Montgomery Riverpark Rumble and The Impact of White Entitlement

On a busy Saturday on August 5, 2023, in Montgomery, Alabama, Damien Pickett, who is Black and co-captain of the Riverfront Park riverboat, approached a group of sunburned and possibly inebriated white individuals and asked them repeatedly to move their illegally docked pontoon, which was blocking a riverboat called Harriott II carrying a large group of crew and passengers from docking. 

When they refused, Pickett untied the pontoon and manually pushed it out of the way to make room for Harriott II. A shirtless white man immediately stormed over and confronted him. A lot of gesticulating and what looked to be a heated discussion unfolded, and the white man lunged forward, physically assaulting Damien. Instantly, several other white men and women ran over to jump on Damien for simply doing his job, punching, kicking, and stomping him, and other Riverpark employees intervening to help break up the fight. 

For some historical context for why things may have happened as they did, Montgomery has a history as one of the most prominent slave trading communities in Alabama by 1860. Before it became a vessel featuring dinner and live entertainment and a downtown Montgomery tourist attraction for summertime revelers, the Harriott was once a slave ship in the 1700s. At the start of the Civil War, Montgomery had a larger slave population than Mobile, New Orleans, and Natchez, Mississippi. The downtown dock for The Harriott was the same place where slave ships landed at the marketplace to auction off enslaved Black people. And though Montgomery is known globally as The Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, Steven L. Reed is its first Black mayor. 

So, with that bit of history in mind, while Damien Pickett was being violently dock-stomped by an unruly group of entitled white men and women, 16-year-old Aaren Rudolph (dubbed the Black Aquaman) jumped into the river and quickly swam across to assist Pickett. 

After violently assaulting Damien, the white mob casually resettled into their craft boat as if nothing happened. But alas, when Harriott II docked, the passengers who witnessed the assault and were angling to depart took Crime Mob’s open challenge to Knuck if You Buck and rolled up on that pontoon as if the spirit of the ancestors, Oya, and Shango compelled them. Then all HELL broke loose. Chairs, fists, and malignant Karens flew everywhere as a group of Black men put in that work, hands, and feet to defend Damien Pickett's honor. And the rest is… 21st-century history. 

Regardless of whether folks believe this incident to be race-based or not, the fact is that socio-political privilege and the presumed sense of authority white people think they have over everyone and everything in this country have roused them with an overwhelming sense of entitlement when it comes to Black people being in positions to tell them what to do as a matter of policy. And often, when white audacity collides with fed-up Black folks in the workplace or any other type of tense social situation where Black people are never allowed space to exist without conflict, it’s a powder keg waiting to explode. To not see this as at least partially racially motivated or a microaggression is to be willfully dismissive of history and the current political and social climate where legislation is passing to ban Black History studies, canceling books to assuage white fragility, and stamp out diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and where country music singers are making lynching anthems in 2023. 

The vast majority of Black folks are beyond tired and enough is enough.