Demonstrators protesting racial injustice and police brutality had marched on Interstate 5 in Seattle for 19 consecutive nights without incident before a driver bypassed Washington State Patrol barricades early Saturday morning to careen into a group of marchers, killing one and seriously injuring another.
The fatal hit-and-run drew national attention, with lawmakers expressing shock and horror over the death of Summer Taylor, 24. The driver also hit Diaz Love, 32, who remains in serious condition at Harborview Medical Center but is improving, a hospital spokesperson said Sunday evening.
But the collision — which demonstrators say seemed intentional — isn’t the first time cars have sped into the ongoing protests in Seattle sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, by a white police officer.
“Everyone wants to use the excuse of us being on the freeway,” said a protest organizer, who gave their name as Nicole, in a video statement broadcast on Facebook. “This happens to us on a daily basis. Cars try to run through us on a daily basis, no matter where we are.”
Earlier on the same night of the fatal collision, an off-duty Seattle Police Department officer drove her personal vehicle through the demonstration, police confirmed.
Footage of the incident shot by Love shows demonstrators pausing in the intersection of Boren Avenue and Olive Way in downtown Seattle to eat pizza. Music played and people danced. It was shortly after midnight on July 4 — one-and-a-half hours before Love and Taylor were struck on I-5.
Honking, a blue sedan breaks through the crowd and drives east up Olive Way, then appears to circle back before it is rammed by another car. Organizers said they had seen the officer “circling the protest while yelling hate speech” in the days leading up to the incident.
Police said the driver “had attempted to drive through an opening in the crowd when the crowd surrounded their vehicle.” A spokesperson did not respond to questions about conflicting accounts of the incident, which has been referred to the Office of Police Accountability, or the officer’s identity.
Drivers have acted violently against protesters at other demonstrations in the wake of Floyd’s death. Three weeks ago, a driver injured three protesters in Portland after speeding into a crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators. A driver ran his car into a crowd of demonstrators on Capitol Hill in early June, shooting a protester who reached into the vehicle. A DoorDash driver swerved through a crowd of protesters on Capitol Hill on June 30.
In the days leading up to the fatal July 4 collision, Love posted on social media that they were scared and anxious about threats to protesters. “To say Im scared … to be going out and protesting this weekend is an understatement,” Love wrote on Facebook July 3. “Still, we need to protect Black woman. So I think I’ll get in the streets to live stream again tonight.”
After the off-duty police officer drove through the crowd, the march moved onto the freeway at around 12:45 a.m. Saturday. Washington State Patrol had already closed both directions of I-5 along downtown Seattle.
The crowd was dancing the Cupid Shuffle when, 45 minutes later, Dawit Kelete, 27, drove his white Jaguar the wrong way up a freeway exit ramp and swerved into the protesters at high speed, killing Taylor and injuring Love.
Kelete was booked into King County Jail on Saturday morning on investigation of felony vehicular assault. A hearing for Kelete is scheduled for Monday, and a judge will then make a decision regarding bail, according to prosecutors.
Both Taylor and Love, who used they/them pronouns, were described by friends as ardently committed to fighting racism. Taylor, who worked as a veterinary assistant at Urban Animal, had been participating in Seattle’s demonstrations against police brutality nearly every day.
Love posted on Facebook on Sunday night that they are “alive and stable. In a lot of pain.” The post garnered more than 5,000 comments by Monday morning and had been shared 2,700 times.
“If they thought this murder would make us back down, they are very wrong,” they wrote. “Very wrong.”
Local and national elected officials publicly mourned Taylor’s death Sunday. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called Taylor’s death “absolutely heartbreaking.”
“Summer Taylor was fiercely standing up for Black lives day after day — organizing, marching, and protesting against police brutality, racism, and anti-Blackness,” tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle. “Let us honor their beautiful life by continuing this critical fight with all we’ve got. Rest in power, Summer.”
July 3 was the first time Taylor had attended the nightly Black Femme March, said friend Giana O’Shaughnessy, though they’d been protesting nearly every day since Floyd’s death.
“They were drawn to the protests because they believed that Black lives matter and that it was important to do everything in their power to support Black lives and fight for them,” O’Shaughnessy said, describing Taylor as “caring and compassionate.”
Love had been splitting their time between protests in Seattle and Portland, according to their Facebook page. GoFundMe campaigns for both victims had raised tens of thousands of dollars as of Sunday evening.
In the aftermath of the fatal hit-and-run, the Washington State Patrol said Saturday it would begin arresting people for walking on the freeway because the agency can no longer guarantee protesters’ safety, said Capt. Ron Mead, who made the decision to close I-5.
The decision to keep the interstate open, instead of diverting motorists while protesters flow onto the freeway, is a reversal from plans in early June that appeared, in effect, to sanction the activity.
At the request of the State Patrol, the Washington State Department of Transportation announced June 4 it would close the I-5 express lanes for several days “in order to keep all people safe during the demonstrations in the city.”
According to Washington law, pedestrians are not permitted to walk in the center of the highway, although WSDOT may restrict vehicle traffic for funeral processions or parades or for pedestrians or other nonmotorized traffic.
Protesters have historically chosen to block interstates because the high-profile disruption amplifies their message, and because the interstate system has a history tied to gentrification and racial injustice.
But Washington State Patrol Sgt. Darren Wright said that by “choosing not to engage” with protesters who entered the freeway, officials believed they could clear them from the roadway more quickly.
“There was no traffic to stop, and they weren’t getting any attention from people to see their message, so they would tend to leave quicker,” he said. “The freeway would open up in a more expedient manner without anybody getting hurt. That’s the tactic we had been using up until this incident had occurred.”
In the past weeks, the agency received complaints that closing the freeway inconvenienced tens of thousands of motorists, Mead said. Between that and the hit-and-run, the decision to keep I-5 open was clear.
“We’ve strived to find that balance between keeping the protesters safe, the motorists safe and our officers safe,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’ve resigned myself that we’re going to take criticism no matter what we do.”
Sunday evening, another large demonstration threatened to march on I-5. Protesters were raising awareness of the occupation of Ethiopia’s Oromia region and capital Addis Ababa by the country’s police.
The State Patrol closed the highway for less than an hour “to ensure the safety of everyone as we staged resources,” a spokesperson tweeted. “We continue to encourage protesters not to enter the freeway and will still be arresting protesters who choose to do so.”
Seattle Times staff reporters Asia Fields and Paige Cornwell contributed to this report. A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Summer Taylor’s occupation. They were a veterinary assistant, not technician.