The casualties from vehicle-ramming attacks—amid a tide of right-wing social media memes celebrating and encouraging such violence—at anti-police brutality protests keep piling up around the country. But the response by police investigators to the attacks remains disturbingly muted, seemingly blaming victims themselves for the violence and not the perpetrators, who often are far-right extremists.
In Seattle, a woman was killed early Saturday morning by a driver who hit a cluster of protesters at high speed—following which, state police responded by vowing to disallow future freeway protests despite having blocked all traffic around the march. In Indiana, there were no apprehensions in two separate incidents of vehicle ramming—one in Mishiwaka, the other in Bloomington—in which protesters were injured. And on Long Island in New York, a driver who injured two marchers by plowing into them with his SUV was issued a desk appearance ticket and released by police.
The memes celebrating such violence first gained attention in the darker fringes of the internet—particularly alt-right channels on such platforms as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit—but have been showing up with increasing frequency on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. And they have already played a role in creating fatalities: Charlottesville vehicle killer James Alex Fields shared such a meme shortly before killing protester Heather Heyer with his car in August 2017.
The language is consistently cruel and inhumane: “Run ’em all over” and “Get the protester plow,” are popular lines; one of the favorites is “All Lives Splatter.” Another meme claims to show the “new Dodge Ram Protester Edition” with a custom paint job replicating blood across the truck’s front end.
Popular right-wing figures have gotten into the act. YouTube pundit Steven Crowder recently tweeted: “Charge or block a vehicle and break the windshield with the driver still in it? Congratulations! You are now a speed bump!”
The reality has been anything but funny. The weekend fatality in Seattle was caught on video, which showed with appalling and graphic clarity what occurs when a car hits protesters in a roadway—in this case, an offramp from Interstate 5 in downtown Seattle, which was ostensibly closed to traffic by police—at high speed. The impact killed a 24-year-old nonbinary Seattle protester named Summer Taylor and left a nonbinary 33-year-old Portlander named Diaz Love in critical condition.
However, unlike in other recent vehicle rammings, the incident did not appear to have been motivated by extremist right-wing politics. The driver—a 27-year-old West African immigrant named Dawil Kelete—was apprehended two miles away from the scene. His attorney told reporters: “There’s absolutely nothing political about this case whatsoever. … My client is in tears. He’s very remorseful. He feels tremendous guilt.”
Charged Wednesday with vehicular homicide, Kelete reportedly blamed his behavior on his withdrawals from the drug Percocet, and told jail officials he was dealing with an “untreated addiction.” His bail was set at $1.2 million.
However, state police appeared to blame the victims for the incident, announcing that they would no longer block off sections of the freeway for protesters as they had done Friday night. “Blocking a freeway is a crime and no longer are we going to enable that criminal conduct to continue,” said State Patrol Capt. Ron Mead, who made the decision. “We are not going to be allowing protesters to access the freeway unimpeded, and there are consequences for criminal conduct.”
Even worse, a King County detective—Mike Brown, who happens to be a cousin of Gov. Jay Inslee—shared one of the far-right “All lives splatter” memes on his Facebook page. He also wrote a post saying: “I see a couple of people got infected with Covid-19 from the hood of a car on I-5 last night.” Brown was placed on leave, relieved of all police powers, and is under investigation.
The same night in Mishiwaka, Indiana, an unidentified man driving a silver SUV pulled up to the protesters and began nudging its way through them across a local bridge, then hit the gas and dragged at least one protester, caught in the bumper, along with him. Witnesses said the man seemed to plan the act deliberately.
“He actually circled the block. So he saw us and what we were doing and came back and drove through the police blockade and intentionally drove into a group of people,” one witness told the South Bend Tribune.
Police on Monday would not identify the driver, but told reporters they expected the county prosecutor to file charges against him. "We really wish the victim himself would come forward and cooperate with us," said Chief Ken Witkowski.
In Bloomington on Sunday, two people driving a red Toyota Camry hit the gas when they encountered a crowd of hundreds of protesters and plowed into them. Two people were hit, one briefly hospitalized.
"A woman driving the vehicle came up to the stop and had started revving her engine toward us, and we tried to stop her and let her know that the crowd is clearing up," one witness told WRTV-TV. "But, she and her passenger both wanted to go right away, so they started to push. They pushed into the woman that was with me and when she pushed again both of us went on the vehicle."
Protesters recorded the license number on the vehicle and reported it to police. However, so far it has been to little avail.
"At this time, the vehicle involved has not been located and investigators are working to determine the identity of the man and woman inside the passenger car and their whereabouts," the department said in an emailed statement.
Witnesses in Long Island were similarly frustrated with the nonchalant handling by police of a similar attack. A man driving a grey Toyota RAV4 SUV pulled up to a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters and then accelerated into them on Monday. Police pulled him over and video showed the protesters urging police to arrest the man.
However, after impounding the man’s vehicle, police only briefly arrested the man—identified as 36-year-old Anthony Cambareri of Coram—and charged him with third-degree assault (the equivalent of a fistfight) and issued him a desk appearance ticket, NBC News reported.
“You wonder why people are frustrated,” a witness named Matthew Williams told NBC. “Look at this man. He just walked away with a third degree misdemeanor as if he pushed someone in the mall. You hit someone with your car and you kept going, this is not okay!”