Racism lies at the core of the melee at an Alabama dock that gained widespread attention over the weekend, according to the captain of the Riverfront Park boat connected to the chaos.
The vessel’s captain, Capt. Jim Kittrell says the confrontation, which unfolded between his crew, consisting of Black members, and a group of reportedly intoxicated white boaters, was fueled by racial tensions.
The captain’s statement comes as the local authorities and FBI have ruled out hate crimes in the case.
“This whole thing is just because these guys were being a- -holes,” Kittrell told The Daily Beast. “I was nice as a peach when I was talking to them at first: ‘Please, help me out here, fellas. Move the boat up a little bit.’”
On Saturday evening, Kittrell discovered a pontoon boat occupying the designated area reserved for the Harriott II, a cruise vessel that offers dinner, dancing, and live entertainment, at Montgomery’s Riverfront Park.
Using his public address system, he politely asked the pontoon boat’s owners to relocate. However, his request was met with indifference, as the pontoon boat occupants ignored him.
Kittrell’s friend brought a smaller vessel to help clear the path for the larger Harriott II, carrying 227 passengers. The plan was to have a senior deckhand, Damien Pickett, go ashore and assist in maneuvering the Harriott II into position, requiring just a slight adjustment of a few feet.
Despite these efforts, the people on the pontoon boat continued to disregard Kittrell’s requests, forcing him to eventually call 911 for assistance.
“They started shooting birds at us, so I called the police,” Kittrell said.
When Pickett got to the dock, he carefully pushed the pontoon boat forward by a few feet so that Harriott II could remove its passengers.
Bystander video showed Pickett, who is Black, trying to reason with the pontoon boaters, who were white. Suddenly, a young white man rushed Pickett and punched him in the face. Other white men and women from the pontoon boat quickly jumped in, assaulting both Pickett and the 16-year-old boy who had taken Pickett ashore, police said Tuesday.
Other reports list Pickett’s position as co-captain of the vessel.
One of Pickett’a colleagues, now dubbed “Black Aquaman” online, swam over to provide assistance. Several others debarked and ran to Pickett’s aid, turning on the white boaters in an all-out brawl across the dock.
Three of Pickett’s alleged attackers — Richard Roberts, 48, Allen Todd, 23, and Zachary Shipman, 25 — now have warrants out for their arrest for third-degree assault, Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert said Tuesday.
“I can’t think of any other reason they attacked him other than it being racially motivated,” Kittrell said. “All he did was move their boat up three feet. 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.”
Based on the latest data from the Department of Justice regarding hate crimes, the majority of reported offenses are directed toward individuals due to their race, ethnicity, or ancestral background.
In an unprompted call with local radio station News Talk 93.1 FM, Kittrell said the response to the attack was not a “black and white thing.”
“I had every single white crew member male on the boat was on the dock. This was our crew upset about these idiots,” he said, adding that he was familiar with the group of boaters.
“They’re from Selma. And, we’ve had trouble with them in the past, but just like jokey things. Like, a couple of years ago, this same group was here,” Kittrell said. “We came back from a cruise and our golf cart was missing. … We finally found it in the Hampton Inn lobby. We looked at the Hampton Inn video. Found out who did it and we had them come down. We were going to press charges then, but the police talked us out of it.”