Federal judge: Black Lives Matter is a social movement, can't be sued

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Baton Rouge cop on Thursday against Black Lives Matter and one of the movement's prominent activists, noting that BLM is a social movement and thus can't be sued.

The Baton Rouge police officer was injured at a protest in July 2016 following the controversial police shooting death of Alton Sterling. He alleged in his suit that BLM and Deray Mckesson, a prominent activist in the movement, were responsible for injuries he suffered at the hands of demonstrators.

But U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson said that Black Lives Matter is not “an entity of any sort,” and can’t be sued.

“Although many entities have utilized the phrase 'black lives matter' in their titles or business designations, 'Black Lives Matter' itself is not an entity of any sort,” Jackson wrote. “Therefore, all claims against “Black Lives Matter” must be dismissed because social movements lack the capacity to be sued.”

The judge laced into the plaintiff, writing that an “attempt to bring suit against a social movement and a hashtag evinces either a gross lack of understanding of the concept of capacity or bad faith.”

Mckesson engaged only in protected speech at the July 2016 demonstration where someone threw a rock at the officer, Jackson added.

"It is an age-old tactic to attempt to silence activists and organizers," Mckesson said after the judge announced the dismissal. "I am thankful that the judge dismissed the case today."

The protest followed the death of Sterling, a black man fatally shot by a white police officer in front of a Baton Rouge convenience store that triggered weeks of protests around the U.S.

Federal prosecutors announced in May after a year-long investigation that they found insufficient evidence to charge either officer involved in the shooting of Sterling. Officers confronted Sterling after receiving a 911 call that a man fitting Sterling's description was selling CDs and was armed.

The officers say that Sterling was reaching for a gun as they tried to subdue him and one of the officers opened fire. Video of the incident was inconclusive, prosecutors said.

In the lawsuit, the officer charged McKesson should have known the protests “would become violent." The officer said he was struck in the face, knocked down and incapacitated. His injuries included loss of teeth, an injured jaw, and brain and head injury that forced him to miss work.

The officer claims that Mckesson “incited the violence” and “gave orders” to demonstrators. But Jackson wrote that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate Mckesson's culpability. The judge also wrote that Mckesson cannot be held liable for the conduct of others with whom he associated.

Mckesson rose to prominence as an activist in the BLM movement during protests in Ferguson, Mo., following the August 2014 shooting death of black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer.

BLM, Mckesson and other prominent members of the movement are facing suit in a second lawsuit by another Baton Rouge police officer who was badly injured on July 17, 2016, when a gunman carried out a deadly ambush against police.

The officer in that lawsuit charged that movement and its leaders inspired the gunman to carry out the attack that left three officers dead and another three injured.

The officer, a 42-year-old father of two who worked in law enforcement for 18 years, was left “permanently disabled” when bullets struck his abdomen, shoulder and head by the 29-year-old gunman, according to the lawsuit.

Follow USA TODAY's Aamer Madhani on Twitter: @AamerISmad

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