One woman is dead and three more wounded after a man drove an SUV through a crowd of people protesting the shooting death of a black man in a Minneapolis parking garage two weeks ago.
The videos and images of the crash that have been uploaded to the internet are truly disturbing and I caution anyone who might be sensitive to such footage to proceed with caution. As usual, we will link to it here, but won’t embed it. In video shot by those who attended the protest, the suspected driver can be seen after the incident being restrained by protesters. The driver, a muscular white male, seemed in a daze as someone shouted “He drove through here at 100 mph!”
The vehicle involved appears to be a 1999 to 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee “WJ,” according to our Jeep expert David Tracy. The driver was taken into police custody and treated at local hospital for minor injuries, according to MPR News. The woman who died has not been identified by police, but MPR identified the fatality as Deona Erickson, who parked her car in a way to help protect protesters:
A witness said the eastbound SUV was moving at a high rate of speed as it approached just before midnight, and that the driver appeared to accelerate as they got closer to demonstrators who had blocked off Lake Street near Girard Avenue.
The driver struck a vehicle parked across one of the traffic lanes on Lake Street, apparently positioned to protect the crowd. That second vehicle then hit people.
Police said early Monday that the investigation into the incident was still beginning, although they believe the driver may have been impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Garrett Knajdek, who lives in Georgia, identified the woman who died as his sister, Deona Erickson. He said she would have been 32 on Wednesday.
He said Erickson, who also used the last name Knadjek, worked managing group homes and was a devoted caregiver, as well as a mother of two school-age girls, age 13 and 8.
“She demonstrated it last night. She does everything for everybody else that she possibly can,” he said Monday morning. He noted she apparently died when an oncoming driver hit her car, parked on Lake Street to block traffic from the people who had gathered near where Smith had died. “Everything has always been sacrifice for her, you know, what can she do to help someone else, no matter what situation she’s in.”
The protest was organized over the death of Winston Boogie Smith Jr., who was fatally wounded during a stand off with U.S. marshals on a parking garage on ramp on June 3. The medical examiner said Smith died of multiple gun shot wounds. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension says its preliminary investigation indicates Smith shot a handgun while in his car, but witnesses disagree and say Smith never had a gun in his hand.
As we’ve reported before, drivers who ram through protests are rarely punished, and now multiple states are attempting to protect such drivers from both criminal and civil repercussions. In fact, the current trend in statehouses across the country is towards harsher penalties for those who engage in free speech, rather than those using cars to try and silence it.
Minnesota itself has a bill in its state senate that would render anyone convicted of a crime while attending a protest “...ineligible for any type of state loan, grant, or assistance, including but not limited to college student loans and grants,” the Minnesota Daily reports. Several college students are awaiting their day in court over unrest during a protest for Daunte Wright, another Black man killed by police.
Cars have rammed into protesters well over 100 times at various Black Lives Mater protests, USA Today reported.