66 Protesters Have Been Hit By Cars This Summer. Hell Of A Funny Meme, Isn't It?
Since the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 24, at least 66 people participating in protests against police brutality have been rammed by drivers during protests. Some of the incidents may have been accidents or unplanned road rage; others appear to have been premeditated assaults encouraged by rightwing extremists on social media. Seven of the incidents involved cops driving police vehicles into crowds of protesters. Two of the incidents have led to deaths, in Bakersfield, California, on June 6, and over the holiday weekend in Seattle.
This is not going to be a lighthearted jokey post, sorry about that.
In the early hours of Independence Day, a driver in Seattle drove the wrong way up an off-ramp to get onto Interstate 5, which had been closed by police to accommodate protesters. The driver of the late-model Jaguar swerved around a line of vehicles blocking the roadway, and slammed into two protesters on the shoulder, at what a charging document describes as "freeway speeds." There's horrifying video of the two people flying into the air, but we're not going to link it here. One of the protesters, Summer Taylor, 24, died of their injuries at a hospital. The other, Diaz Love, 32, was severely injured, with two broken legs, a broken arm, and internal injuries.
Summer's family said Wednesday that Summer had attended Black Lives Matter protests nearly every day, and that Summer's lifelong love of animals led them to take a job at a veterinary clinic, with the hope of attending veterinary school at Washington State University. (And a small note of journalistic progress: Virtually all the reporting we've seen has respected Summer's they/them pronoun choice.)
The driver, Dawit Kelete, has been charged with vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, and reckless driving, and is being held on $1.2 million bail. Kelete may have been high on something, although he reportedly passed a breathalyzer test at the scene. The Seattle Timesreports Kelete
told jail officials that he was withdrawing from the narcotic Percocet and that he struggled with an "untreated addiction" according to court papers. Washington State Patrol accident investigators found "several implements commonly used to smoke illegal substances" and a substance "that appears similar to crystal methamphetamine" in the car. The charges say investigators obtained a search warrant for Kelete's blood and that toxicology tests are pending.
While it's possible Kelete's plowing into the peaceful demonstration wasn't politically motivated, the aftermath certainly got political quickly: Within hours, King County Sheriff's Detective Mike Brown allegedly put up funny jokes on his Facebook about running protesters over with vehicles, because that's what cops find fucking HILARIOUS:
KING-TV video screenshot
Brown also posted a funny joke about the 19-year-old Black man who was murdered last month near the now-removed CHOP protest area in Seattle, because the deaths of innocents are a never-ending source of mirth if they're somehow connected to anti-cop protests. We kid: No one is innocent, except for cops, who are without exception misunderstood victims. Brown, a 40-year veteran, has been placed on leave.
See this USA Today story for a summary of other cases that were very definitely intentional; we're exhausted.
JJ MacNab, a fellow with George Washington University's Program on Extremism, toldUSA Today that the motives of the deliberate attackers vary, although in general they agree protesters need a good vehicular homicide to teach them to respect the law.
There are groups that do want people to take their cars and drive them into Black Lives Matters protesters so that they won't protest anymore. There's an element of terrorism there. Is it all of them? No, [...] I look at it as an anti-protester group of acts, some of which are white supremacist, some not.
Ari Weil, who researches terrorism at the University of Chicago's Project on Security and Threats, has been tracking the anti-protester vehicular assaults since the protests began in May.
Weil said that, by analyzing news coverage, court documents and patterns of behavior — such as when people allegedly yelled slurs at protesters or turned around for a second hit — he determined that at least 19 of the 59 civilian incidents were malicious and four were not. Weil said he did not have enough information to classify the motives of the remaining 36 incidents.
Weil also told the New York Times the attacks are actively encouraged on social media, or maybe that's sociopathic media:
It is not just an extremist thing here, but there are social media circles online where people are sharing these and joking about them because they disagree with the protests and their methods. [...] Sharing memes and joking about running over people can lead to real danger.
The Times story cautiously states that "it is difficult to assess which attacks are premeditated and which are prompted by rage when drivers find their route blocked by crowds," but then — with refreshing straightforwardness for the Grey Lady — calls a terrorist in a car a terrorist in a car:
The tactic has previously been mostly used by extremist jihadist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, as well as Palestinian militants.
And as we've noted before, the online encouragement of killing people with your car or truck has frequently been urged on by members of law enforcement, because while vehicular homicide is a crime, so is jaywalking, and the latter should be punished by extrajudicial execution, but come on, the cops are only joking, and where is your next of kin's sense of humor?
[USA Today / NYT / Seattle Times / KING-TV / WaPo / The Cut / NPR]
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