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Riverfront brawl brings unwelcome attention to historic civil rights city in Alabama

KEYT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) —

Police in Alabama’s capital city said three people are expected to be in custody Tuesday on charges of misdemeanor assault in connection with a riverfront brawl that drew nationwide attention.

Videos of the incident, which circulated widely on social media, have proven crucial in investigating what happened, Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert said. One person has turned himself in and the other two have agreed to turn themselves in by the end of the day Tuesday.

“The investigation is ongoing and more charges are likely,” Albert said.

The fight was largely split along racial lines and began when a moored pontoon boat blocked the Harriet II riverboat from docking in its designated space along the city’s riverfront, Albert said. The Harriet II had 227 passengers aboard for a tour.

The viral video of white boaters assaulting a Black riverboat captain and the resulting fight brought unwelcome attention to the historic city — which is known across the country for the Montgomery bus boycott in the 1950s and voting rights marches in the 1960s. The city in recent decades has tried to move beyond its reputation as a site of racial tension and to build a tourism trade instead based on its critical role in the Civil Rights Movement.

“I don’t think you can judge any community by any one incident. This is not indicative of who we are,” Mayor Steven Reed said Tuesday. He noted that the people on the pontoon boat were not from Montgomery. “It’s important for us to address this as an isolated incident, one that was avoidable and one that was brought on by individuals who chose the wrong path of action,” Reed said.

Before the fight began, the riverboat captain tried to contact the pontoon boat owner by loudspeaker. People on the other boat responded with “obscene gestures, curse words and taunting,” the police chief said. The riverboat co-captain took another vessel to shore to attempt to move the pontoon boat and “was attacked by several members of the private boat.” Albert said several people from the Harriet II came to the co-captain’s defense, “engaging in what we all have seen since on social media.”

“The co-captain was doing his job. He was simply trying to move the boat just enough so the cruise ship could park safely, but it quickly escalated,” Albert said.

The police chief said so far the charges are against people from the pontoon boat who assaulted the co-captain and a 16-year-old who got involved. Police are trying to locate and question a man who was captured on video hitting someone with a folding chair.

The fight took place along Montgomery’s downtown riverfront which the city has developed itself into a tourist and recreation area with restaurants, bars and hotels. The city has a contract for the riverboat crew to take tourists on sightseeing trips along the Alabama River.

Albert said while some made racial taunts, the police department does not believe the motivation behind the fight rises to the standard of a hate crime. Alcohol is believed to be an escalating factor, he said.

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