Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Alarming trend: Assault by vehicle at public protests on the rise

There have been at least 104 incidents of people driving vehicles into protests from May 27 through Sept. 5, including 96 by civilians and eight by police, according to Ari Weil, a terrorism researcher at the University of Chicago's Project on Security and Threats who spoke with USA TODAY this summer. Weil began tracking the incidents as protests sprung up in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody.

There have been at least two fatalities, in Seattle and in Bakersfield, California.

Weil said that by analyzing news coverage, court documents and patterns of behavior – such as when people allegedly yelled slurs at protesters or turned around for a second hit – he determined that at least 43 of the incidents were malicious, and 39 drivers have been charged.

Most of the incidents happened in June, in the weeks following Floyd's May 25 killing, Weil said, and half of the incidents happened by June 7. While incidents continue to happen, they've trended downward since then, he said

"While these incidents were clustered in the beginning of the protest period, they continue to occur," Weil said on Twitter on Thursday. "As violent rhetoric intensifies in the lead up to the election, I worry about an uptick in these incidents."

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