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Nashville Police Call Driver Who Struck Protesters a “Victim”

12:24 PM EST on February 15, 2017

A 68-year-old man who ran his car through a group of protesters in Nashville not only won't be charged, but is being treated by local law enforcement as though he were the victim of a crime, according to the Tennessean.

Late last month, people gathered at the corner of West End Avenue and Murphy Road in Nashville to speak out against Donald Trump's executive order on immigration. As the protest was winding down, a man behind the wheel of an SUV "drove for a distance with protesters on the hood of his vehicle," the Tennessean reports.

In the ensuing investigation, the word of the driver and his wife seemed to hold greater sway with police than the protesters who were struck or witnessed the event. The driver told police he was sitting at the intersection when protesters started jumping on his car and threatening him, and he drove into them out of fear.

Jack Willey, a member of the protest's safety team, told the Tennessean he was struck by the driver while helping people in a crosswalk with the right of way. He criticized the investigation, saying "there were dozens of witnesses" who weren't interviewed.

Matthew Hill, a representative or the rural Jonesborough area, wants people who run over protesters to be immune from civil penalties. Photo: Tennessee General Assembly
Matthew Hill, a representative of the rural Jonesborough area, wants people who run over protesters to be immune from civil penalties. Photo: Tennessee General Assembly
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The police report published by the Tennessean refers to the driver as "the victim" throughout. It says "officers asked the victim to sit in the back of a police car and was relocated away from the incident for his safety."

As outrageous as this may seem, it fits a pattern. In 2014, when a teenage girl protesting police brutality in Minneapolis was run over by a driver who careened into the crowd, local authorities declined to pursue criminal charges. They also initially referred to the driver, 40-year-old Jeffrey Rice, as the "victim." He was eventually charged with only minor traffic offenses.

In practice, the American legal system is already incredibly permissive toward people who use a motor vehicle to violently assault protesters in a roadway.

Nevertheless, to add insult to injury, Tennessee state rep Matthew Hill introduced a bill last week that would shield drivers from civil suits when they run over protesters, if the driver was exercising "due care." The bill was introduced on February 8 and has been forwarded to the State Senate judiciary committee. A similar bill was introduced last month in North Dakota.

Nora Kern, executive director of Bike/Walk Nashville, said the measure is abhorrent.

"Given how many pedestrians have been killed in Nashville, it's crazy to even suggest this sort of bill," she said. "I'm hoping though this was filed more as some sort of sick statement and that it has no chance of moving forward."

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