Suddenly, the driver hits the accelerator, and the car surges forward, knocking pedestrians to the pavement as it speeds through the next intersection. It hits more people, some of them on bicycles, with a loud crunch before racing off into the distance.
“Did someone get the license plate?” a woman yells as other people rush to attend to those on the ground.
The scene, shown in video snippets posted on Twitter, unfolded around 4 p.m. Friday when a crowd marching to support Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees who are on a hunger strike encountered the car on Third Avenue.
The collisions left six people injured, and the 52-year-old woman who was driving the car was in custody being questioned late Friday, police said. Neither she nor a female passenger, 29, were identified, and it was unclear whether the driver would be charged, police said.
The episode was the latest in a series of such altercations between drivers and protesters in New York City and elsewhere in America this year, as some motorists respond to street-blocking demonstrators by ploughing through them, not always with legal consequences.
Sofia Vickerman, a first-year student at New York University, said she had been in a larger pack of protesters near the intersection of Third Avenue and 39th Street when she heard organisers scream a warning.
“Bodies were in the air, and bikes were flying,” Vickerman, 18, said.
Christian Resseguie said he had been in the crowd chanting, “Free them all, free them now” just before he heard a car speeding up behind him. The next thing he knew, he said, protesters were strewn all around the intersection.
“I saw lacerations, broken bones,” Resseguie, a civil rights lawyer, said. Those who bore the brunt of the crash were bicyclists who were handling traffic control at the march, he said.
The six people who were struck were being treated at nearby hospitals, police said; none had life-threatening injuries. The driver and her passenger were at a local precinct house, police said.
A second video posted online, shot from a different angle near the intersection, shows the car careening through protesters on bicycles and knocking several to the ground.
A third video posted online by a bystander showed a red-haired woman being taken into custody at the scene by police as demonstrators shouted at her from the sidewalk.
One protester, a woman, was also taken into custody for interfering with emergency medical workers as they tried to help one of the victims, police said. She faced a charge of obstructing governmental administration, police said.
The march Friday was one of a number of local protests meant to call attention to the detainees, who are being held in New Jersey by Immigration and Custom Enforcement, or ICE, and who have been on a hunger strike for nearly a month, Patch reported.
ICE officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The Manhattan protest started in Times Square before making its way downtown with police officers on bicycles trailing behind, Vickerman said. She added that she had not seen or heard the driver who hit the protesters show signs of aggression before ploughing into them.
The episode resembled several previous confrontations that have flared up in the city’s streets since the killing of George Floyd in May unleashed a wave of protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
In September, a counterprotester drove a Ford Taurus into a dense Black Lives Matter protest in Times Square. The driver was not charged, The Daily News reported. In July, a driver in an SUV struck bicycle-mounted protesters on 42nd Street. He, too, was not charged, according to Gothamist. In June, police arrested a man in Brooklyn after he drove over at least one person when protesters on bicycles encircled his car.
In addition, during the early days of the protests in May, two police vehicles drove into a crowd of protesters in Brooklyn, sending people sprawling across the street. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Dermot F. Shea, the police commissioner, expressed concerns about the incident but also defended it as an appropriate use of force under the circumstances.
Resseguie, who described himself as a veteran activist, said he was not surprised by the incident considering recent history. But he added that it would not have a chilling effect.
“This isn’t going to dissuade me from continuing to demonstrate and to show up for my community,” he said.
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