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Judge to Decide If Officer Injured In Alton Sterling Protests Can Sue Black Lives Matter

A federal judge will decide whether Black Lives Matter can be sued in court after an officer was injured at a July 2016 protest involving activist DeRay Mckesson, who was arrested in Baton Rouge, La. Max Becherer/AP

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge, La., said on Wednesday, June 15, that he will rule “within the coming days” on whether Black Lives Matter is a movement or an organization, which would mean it can be sued in court, according to the Associated Press.

In November, an unnamed Baton Rouge police officer filed a lawsuit against Black Lives Matter and DeRay Mckesson, an affiliated Baltimore-based activist. The officer said he was badly injured when a thrown rock or piece of concrete hit him in the face at a protest after the death of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man fatally shot by a white officer outside a convenience store in July 2016.

Mckesson was one of about 200 protesters arrested and the lawsuit claims the activist “incited” violence on behalf of Black Lives Matter at the July 9 protest it said he organized and was in charge of.

Mckesson’s lawyer, William Gibbens, asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. Gibbens, the Associated Press reported, argued during Wednesday’s hearing that Black Lives Matter does not have a governing body, dues-paying members or bylaws. It’s a “community of interest” at best, he said.

Donna Grodner, an attorney for the officer, argued Black Lives Matter is an “unincorporated association” that can be held liable for her client’s injuries, the Associated Press reported.

“It’s organized. They have meetings. They solicit money. They have national chapters,” Grodner told the news agency. “This shows a level of national organization.”

According to The Advocate, a Baton Rouge-based newspaper, the judge said a key question is whether, under Louisiana law, Black Lives Matter is capable of suing and being sued.

In May, the Justice Department announced that no federal charges would be filed against the two officers who struggled with Sterling. The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office is currently deciding whether any state charges are warranted, according The Advocate.

In November, Baton Rouge was ordered to pay $100,000 to Black Lives Matter for use of excessive force during protests.

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