Several drivers have accelerated toward Seattle protesters this month. Nationwide, concerns grow
The Seattle Bike Brigade, a group of cyclists who have provide security for protesters amid local demonstrations, had blocked off an alleyway near 9th Avenue and Virginia Street.
The aim was to protect mostly teenage protesters participating in a march for racial justice last Wednesday, June 10, in downtown.
A white man, driving a black Honda Civic, reportedly demanded that the cyclists move from his path so he could access his residence at a nearby condominium complex. Part of that confrontation was filmed and shared on Twitter and Facebook by Robert Svercl, a member of the bike brigade.
"Get the fuck out of the way!" The driver is heard yelling angrily at Svercl and another person before darting backwards down the alley. The driver does not appear to heed the presence of a pedestrian inches from his passenger side while doing so.
Moments later, the same aggressive driver was caught on camera barreling toward protesters at a high speed. Witnesses say he twice used his vehicle to charge at demonstrators in front of a condominium complex.
Those incidents are separate from what happened on Sunday, June 7, when Nikolas Fernandez, a 31-year-old man from north Seattle, accelerated towards protesters, also driving a black Honda Civic. Fernandez shot a protester in the arm who attempted to stop him.
On the afternoon of June 3, Seattle Police arrested Alvin Falley after witnesses say he charged at bicyclists with his sedan at the intersection of 6th Avenue and James Street — also during a protest. Falley was charged with a hit-and-run.
These local incidents call back a 2017 attack in which a driver killed a woman and injured dozens more amid a protest against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. They also underscore increasing concerns across the nation about the potential for cars to be used as weapons against demonstrators.
A semi-truck driver in Minneapolis, the epicenter of nationwide protests against racism and police brutality, was arrested on May 30 after driving down a highway into a crowd of protesters. He was released without being charged.
A San Jose woman on May 29 was caught on video erratically driving an SUV into a group of protesters — two of whom she backed over —before driving off. The woman faces multiple felony charges.
In Seattle, many protesters have found themselves on high alert amid a national — and local — uptick in vehicle-ramming incidents.
Witnesses to the Virginia Street situation say a bike was set beneath the car's undercarriage in an attempt to slow the driver down. Minor injuries and property damage were reported.
"People were terrified and people kind of didn't know what to do," said Nikkita Oliver, activist and former mayoral candidate. They had attended the youth protest organized by the Seattle Change Coalition that evening.
Ben Crowther, who lives in the same condominium complex as the Virginia Street driver, captured the 11-second video of him accelerating toward protesters. Crowther had stopped to listen to speakers at the demonstration on his way home from dinner with his husband.
He said he was alarmed by what he described as a "lackadaisical" police response to the incident, which occurred just feet away from the West Precinct.
"The response the officer, when I reported the incident, was to simply tell me that their orders were to not leave the precinct building," he said. "I sort of stopped dumbfounded and clarified with him that seemed like an urgent matter of someone running their car through a crowd of people and that that person was currently in our building."
Crowther said he later saw police taking statements from witnesses. The Seattle Police Department has not responded to multiple requests by KUOW for comment on the incident.
Oliver said they had confronted the driver after he turned into the garage connected to the condominium complex.
"I said, 'What's wrong with you — do you realize you just nearly hit a protest full of children and youth?' I actually don't understand how you could drive your car rapidly towards anybody," they said.
Oliver said that both they and the driver spoke to police stationed at the West Precinct within each other's presence. But when asked by an officer if they'd like to file a police report, Oliver declined.
"I said 'no' because I just don't think it would amount to anything," they said, adding that many protesters feel they can't rely on the police for protection.
Oliver also contrasted the police response to Nikolas Fernandez on June 7 on Capitol Hill with the treatment of protesters, who have been tear gassed, pepper sprayed, and even hit with flashbang grenades by officers.
Fernandez, who is arguing in court that he acted in self-defense, had surrendered himself to police as he shouted, "I had to shoot somebody — they were trying to jack my car!" He was taken into custody without any apparent incident and was later charged with first-degree assault.
"I keep flipping it in my head," Oliver said. "If it had been a Black man in a car, and he had driven into the Women's March and shot somebody, nobody would be talking about it like he was scared. And to be quite frank, I'm not sure he would have made it out of that incident alive."
This article was updated on June 15 at 8:50 p.m. to include information about a third recent vehicle-ramming incident in Seattle.