He crushed the Black Lives Matter protesters, but apparently it’s not a crime
Jared Benjamin Lafer, who drove his SUV last September through a small gathering of Black Lives Matter protesters in Johnson City, Tennessee, then fled – leaving behind a man with a concussion, brain hemorrhage and two broken legs – will not be charged.
On Monday, a Tennessee grand jury returned a bill “not true” – a statement by jurors that there was not enough evidence to indict the 27-year-old even after a judge slashed charges. charges against him for aggravated assault, a class C felony, reckless aggravated assault, a class D felony. Among the documents which apparently left the grand jurors indifferent were cell phone video documenting Stunning Lafer the protester with his truck, narrowly missing the protester’s dog and nearly hitting a second person who jumped out of the car’s steadfast path before it accelerated away from the scene.
The same footage took to social media last year as Tennessee Police conducted a two-day manhunt for the hit-and-run driver, who they identified as Lafer after witnesses had witnessed identified his out-of-state license plate number. Lafer never returned to the scene to check on his victim’s condition, but instead traveled to his home state of North Carolina, hired a lawyer to speak with cops about the case and surrendered two days after committing the crime.
At the time of the arrest, Lafer social media posts joking about crushing protesters had been wiped off the internet, preserved only in screenshots captured by a local progressive news site.
Victoria Hewlett, who was sitting in a car parked with her husband at an intersection a few feet from the scene, told the Daily Beast that protesters were crossing the road in a pattern consistent with the march signal. She says Lafer pulled up behind her car, then swerved around her vehicle “quite aggressively”, before turning the corner and driving “directly to where the protesters were in the crosswalk. “. She says – and Jonathan Bowers, Lafer’s primary victim, also states in a hospital bed affidavit and subsequent testimony – that Lafer rolled slowly, without breaking, into the intersection, “hitting” him with his truck, then suddenly “knocked down” the vehicle, overturning it and leaving it unconscious on the road.
Bowers, Hewlett recalls, regained consciousness shortly after, “screaming in pain” and asking questions about his dog. Hewlett and her husband, who had already started filming, filmed the scene and the immediate aftermath on camera. She told me that she hadn’t seen anyone hit or attack Lafer’s car, which matches what is being filmed.
“The only thing that had happened” before Lafler toppled Bowers, Hewlett recalls, was that the protesters “were sort of looking at him like, what the fuck is this? This is where he apparently feels threatened. After he hits the people and they’re stunned and they put their hands up, like What are you doing, that’s what he’s trying to interpret as being in danger, ”Hewlett told me.
It was on this security issue, in particular that of Lafer, that the defense lawyers focused their argument, claiming that Lafer “found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the face of what he perceived to be a problem. dangerous condition, a dangerous situation, “according to the defense attorney. Mac Meade. “His whole family, wife and three young children under the age of six were all in the car with him. And he did what he felt was necessary to get out of a situation he felt was dangerous for his family.
There were around 10 pedestrian protesters gathered in this “dangerous situation”, most of whom, according to the video, were away from the car until they ran to check on Bowers (who, for the record, is white) afterwards. that Lafer had cut him down and knocked him down.
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project identified 69 malicious attacks on protesters between May 28 and September 15, 2020. Another group of terrorism researchers from the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats found that ‘Between May 27 and September 5, 2020, people drove vehicles into protesters 104 times. At least 43 of those cases involved drivers with obvious malicious intent, demonstrated by shouting of racial epithets or other aggressive acts. Of those 104 drivers, only 39 were charged with criminal charges.
Fuel for these attacks likely came from several sources. ‘Crush Them’ had become a right-wing social media slogan as early as 2015, after the Ferguson uprising, and memes about driving homicides against protesters – like these Lafter promoted before his accounts were deactivated – have proliferated ever since. In 2017, Fox News ran an article titled “Here is a coil of cars driving through protesters trying to block the road. (“Study the technique; it might prove useful over the next four years,” the author urged.) They quietly removed the moth room later, three days after a white nationalist at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville used his car to murder Heather.
In recent years, conservative lawmakers across the country have responded to protests and uprisings with anti-protest bills that, in addition to threatening people’s constitutional rights, protect drivers who have used their cars in attacks. against demonstrators. Most of them were not passed into law, but in the months following the police murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed, eight states passed legislation aimed at having a chilling impact. on political protests and freedom of expression; 21 others have proposals in progress.
In Oklahoma – where last June the driver of a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer drove through a crowd of BLM protesters, paralyzing one, but was not charged because he claimed to be afraid for his safety and that of his family – a recently signed contract law grants immunity to drivers who run over protesters.
The limitless anti-protest bill that Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis approved has stalled in court, at least temporarily, since a judge issued a preliminary injunction against sections, noting that the law “emboldens the civilians to hit the demonstrators with their cars “. In response to DeSantis’ use of an upcoming “Juneteenth Black Joy Celebration” in West Palm Beach as a valid cause for the law, the judge wrote in his ruling that he “should go without saying that a public gathering of Blacks celebrating “black joy” and liberation from bondage doesn’t automatically equate to protest – or something the governor apparently involves should be chilled. “
Although Tennessee was successful in pushing through an anti-rally bill that strengthens the criminalization of actions already banned, this legislative session saw the death of a second bill supporting the ramming of vehicles against protesters. It didn’t matter in Lafer’s case, since the grand jury saw nothing criminal in it.
It is characteristic of all these anti-demonstration laws: they deny the most vulnerable the right to demand that their personality be recognized, while protecting the same people who are always authorized to deny this personality. We already know how the system works. This whole anti-protest legislative movement is trying to explicitly tell people to stay in their place and endure the various injustices this country inflicts on them – or suffer the consequences.
I asked Hewlett how she reacted when she found out that Lafer would not face any charges. She expressed a similar lack of jaded surprise.
“I am obviously appalled by the whole process,” she said. “But I had received information that the charges were reduced, so I was already not very optimistic.
“It’s just a slow burn of they will let this guy get away. This is always the way it is. I don’t really know what else to say at this point.