A car that drove through a protest for social justice in California before protesters chased it down and attacked the driver has drawn attention to the ongoing debate about how people involved should react to those situations. Should protesters yield to the cars? Should drivers respect the sanctity of Americans’ freedom of assembly to exercise their rights to protest?
There apparently was no right answer Thursday night when a news helicopter recorded footage of a white Toyota Prius forcing its way through a crowd of protesters on a street in Hollywood. The ensuing violence in response to the car driving through protesters prompted Twitter trolls to compare the situation to Reginald Denny, the fateful truck driver who was pulled from his car during the 1992 Los Angeles riots and beaten nearly to death.
The protests in Hollywood were part of larger nationwide social justice demonstrations against police violence that were renewed following a Louisville grand jury indicting a fired cop for shooting a wall instead of for the killing of Breonna Taylor.
The overheard footage showed the Prius approaching an intersection and attempting to turn right, which just happened to be mostly blocked by a group of protesters marching peacefully. It was apparent the protesters did not want the car to proceed, but it did. And in doing so, it hit several protesters, prompting others to run up and knock on the car’s windows. The Prius ultimately drove away and cruised to the next street block as the news helicopter continued to record.
That’s when a pickup truck sped up to the Prius, passed it and turned into its path, forcing the Prius to stop. People then got out of the pickup truck and confronted the driver of the Prius, who reversed into another vehicle directly behind it as other protesters — apparently from the earlier collision at the intersection — also approached the car. They all began hitting the car before the Prius’ driver sped off; this time for good.
Watch the video below.
The driver was ultimately “pulled over by LAPD and handcuffed,” according to local journalist Kenny Holmes, who tweeted a video of the encounter that was recorded from a different angle.
The unfortunate episode allowed right-wing Twitter provocateurs to capitalize on fears that the so-called “radical left” resorts to the kind of mob violence that Donald Trump nonsensically tells his base will continue if he’s not re-elected. They even went so far as to compare the situation to Reginald Denny, the truck driver who was in the wrong place at the wrong time following the acquittal of the LAPD officers shown on video beating motorist Rodney King nearly to death.
Denny’s name was a top trending topic as a result and images of him lying bloodied on the street went viral, with people encouraging drivers in similar encounters with protesters to never get out of their cars.
It’s important to note that during Denny’s last known interview in 2002, he told NBC News that he understood the pain of the protesters.
“How bad do you have to jack up a neighborhood before the neighborhood just says enough?” he asked at the time.
Denny also insisted his attack was not racist and he was not targeted because he is white.
“People seem to forget it was black folks that saved my life,” he said in the interview. “On one hand, there were some out there to try to kill me or do me in. On the other hand, they are trying to save me because I’m not the enemy, and believe me I am not the enemy.”
The violence Thursday night came just days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis introduced legislation that could be construed as incentivizing drivers hitting protesters — or, at least, not yielding to them. The Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act plainly states that any driver who just happens to hit protesters obstructing a roadway “is NOT liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.”
The African American Policy Forum said the bill sends “as loud a signal as possible that [DeSantis] is okay with, and would even encourage, anyone who wants to use their car or truck to mow down BLM protesters.” The nonprofit think tank dedicated to dismantling structural inequality added: “We should not understate how dangerous this is.”
Protesters have increasingly taken to highways and other major thoroughfares to block traffic in an effort to bring attention to social justice causes. However, in some instances, drivers have rammed protesters with their vehicles. That was the case in Seattle in July when a protester was killed on Interstate 5 after she was intentionally hit by a car.
It was also important to remember that there have been multiple instances of police vehicles ramming protesters across the country, many times violently. The NYPD has been especially guilty of doing this.