One woman was arrested after allegedly driving her car into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters in Manhattan Friday afternoon, injuring six, the New York police department (NYPD) said.
A group of marchers had taken to the streets to protest against the federal immigration authorities detaining people, and in particular to highlight a group of detainees that have resorted to a hunger strike in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) federal detention in New Jersey.
The car charged forward in a terrifying, lightning-quick sequence of events where eyewitnesses said protesters were sent “flying” and people were screaming and running in panic.
The woman in the car, Kathleen Casillo, has been charged with reckless endangerment. Casillo, 52, was released early Saturday and is due in court on 22 February, authorities said.
The NYPD said that they received a 911 call at 4.08 pm saying “multiple pedestrians struck” at the intersection of 39th Street and Third Avenue in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan’s midtown east.
When officers arrived at the scene, they encountered injured pedestrians whom they described as “conscious and alert in the roadway”. A preliminary police investigation revealed that the pedestrians hit were among those who had been protesting in the street, police said.
Accounts posted to social media recalled an alarming scene. Some said a stopped car, which police described as a black 2019 BMW sedan, was surrounded by protesters before suddenly lurching into the crowd – knocking over people and bicycles.
One video seemed to show a small group of protesters gathered around the sedan as it slowly neared the intersection, with one person apparently leaning over the front of the car Casillo was driving.
Then the car suddenly accelerated, knocking aside those blocking it, as well as people in the intersection as it sped forward for several yards.
Video taken from another side shows people running away, with one person falling over as the sedan shoves through. According to the Reuters news agency, there were around 50 people in the crowd.
Tom Ella, who recorded one of the videos showing this incident, claimed he heard the engine roar and then saw the car speed up.
“Just watching them actually hit people, it’s traumatizing, it’s horrifying,” he remarked.
Christian Resseguie, of Manhattan, told the New York Times that the group was chanting “Free them all, Free them now” about Ice detainees when he heard a vehicle rushing behind him. Suddenly, he realized that demonstrators were scattered across the intersection.
“I saw lacerations, broken bones,” he reportedly said. Resseguie claimed that those most impacted by the crash were the cyclists handling traffic control during the protest.
Immigration detainees in several locations have resorted to hunger strikes to highlight their plight and attempt to secure release and, prior, better conditions, representation and exercising of human rights in line with US and international laws. They are also protesting the increased risk of contracting coronavirus while detained.
Sofia Vickerman, of Denver, Colorado, reported that people and bicycles were thrown into the air when the car struck the crowd.
“I hear people screaming in the front, I look behind me, the woman is plowing through,” said Vickerman, who was part of the protest. “I see bodies flying.”
Vickerman stated that the protest had started in Times Square and was meant to bring attention to several immigation detainees in New Jersey, who are on a hunger strike.
A Reuters photographer who was present confirmed that the protest was conducted in solidarity with nine undocumented people held by Ice. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the hunger strike.
This incident is among several between New York City protesters and vehicles since demonstrations against systemic racism, police brutality and racist government policies in the US began in late spring.
In May, two NYPD patrol cars rammed into a group of protesters in Brooklyn. The New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, voiced concerns about the incident, but maintained that it was an acceptable use of force given the context, the Times reported.
About one week later, a man was arrested in Brooklyn for allegedly driving over at least one person when bicycle-riding demonstrators gathered around his car.
An SUV hit bicycle-riding protesters on 42nd Street in July. The driver was not arrested or charged, according to Gothamist.
An agitator in September drove a car into a crowd of BLM protesters in Times Square. This driver reportedly did not face charges either.
There have been similar incidents between protesters and cars elsewhere in the US since BLM protests began. Between 27 May and 5 September, there were at least 104.
Ninety-six involved civilian drivers and eight involved law enforcement, USA Today reported, citing data from an anti-terrorism researcher.
The researcher, Ari Weil, told CNN that 43 of those incidents were found to have malicious intent. Weil opined that internet memes had celebrated, and prompted, these attacks.
The NYPD also arrested a protester, Nicolle L Besuden, on charges of obstruction of governmental administration and disorderly conduct, following Friday’s incident.
They alleged that Besuden interfered with paramedics as they tried administering medical treatment.
Casillo could not immediately be reached at three phone numbers associated with her name.
It’s unclear whether she has an attorney. An attorney who appears to represent Besuden in another case did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.