An attorney representing a Mobile woman facing federal charges stemming from her allegedly smashing the window of a police vehicle during last year’s George Floyd protests claimed in court Thursday that the statute his client is charged under has racist origins, according to a report.
Tia Pugh was charged with obstructing, impeding and interfering with law enforcement during the course of a civil disorder that affected interstate commerce for allegedly smashing the window during the May 31 protest in Mobile as demonstrators attempted to block Interstate 10.
During a court appearance Thursday, Gordon Armstrong, an attorney for Pugh, argued that the statute used in the Mobile woman’s case “was born out of a racist backlash to the civil rights movement and gives prosecutors too much discretion to charge almost anyone engaged in a heated confrontation with police during a public demonstration,” Politico reported.
The 1968 law, which has been rarely used in prosecutions but has been applied recently in cases from Floyd protests and the Jan. 6 Capitol riots cases, was dubbed the “Civil Obedience Act” by then-Sen. Russell Long, Armstrong noted.
But U.S. District Court Judge Terry Moorer, who is presiding over Pugh’s case, said that does not prove that the law was steeped in racism.
“Let’s just assume that Sen. Long was a flaming racist who did engineer this statute getting through Congress for very nefarious purposes,” Moorer said, according to Politico. “Let’s just assume that … Sen. Long was one of however many senators who would’ve voted on this?”
Michael Dittoe, an attorney representing the government in the Pugh case, said the law is “racially neutral,” pointing out that it was part of a package of bills that included the Voting Rights Act and legislation to ban racial discrimination in housing matters.
“Anything Sen. Long said has nothing to do with the act as passed,” Dittoe added.