One woman was killed and three people were injured after a man plowed his car into a group of protesters in Minneapolis late Sunday. The suspect is in police custody after demonstrators pulled him from his vehicle following the crash, police said.
Officials had not identified the driver or the victim as of Monday, but Garrett Knajdek told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his older sister, Deona Knajdek, of Minneapolis, was the protester who was killed. Police said the victim died at a hospital.
“She was using her car as a street blockade, and another vehicle struck her vehicle and her vehicle struck her,” Garrett Knajdek told the paper, saying he learned the details of his sister’s death from their mother and police.
Knajdek, who has 11- and 13-year-old daughters, was just days shy of her 32nd birthday when she was killed.
The deadly crash happened just after 11:30 p.m. in the city’s Uptown neighborhood near the site where 32-year-old Winston Boogie Smith Jr. was fatally shot on June 3 by members of a U.S. Marshals task force who were trying to arrest him on a felony weapons charge. Three other people were treated for injuries, including one person who was also struck by the driver, police said; none of the three injuries were life-threatening, they said.
As of Monday, details about the driver’s identity and his potential motive were unknown, although Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said that “preliminary investigation indicates that the use of drugs or alcohol by the driver may be a contributing factor in this crash.”
“Based on the information available, it does not seem possible at this time to say if the crash was accidental or intentional,” Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender, whose 10th Ward encompasses the Uptown crash site, said in a newsletter to constituents Monday. “This stretch of road, like many in our community, is one of the highest crash corridors in the City.”
At least three states – Florida, Iowa and Oklahoma – have recently softened penalties for motorists who hit protesters with a vehicle.
The new laws, all of which were passed this year by Republican-controlled legislatures, have been criticized by civil rights advocates who see the laws as a way to chill free speech – particularly around racial justice issues.
Florida’s law in particular adds new protections for “historic markers,” a provision seen by critics as a clear response to recent Black Lives Matter protests of symbols such as Confederate statues. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, R, touted the law at an April news conference as “anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida condemned the bill as a “political stunt” and wrote in a statement at the time: “It is no coincidence that these bills were introduced by politicians who harshly criticized these calls for racial justice and police accountability.”
Concerns over drivers weaponizing their vehicles against racial justice demonstrations exploded after a man plowed through a crowd of counterprotesters at a white-supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
James Alex Fields Jr., a 21-year-old self-professed neo-Nazi, drove his Dodge Challenger through the crowd, injuring 35 people and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Fields was later convicted of first-degree murder in Heyer’s death in 2018.
The intersection in Uptown where Smith was fatally shot has been the scene of demonstrations for more than a week by community members calling for transparency and accountability. Smith was shot by several members of local sheriff’s departments who were working with the Marshals as part of a fugitive task force.
Officials said there is no body camera or dash camera footage of the incident, despite an October 2020 change to U.S. Marshal protocol that allows local law enforcement serving on tasks forces to wear their own cameras; federal law enforcement officials are not allowed to wear body cameras.
The U.S. Marshals previously told The Washington Post that the agency did not begin phasing in body camera permissions for local law enforcement until February and that the program “continues to be implemented in the District of Minnesota.”
In the wake of Smith’s death, the sheriff’s departments of Anoka, Hennepin and Ramsey counties, which each had deputies participating in the task force, announced they were suspending their participation in U.S. Marshals task forces until local law enforcement officers were allowed to wear body cameras.