the facilities in Roanoke.”

They said in future, they are hoping that this facility could expand even more so they could take on more patients in the area.

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Read the latest on the northern lights this weekend: Saturday's forecast says parts of U.S. could see auroras .

A series of strong solar flares that the sun has been emitting since Wednesday morning could cause the northern lights to become visible this weekend to a wide swath of the United States.

The coronal mass ejections (CMEs) hurtling toward Earth prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to issue a rare  Severe (G4) Geomagnetic Storm Watch on Thursday for the first time in 19 years. The geomagnetic storms that the CMEs would produce pose a limited threat to our communications, but they can also trigger the aurora borealis, better known as the northern lights.

And because the sun is at the height of its 11-year-cycle, the auroras have a very good chance of being seen by more Americans than usual .

Here's what to know about the northern lights, and when and where you may catch a glimpse of them this weekend.

Good news on northern lights: Experts predict years of awesome aurora viewing

What are the northern lights?

The auroras are a natural light display in Earth's sky that are famously best seen in high-latitude regions.

The northern lights materialize when energized particles from the sun reach Earth's upper atmosphere at speeds of up to 45 million mph, according to Space.com . Earth's magnetic field redirects the particles toward the poles through a process that produces a stunning display of rays, spirals and flickers that has fascinated humans for millennia.

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When might the northern lights be most visible?

This week's solar activity brings with it the increased possibility of seeing the aurora across the U.S.

Though the timing is uncertain and the northern lights can be a particularly fickle forecast , officials at NOAA said the coronal mass ejections could reach Earth as early as Friday evening into Saturday, Shawn Dahl, a space weather forecaster at SWPC, told reporters Friday morning during a news briefing.

Experts from NOAA said auroras could be visible into Sunday.

The best aurora is usually within an hour or two of midnight (between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. local time). These hours expand towards evening and morning as the level of geomagnetic activity increases, according to NOAA.

Where might the northern lights be best seen in the US?

The northern half of the U.S. is forecasted to be in the view path where the auroras may be most visible.

The best chances appear to be in northern Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the majority of North Dakota, according to SWPC's  experimental Aurora viewline . The visibility for viewing will also depend on local weather conditions and city lights.

Experts at NOAA said the northern lights may even be visible as far south as Alabama and Northern California. If all else fails, experts even recommend taking a photo of the night sky with your cell phone – you never known what you may capture.

"Things that the human eye can't see, your phone can, so it'll be interesting to see just how far south we're getting aurora images this time," said Brent Gordon, Chief of Space Weather Services Branch for SWPC, on the Friday call with reporters.

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As the frequency of coronal mass ejections increases at the height of its 11-year cycle,  which NASA said is expected to be in 2025 , electromagnetic activity on the sun peaks. What that so-called "solar maximum" means for us is that the risk increases for disruption to satellite signals, radio communications, internet and electrical power grids.

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The last G4 level solar storm hit Earth in March , one of only three storms of that severity observed since 2019, according to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center .

Just like in March, the upcoming solar storm will have particles flowing from the sun that get caught up in Earth's magnetic field, causing colorful auroras to form as they interact with molecules of atmospheric gases. The resulting glowing green and reddish colors of the aurora may be quite a sight to see.

Contributing: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at [email protected]

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List: avoid these high water locations as severe storms roll through houston area.

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HOUSTON – A few high-water locations are being reported on some Houston area roads due to heavy storms moving across southeast Texas Monday afternoon.

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  1. Memo To MAGA America On Alabama Brawl: What Happens When Blacks Fight Back?

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  2. Video: 'Black Aquaman' Becomes Star of Alabama River Boat Fight

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  3. Montgomery Riverboat Brawl

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  4. Riverboat captain speaks out for first time about the Montgomery brawl

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  5. Ohio Evening Briefing August 9 2023

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  6. Montgomery Riverfront Brawl Twitter: What Is The Content Of Riverboat Fight Full Video? Also

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  2. Montgomery: Where We Went Wrong

  3. Plies Reacts To Montgomery Alabama River Boat Brawl “I Wish I Was There”

  4. Montgomery Alabama Riverboat CELEBRITIES REACTION!

  5. Montgomery Riverboat Brawl: Round 1

  6. Godfrey Reacts To Alabama Riverboat Rumble (Hilarious)

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  1. Full Video: Viewer records as Montgomery riverfront brawl begins

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  2. Watch: Video shows brawl erupt on Alabama riverfront

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  3. Raw Footage: Montgomery, Alabama riverfront brawl

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  4. Riverboat captain speaks out for first time about the ...

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  9. What we know about the Montgomery Riverfront brawl

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  10. Montgomery riverfront brawl reflects racial tension, divide in ...

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  11. VIDEO: All The Angles Of The Montgomery Riverfront Brawl

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  12. Montgomery police issue warrants after massive brawl on Alabama ...

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  13. Harriott II Riverboat

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  14. Arrest warrants issued for 3 men in massive fight at Montgomery ...

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