TACOMA — Tacoma police are investigating an incident captured on video that shows a car striking a protester in the intersection of South 19th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way and driving away on Aug. 14.
Local community organizers say the investigation started three days too late because an officer was at the scene when it happened.
The Tacoma Action Collective posted the video to Twitter on Monday, alleging the motorist struck a demonstrator protesting against gentrification in the Hilltop neighborhood and tried to drag the person by the arm as the car passed by. The group removed the video Wednesday afternoon on the recommendation of a lawyer but did not immediately provide specific reasoning.
At least one Tacoma police car was parked within sight during the collision at about 1:30 p.m. but officers did not get out of the vehicle, according to the person who was hit and the Tacoma Action Collective. Shortly thereafter, the protest organizers say at least two other police cars arrived and followed demonstrators as they walked away from the scene without interviewing the victim or witnesses.
Tacoma police spokesperson Wendy Haddow said an officer driving by the area entered information into a computerized dispatch system about a demonstration in the roadway at 1:28 p.m. Sunday but records do not reflect an investigation. She said police have not identified any 911 calls related to the incident.
Haddow said she alerted police command staff after viewing the video Wednesday morning and declined to release any additional information while investigators contact the officer who may have witnessed the collision to gain information about a potential crime.
The Tacoma Action Collective, commonly referred to as TAC, wrote in a Tweet that Tacoma police did not contact the organization after viewing the video and announcing an investigation on social media.
The person who was hit told The News Tribune during a phone interview facilitated by TAC that they were in considerable pain and wearing a wrist splint and a sling for multiple sprains they suffered during the crash.
The protester, a local community organizer who uses they/them pronouns, asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation and The News Tribune does not typically name crime victims.
They said they had not received a call back from police as of 2 p.m. Wednesday after trying to file a police report.
“These are the reasons we organize under organization names,” said the person who was hit, referencing harassment and retaliation. “There are some people who are willing to drive through traffic if they see us.”
Jamika Scott, a TAC organizer, said the organization anticipates blame from people who disagree with protesting in roadways. She said those types of comments devalue the lives of demonstrators.
The driver “could have backed up, she could have driven around, she could have waited a few minutes,” Scott said. “We kind of have a right to be there. As pedestrians, we have the right of way.”
“In life there are a lot of grays, but some things are very clear. That woman was wrong and the lack of response by officers was wrong,” Scott added.
Timeline of the collision
Prior to the collision at the intersection, the group of a dozen or so demonstrators walked along Martin Luther King Jr. Way learning about the history of the Hilltop neighborhood and how to safely protest as a part of a Sacred Sundays event put on by a group of local organizers led by the person who was struck.
An online description describes the event as a protest against the erasure of Black people and history from the neighborhood with a “goal is to simply take up space, take care of our people, and provide a space for relaxation and connection.”
The group’s walk started in McCarver Park and the main event was in People’s Park with food, music and community resources.
Along the way, the group stopped at South 19th Street to gather in a circle in the intersection and “take up space” in line with the event’s theme. The person who was hit said they planned to be there for about 10 minutes and worked as a group to do so safely.
A police officer parked nearby but did not direct traffic, the person who was hit told The News Tribune.
As they chanted and sang songs, some motorists still navigated through the intersection around protesters but without putting demonstrators in danger, the person who was hit said.
The video posted by TAC shows the moment that changed.
Out of the corner of their eye, the person who was hit said they saw someone try to drive directly through the center of the intersection for the first time. The organizer then opened up their arms and walked toward the car in hopes of redirecting it, they said.
“I thought she was going to stop,” the organizer said. “She just looked at me and kept gassing me.”
The force of the hit pushed the organizer back and bent them forward toward the car, the video showed.
The organizer then moved towards the driver’s side window, thinking the car would pull over, they said.
Instead, the driver grabbed the organizer’s wrist and continued driving, the person said and the video confirms.
Video shows the car continuing to drive down South 19th Street and past what appears to be a Tacoma police cruiser.
The organizer said the patrol car then drove toward the intersection with its lights and sirens activated. A separate video recorded provided to The News Tribune from after the collision shows a stationary patrol car with its lights activated near the intersection.
“It was obvious that they saw what happened because they turned their sirens on,” the organizer said.
As the demonstrators were gathering up to leave, the person who was hit said a second police car drove up and the officer asked, “What’s going on?”
“It was very airheaded of him,” the person who was hit said. “People were visibly distressed.”
The person who was hit said they initially didn’t feel the need to file a police report or call 911 with police at the scene that day.
“The last thing I wanted to talk to was a cop after one of them just watched it happen,” they added.
Four police cars continued to follow the demonstrators with their lights activated as the group walked down Martin Luther King Way to People’s Park, the person who was hit said and video provided to The News Tribune showed. They also claimed officers were present earlier in the day as they set up their event at People’s Park.
Haddow, the Tacoma police spokesperson, said she was not aware of any notice the department received about the protest in advance or the issuance of a permit.
Officers may block traffic if a protest obstructs an intersection or in order to allow demonstrators to move to a sidewalk, she said.
“We attempt to keep them safe, and if that’s blocking off traffic then that’s what we do,” Haddow said. She added, “It just depends on the amount of traffic, the time of day, and the officers available.”
Haddow said officers would not have documented blocking traffic if protesters dispersed and moved out of the roadway.
“We still kept on,” the organizer who was hit by the driver said. “We were able to recenter in our purpose in being there and take up space in the community.”
The organizer said they have had to call out of work this week due to the pain and inability to use their arm.
“The moment I wake up I start feeling pain,” they told The News Tribune.
TAC said community members were able to track the plate of the car that hit the organizer to a local woman and sent the information to the police by email.
“I tried to put in a police report online and you can’t do that,” said the person who was hit, who added they left a voicemail after talking to a receptionist.
“Y’all are tweeting about it saying you’re investigating but you haven’t reached out to me or TAC,” they added.
Haddow said investigators had not spoken with the organizer who was hit or the officer who reported the protest as of 4:30 p.m.
Scott, the TAC organizer, said people of color face impossible standards when seeking justice.
“This is why we say things like defund the police, redirect money,” she said. “Even when we do call them, nothing happens. And then they witness something and nothing happens.
“Do you have to be asked to do your job?” Scott asked.
Tacoma police have asked that anyone with information about the incident contact Officer J. Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org.