Don’t Donate to “BLM Leader” Muhiyidin d’Baha
February, 24, 2017 (Fault Lines) – Jeez! What a headline!
Charleston Black Lives Matter leader Muhiyidin d’Baha arrested at Confederate flag protest
What happened? Was he dogpiled by cops in problematic body armor? Was he arrested for telling truth to power? Did law enforcement commit some terrible wrong against a man who just wanted to protest racism, bigotry and the Charleston City Council’s ongoing refusal to create a police oversight board and let him run it?
Not this time. As a rather entertaining 19-second video shows, Mr. d’Baha, whose driver’s license name is Muhiyidin Elamin Moye, was arrested for playing Capture the Flag with Johnny Reb.
d’Baha and the Battle-Flag-toting gentleman in the video were in town because of Bree Newsome, a carpetbagger from North Carolina who made national headlines in 2015 when she scaled a flagpole on the grounds of the S.C. Statehouse and tore down the Confederate flag flying there. Her carefully orchestrated stunt earned her a criminal charge of defacing monuments on capitol grounds, but it also turned her into a celebrity in activist circles, and she was scheduled to give a talk, “Tearing Hatred from the Sky,” about her actions at the College of Charleston on February 22.
This earned her the ire of a thoroughly ridiculous organization called the South Carolina Secessionist Party, which dispatched activists of its own to Charleston on February 19 to mount Confederate flags on buildings across town. In a rather less than intimidating display of its influence, the Secessionists managed to hit a grand total of five publicly accessible garages, and the Post and Courier reported that the group took the flags down a couple hours later.
Meanwhile, a group of pro-Newsome counterprotesters assembled on top of one of the garages, where they flew rainbow and anarchist flags alongside the Battle Flag, waved signs and generally did protest-y things. It was an all-around fine demonstration of the depth of modern political discourse.
But the Secessionist Party and its founder and spokesrebel, James Bessenger, decided that confound it, they weren’t going to be beaten that easily. According to its Facebook page, a percentage of the Party’s 352-strong membership assembles in Charleston’s Battery Park each week to fly the Stars and Bars and the Battle Flag. It appears the decision was made to turn that event into a protest outside the College of Charleston’s ironically-named Sottile Theater, where Newsome was to give her speech. Word got out, and the Secessionists were met by what seems to have been a substantially larger counterprotest.
Cue the video. In an uncanny recreation of middle school recess, a bunch of pro-Newsome activists stand across a double tape line from the unpopular kid, a Secessionist holding an oversized Battle Flag. One very loud lady keeps shouting that the Secessionist has “no friends.” The monotony is only interrupted by a man alleged to be d’Baha, who does a thoroughly silly sort of lunge across the tape, lands on the flag, grabs it and runs away to a chorus of hooting from his ideological fellow travelers. The rebel does a comical double take and pursues him off camera.
These Yakety Sax shenanigans earned d’Baha a couple of charges: one for disorderly conduct and another for an offense the Post and Courier, drawing on the booking report, calls “malicious damage to real property.”
What the newspaper (or the cop they got the information from) presumably meant is malicious damage to personal property, which is indeed a crime in South Carolina. Just like disorderly conduct, it’s a misdemeanor, as long as the “injury to the property” is worth $2000 or less. The statute criminalizes the following conduct:
It is unlawful for a person to wilfully and maliciously cut, shoot, maim, wound, or otherwise injure or destroy any horse, mule, cattle, hog, sheep, goat, or any other kind, class, article, or description of personal property, or the goods and chattels of another.
Aside from the amusing things this implies about the kind of prosecutions that used to be common under the law, it’s a little unclear whether grabbing someone’s flag and absconding with it constitutes “injur[ing] or destroy[ing]“ their property. The second charge may well have been overkill, as disorderly conduct is a much better fit for what he did. (But hey, maybe he trampled the flag off-camera or something.)
Nor is this d’Baha’s first run-in with South Carolina‘s disorderly conduct statute. In 2016, he was arrested for, essentially, aggravated rudeness after he crashed a City Council meeting about zoning and started yelling about police reform from the cheap seats. According to a contemporary Post and Courier report, d’Baha and his fellow local BLM activists wanted the Council to set up a citizen’s police review board, give it the ability to direct Charleston PD policy as well as subpoena powers and put them in charge – something the city was understandably reluctant to do.
And if the absurdity of d’Baha’s demands makes you think he isn’t quite the major player the “Black Lives Matter leader“ headline implies he is, you’d be right. Nobody with 300 Twitter followers can really claim to be a mover and shaker in an organization that lives and dies on social media.
In other words, d’Baha, the protest he attended and his arrest were deeply local, the kind of petty skirmish that shouldn’t have made national headlines. But make them it did, and the melodrama has been nothing short of unbearable. In a move reminiscent of Jill Stein’s profitable pitch for a recount after Donald Trump’s win, a group called Showing Up for Racial Justice Charleston has solicited over $17000 – ostensibly for d’Baha’s bail, an amount that ought to be wildly over the top even if the judge decides to quintuple his bond for a laugh.
What’s more, they keep revising their donation target upwards as more and more people contribute. Maybe they believe judges set bail in direct proportion to how many Slacktivists they can fleece.
If there’s a lesson here, aside from “fools and their money are easily parted,“ it’s that not everything is a crisis. No, not even in the Age of Trump. The headlines may have been calculated to produce outrage and clicks, and the invocation of the BLM brand may have stirred the hearts of the deeply passionate. But at its root, this is about a local eccentric who stole someone’s flag and was rightly if a bit excessively charged for it.
Not every BLM arrestee is DeRay, and not every arrestee at a protest is wrongfully charged or a martyr for the cause. Some are simply petty criminals, and in those cases, disorderly conduct charges may be an entirely appropriate response. As I’ve argued in the past, if activists want to be taken seriously, they need to learn to distinguish between irrelevant externalities and things worthy of their support.
 The Post and Courier gives his name as “Bessinger.”