In Missouri, driving a car into a crowd is assault, unless it's a crowd of protesters.
This video has been gnawing at me since the moment I saw it being livestreamed on YouTube by St. Louis American. During the livestream of the I-70 highway shutdown by Black Lives Matter protesters, an angry driver plowed directly into a line of protesters. The video bothered me on a number of fronts and made me question whether a St. Louis police officer might have even given the go-ahead for the SUV driver to run directly into the protesters. If you watch the video, you can see the driver motioning to a police officer, who comes over and has a very brief conversation with her.
We don't have any idea what was said, but you can clearly see in the video that from the moment the police officer began to walk away, the driver of the SUV began to drive directly into the protesters. The officer even looks back and sees the SUV driving into the line of people. More protesters gathered and stood in front of the SUV and then the driver punched the gas, pushing protesters to the side and dragging a "Ferguson is everywhere" box sign with it. A few protesters can be seen banging on the car to get the driver to stop. I watched with a mix of horror, anger and relief.
Horrified that the driver had willfully driven into a group of people. Anger that the officer actually looked back at the vehicle, saw it plowing into the people and kept walking away. Relief nobody was seriously injured.
Before we go any further, take :60 seconds to watch the scene unfold:
I thought for certain the driver of the SUV would be charged. We've seen time and time again that having your car in drive and/or moving one inch in the direction of a police officer can and will result in death. Officer Ray Tensing argued that Samuel Dubose's car was moving and that's why he killed him at near point blank range. Driving a 4,500 lb vehicle directly into a crowd of people would certainly seem to fall within Missouri's first or second degree felony assault laws. Not only has the driver of the SUV not been charged, protesters Alexis Templeton and Brittany Ferrell have been charged:
St. Louis County Police spokesman Shawn McGuire said he can’t release information regarding the incident that led to Templeton’s or Ferrell’s arrest or their charges. Due to all the media attention surrounding their arrests, he said the department is waiting to release a press advisory. Templeton is charged with one count of assault and one count of “resist arrest injury death,” according to the St. Louis County Justice Services automated “arrest information” phone line. Ferrell is charged with one count of “criminal damage to property.” Bail is being denied to both of them. Their release and court dates were not available.
Criminal damage to property? Based on this conversation with Officer Brian Shellman, the SUV was "sucker punched" and her vehicle sustained $5,000 worth of damage. Absolutely outrageous. The driver was no doubt frustrated, but that did not give her permission to assault protesters with a nearly 5,000 lb. vehicle. Almost as outrageous was how television station Fox2 portrayed the assault on protesters:
Police say the driver of an SUV was sucker punched as she guided her vehicle through the crowd. One protester is seen on video provided by Bommarito Automotive Sky Fox kicking the SUV causing about five thousand dollars worth of damage as others yelled and screamed at the driver.
Yes, she gently guided her vehicle directly into the human beings standing in front of her and then floored the gas. You can watch the interview with Officer Shellman here. Note that he mentions an estimated $5,000 worth of damage and the "situation could have and should have been avoided."
You are damn right it was avoidable. Starting with the driver making a better choice and not driving directly into people. To charge protesters with "criminal property damage" for banging on her car to get her to stop before someone was serious injured can only be described as outrageous. Because you better believe if that SUV driver had driven into a crowd of police officers, she'd be dead.