As the Black Lives Matter movement has grown and, with it, the number of national protests, so has deaths of protesters. While some of this is due to external factors such as COVID-19, protesters have also had their lives targeted based on the protests they take part in. Though it cannot always be discerned if each case is premeditated or is just spur of the moment road rage, this is not a completely new phenomenon.
One of the most striking memories of 2017 was the Charlottesville, VA “Unite the Right” rally, where white supremacists came together following the removal of Confederate statues. After clashing with counter-protesters Heather Heyer, who was a paralegal and advocate for underprivileged people, was killed by James Alex Fields, Jr., when he plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. To see the viral imagery of this attack, see this video from NBC News.
Now, three years later, history is repeating itself on a much larger scale. Since the death of George Floyd, there have been “66 car attacks nationwide” with 24 of them undergoing litigation and four dismissed, according to The New York Times. 7 of these 66 attacks have been committed by police, making a total 10.6% of all attempted vehicular mass murders on protestors by police. Around 19 of the 59 civilian attacks have been categorized as malicious by J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
As of now, two people have been killed by this pattern of strategic vehicular manslaughter against protesters. One protester was killed in Seattle on July 5 by 27-year-old Seattle citizen Dawit Kelete, who rammed his car into Black Femme (Black feminine presenting lesbians) March protesters, critically injuring Diaz Love and killing Summer Taylor. Kelete was charged with vehicular assault, and though Washington State Patrol Captain Ron Mead does not believe it is a targeted attack, he believes and hopes that the protesters’ “unlawful behavior” of obstructing the interstate will now end.
One day before the Seattle incident, in Bakersfield, CA, 55-year-old Robert Forbes was protesting the death of George Floyd when he was fatally injured by a car while crossing the road. He died one week later. His family believes it was intentional, and though there are conflicting viewpoints, an investigation remains open.
A culture within law enforcement groups, white supremacist groups, and right-wing people has been enforcing the idea of vehicular murder on social media. A police union chief, a Fire Department Captain, and multiple police officers from all over the U.S. have expressed anti-BLM sentiments on social media to the point of calling for targeted vehicular murder. Slogans like “Run them over” and “All lives splatter,” have been and are still rampant.
More information on this topic has been compiled in a Twitter thread by user @AriWeil.
Through Teen Lenses: What are your thoughts on protestor’s lives being at stake like this?
“I feel that it shows a serious intent to hurt and even murder innocent protestors, and any police who attempt to do so should be charged for attempted manslaughter. It’s a huge danger for protestors, especially in large crowds as protests tend to be, it could potentially kill and injure a lot of people. ” Nuha Talukder, Rising Junior at Thomas S Wootton High School, Rockville MD
“It just reminds me how the people on the other side always preach about free speech and how it’s so important that they face no consequences for it, but once someone expresses an opinion that’s different from theirs, they may start to turn violent. This phenomenon shouldn’t even be a thing- you have the constitutional right to assembly and protest, so it’s not right in the slightest for police to be attacking people.” Sydney Smithwick, Rising Senior at Thomas S Wootton High School, Rockville MD
“Peoples rights should not be infringed on like this. Protestors should be able to express their own opinions without the threat of death looming over them.” Samaira Malek, Rising Sophomore at Thomas S Wootton High School, Rockville MD