Months after the Alabama riverboat brawl went viral and the infamous white folding chair became a symbol of Black folks’ standing up to white supremacy, the co-captain says he has yet to get a break from the emotional roller coaster.
“I went to work that day not thinking any of that would have happened, and then to find out they were filing charges on me, like, wow,” Dameion Pickett, the co-captain of the Harriott II Riverboat, told Capital B on Friday.
Pickett, 43, says he found out on social media that a civil summons for a third-degree misdemeanor assault charge was filed on Oct. 26 in the Montgomery Municipal Court by one of the four white men seen on multiple cellphone videos attacking Pickett on the dock of Riverwalk. Pickett entered a not guilty plea in court on Tuesday and is expected back in court on Jan. 30, 2024.
The August brawl has been seen as a win for the Black community no longer standing idle while other Black people are mistreated. The white folding chair that Reggie Ray allegedly used to hit one of the white women, who had also joined in the dockside fight, has been quickly elevated to represent liberation. And the numerous memes of Pickett tossing his black snapback hat into the air as if it was a silent panic alarm, not only gave folks something to laugh about, but became a signal of unity. The white folding chair quickly turned into merchandise, from T-shirts to earrings.
But what about Pickett? The father of two, who has dedicated the last 11 years of his life to being co-captain, says he hasn’t — nor does he want to — relish being thrust into the limelight.
“All I was thinking was ‘Lord, please don’t let these people try to fight me,’ but that’s not what happened,” says Pickett, who only took four days off from work after the incident.
Pickett says he eventually watched the social media videos and felt “disgusted” all over again. He also says that it has been awkward to see his image on T-shirts and social media memorializing those moments where he feared for his life.
“It’s ridiculous that they’re using my likeness like this,” says Pickett, who believes he should be financially compensated. Online retailers like Walmart, Etsy and Amazon are still carrying “When the hat goes up, the chair comes down” T-shirts, tank tops and sweatshirts — and an assortment of other sayings and items.
As the riverboat was returning to the dock from a two-hour excursion on Aug. 5, crew members noticed a private boat parked in its space. Through their intercom system, they repeatedly asked the people on the private boat to move. Pickett told police in a written statement obtained by NBC News, that he asked the patrons of the idling boat to move and they responded by giving him the finger.
Along with another crew member, Pickett moved the small boat to give the larger ship space to dock. “By that time, two people ran up behind me,” Pickett wrote at the time. One of the men said to Pickett, “Don’t touch that boat motherf— or we will beat your ass.”
Four white people, including Zachary Shipman who filed the charges against Pickett, have been charged in connection to the fight. Richard Roberts and Mary Todd pleaded guilty on Oct. 27. Roberts, 48, was ordered to serve 16 weekends in jail, complete 100 hours of community service and pay court costs, according to online records. Todd, 21, was ordered to attend anger management class and pay court costs. Shipman’s and Allen Todd’s cases are still ongoing.
Ray, who came to Pickett’s aid with the white folding chair, was charged with disorderly conduct. His charges caused an uproar on social media and caught the attention of civil rights attorney S. Lee Merritt, who considers Ray a “first responder” in this incident. A GoFundMe launched on Ray’s behalf has raised nearly $300,000.
Now, Pickett faces up to a year in jail.
Because of the frenzy social media went into over the summer as they watched a potential hate crime unfold of Pickett getting jumped by a gang of white men for doing his job, he, like Ray, can avoid the cost of hiring an attorney. Merritt has also provided his services to Pickett.
“I got a little support system behind me right now. My family, lawyers, and a spokesperson. I’m being well supported right now and I appreciate it,” Pickett says.
Despite the charges being filed, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed and Montgomery Police Chief Darryl Albert issued a joint statement on Nov. 9 reiterating that Pickett is the only victim from the brawl.
“The city and the police department saying that, literally has given Mr. Pickett the green light to let him know that he’ll be OK and he did nothing wrong. It’s almost like an endorsement from a president with those words,” says John C. Barnett III, a spokesman for Pickett.
Barnett says that Shipman filing any complaint against Pickett is his way to muddy up Pickett’s name to help his own case.
“This is strategic,” Barnett says. “They have to make Mr. Pickett look like the aggressor to help their case because Mr. Pickett’s plate is too clean.”
This story has been updated.