As rage over the police killing of an unarmed black man named George Floyd earlier this week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, morphed into demonstrations and protests the country over against police brutality, numerous incidents of cars being used as ramming weapons against demonstrators have occurred, including by police in marked vehicles.
Warning: Some of the clips embedded below contain graphic violence.
Car-rammings have received a lot of attention since their rise to prevalence as a tactic employed by ISIS affiliates in a number of terror attacks across Europe and for the notoriety of the ramming attack on demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia three years ago that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.
In the past few days, vehicles have been used as ramming weapons against crowds of demonstrators in California, with specific events taking place in Bakersfield as well as further north in the town of Visalia. Another ramming also took place yesterday in Tallahassee, Florida.
In Bakersfield, California, the ramming occurred in the middle of a large demonstration. A driver behind the wheel of a Jeep Compass drove through a crowd of chanting demonstrators at speed. The event was captured on camera by a local ABC affiliate and the driver has been arrested.
In Visalia, California, two women were rammed by the driver of a Jeep Wrangler with American and Trump campaign flags flying from the back. The two women were lightly injured and the Visalia Police Department told the Fresno Bee that no arrests have been made as of yet.
In Tallahassee, Florida, a driver drove his pickup truck into a crowd of demonstrators, driving for some time with one of them lodged on the hood before being apprehended. Tallahassee mayor John E. Dailey later tweeted that the ramming did not result in any serious injuries.
All of these events were perpetrated by drivers who do not appear to be related to the police forces that have largely been the target of the protests and demonstrations over the past few days. Rather, the drivers appeared to be civilians opposed to the message of the protestors, much like the tragic events a number of years ago in Charlottesville.
More worrisome, police in New York in marked cruisers were behind another ramming event that took place yesterday as well. After demonstrators pelted one NYPD police car with garbage during a protest on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, another police car drove through the crowd with the other one following closely behind, pushing protestors to the ground. It is not immediately clear that anyone was injured by the police car, but the event does demonstrate how ramming tactics have become almost commonplace in confrontations with protestors, even by law enforcement.
In a press conference following the event in Brooklyn, Mayor of New York Bill De Blasio expressed regret that the event occurred but ultimately blamed the protestors:
“The folks who were converging on that police car did the wrong thing to begin with and they created an untenable situation,” the mayor said. “I wish the officers found a different approach, but let’s begin at the beginning. The protesters in that video did the wrong thing to surround that police car, period.”
Mayor De Blasio’s statement reflects the exasperation of a mayor who is over his head when it comes to mitigating the tensions gripping the nation as they materialize under his jurisdiction. The power imbalance between someone in a vehicle and a pedestrian is tremendous. In the case of the Brooklyn events, protestors faced down a Ford Explorer Police Interceptor Utility, a vehicle that weighs in excess of three tons unloaded with more than three hundred horsepower under the hood. When aimed at someone, it is a lethal weapon.
Mayor De Blasio is not ignorant of that fact. His Vision Zero campaign against traffic fatalities is a testament to that, despite any tactical misguidedness that might plague that program. But when his response to police using their vehicles as weapons against demonstrating civilians is to blame them for standing in the way, De Blasio isn’t merely undercutting his long-standing traffic safety message, he is telling New Yorkers that their constitutional right to assemble and make themselves heard is secondary to the expectation that the police use their vehicles safely and according to protocol.
All of this is happening as vehicles become even less pedestrian-friendly and more dangerous than they have been in the past. Pickup trucks are getting bigger, taller, and harder to see out of, and pedestrian death rates are going up. That’s without the intention to do harm seen above.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of law enforcement to ensure that demonstrators are not the targets of ramming attacks like those seen in California and Florida this weekend. But when some police themselves appear to have adopted the same approach of using vehicles as weapons and elected officials defend their use, it’ll be a lot harder to do.