Originally Published in The New York Times
Daniel E. Slotnik and Juliana Kim - December 12, 2020
About a half-dozen people stand around a black BMW sedan on a Manhattan street. At least one slaps a hand onto one of the car’s windows as the vehicle edges through the group.
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 in support of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees who are on a hunger strike encountered the car on Third Avenue.
The collisions left six people injured. The police identified Kathleen Casillo of Rockaway Park, Queens, as the driver.
Ms. Casillo, 52, was charged on Friday with reckless endangerment. A female passenger, 29, was not charged with a crime, according to the police.
The police also charged a protester who they said had interfered with emergency medical workers trying to help one of the victims.
The protester, 32-year-old Nicolle L. Besuden of Harlem, was charged with obstruction of governmental administration and disorderly conduct.
In a phone interview on Saturday, Ms. Besuden said that she had been assisting a friend who had been hit, holding an ice pack to his leg, when the police approached them and “kept getting in our faces.” The police were “agitating and escalating the situation,” she said, making her friend uncomfortable.
As she was helping her friend stand up, Ms. Besuden said, she was “pretty violently” grabbed by officers, who she said pushed her into an emergency medical worker who had just arrived.
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 East 39th Street when she heard organizers scream a warning.
“Bodies were in the air, and bikes were flying,” Ms. 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,” Mr. 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, the police said; none had life-threatening injuries. The driver and her passenger were at a local precinct house, the 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 the police as demonstrators shouted at her from the sidewalk.
The march on Friday was one of a number of local protests meant to call attention to the detainees, who are being held by ICE in New Jersey 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, Ms. Vickerman said. She added that she had not seen or heard the driver who hit the protesters show signs of aggression before plowing 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 S.U.V. struck bicycle-mounted protesters on 42nd Street. He, too, was not charged, according to Gothamist. In June, the 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.
Mr. Resseguie, who described himself as a veteran activist, said he was not surprised by the incident considering recent history. But he added that for him, 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.
Maria Cramer and Bryan Pietsch contributed reporting.