The Other Thing about the Saint Paul Cop “Run Them Over” Story

[Demonstration on I-35W from December 2014.]
Thank god for whoever who volunteers for the surely horrible task of reading through racist comment threads on Facebook looking for police aliases.

You probably already heard about this story: Twin Cities #blacklivesmatter plan a Martin Luther King Jr. Day demonstration involving the Lake/Marshall bridge joining Minneapolis and Saint Paul. It’s a demonstration on a day devoted to Martin Luther King Jr., who (you know) fought against police violence his whole life and was assassinated.

And it was taking place on a bridge that has been a place of public demonstration for years (the anti-war movement has held an anti-war demonstration on this bridge ever Wednesday evening, without fail, for over ten years; that’s over 500 demonstrations).

Then there's this advice, from a Saint Paul cop:

[The Facebook post.]

There are a couple obvious things about this story. First, that the Police Union is the spearhead of white supremacy and racism in the Twin Cities. (See also, Bob Kroll.) This kind of attitude isn’t just tolerated, but rewarded by police unions; Rothecker was an elected representative of the Fraternal Order of Police. The whole thing is beyond the pale, but completely believable if you've been following the Jamar Clark story unfolding in North Minneapolis.

Second, the struggle for the right to demonstrate on streets, freeways, and other public places is a crucial and effective tactic for #blacklivesmatter (or any other movement). Many people in power would like demonstrations to be held “over there,” away from the circuits of our everyday lives, in places like Government Plaza after hours or the special “free speech zones” penned off in far away parking lots. But the ability of social movements to affect change depends on reaching past these marginal spaces and laying claim to the larger city, the malls, freeways, light rail tracks, and streets that form the real conduits of society.

And, you know, this happened once before. There's an actual video of a driver running over people in a Minneapolis protest following Ferguson from a year ago.

Here's a description from the report:
Rice’s encounter with the demonstrators unfolded within a few steps of the Police Department’s Third Precinct headquarters, and much of it was captured on a Star Tribune video. Additional video from KSTP-TV shows that Rice paused behind a vehicle stopped in front of him, then steered to the right around that vehicle and drove slowly into the crowd blocking the intersection. There were three people on the hood of his car as he knocked down the girl.

No charges filed.

[Police initially listed the driver as the "victim".]

The Vehicle of Violence

[An Andy Singer cartoon.]
But here’s one more thing. Consider the role of the automobile as a machine for violence.

After saying “run them over,” this long-time cop went on to explain, in some detail, how you could get away with it:
Continue to drive... make sure to call 911 to report the accident and meet the cops a block or two away... Since they are trying to block the street and/or cross where there is no crossing you should not be charged with anything. Now, these idiots could try and sue you in civil court, but remember that it will be jury trial and so most likely it will come out in your favor.
This statement, coming from an officer of the law, isn’t just about racism and bigotry. It’s also reveals the often-unstated way that police condone the everyday violence of cars. The cop literally states that, if you follow these simple steps, you can run over people with your car and “you should not be charged.”

This is important because pedestrian, transit, and bicycle activists have for a long time been trying to change the dynamics around blame and enforcement when it comes to crossing the street. But it’s very difficult because a driver has merely to say, “Sorry officer, I didn't see them there” and unless it’s a hit-and-run or drunk driving is involved, nobody will press charges.

In New York City, the writers at StreetsblogNYC have been waging a media campaign for years to try and get the NY Police Department and prosecutors to actually press charges for vehicular violence, but with very little to show for it.

This isn't to minimize the key dynamics of the story. The larger systemic problem around race and police is still the main issue, and still very much an unresolved question in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

But, in addition to outing himself as a vehement racist, Rothecker, a cop encouraging the injuring or murder of peaceful protesters, also reveals how cars have become vehicles of violence without consequence.