A Car Drove Into Immigration Protestors Demonstrating Outside A GOP Congressman's Office
SEIU United Service Workers helped organize a march for immigrant rights on Thursday in Brea, California, and during the demonstration, a man reportedly drove his car through the crowd of immigration protesters. In the aftermath, there has been disagreement between police and union officials over what intentions motivated the alleged driver, Daniel Wenzek; he was arrested and later released pending investigation on charges of assault with a deadly weapon.
In a statement, SEIU President David Huerta said the six people who were hospitalized after the car entered the crowd were "victims of what appears to be a deliberate and hateful crime while exercising their civil rights, when a car plowed into a crowd of families, seniors, and children." However, law enforcement does not agree with that immediate conclusion.
"I think he was trying to get through the crowd," Lt. Adam Hawley told the AP. "We don't have any indication he was trying to harm somebody."
The march occurred outside of Rep. Ed Royce's office, with the goal of persuading the Republican to support an immigration program, Temporary Protective Services (TPS), that impacts citizens of several South American countries. Rep. Royce's office said in a statement to Bustle that "Representative Royce condemns in the strongest possible terms any and all violence," and Royce and his staff "remain committed to meeting with all constituents who wish to voice their opinions in a civil and respectful manner."
Wenzek, 56, has a previous criminal record. In 2006, Wenzek was found guilty of "lewd acts" committed against a minor under the age of 14. He served three years in prison, and was released in 2009.
Video of the incident involving Thursday's protest shows Weznek's car entering an intersection blocked by protesters. Loud and consistent honking accompany his slow progression through the crowd. Several protesters can be seen banging on his windows, and one of them jumps onto the hood of the car. But Weznek continues driving until stopped by a group of police officers.
Many of the protesters shown in the video appear visibly shaken. Andrew Cohen — a spokesman for one of the unions that helped organize the protest march, Unite Here Local 11, which represents workers in the hotel, restaurant, and airport industries — spoke with CBS Los Angeles about their reaction. "I think a lot of people have Charlottesville on their minds," he said.
Cohen was referring the deadly attack in August on a group of counter-protesters in Charlotessville, Virginia. As a crowd of anti-fascist demonstrators gathered in opposition to a Neo-Nazi rally scheduled for the same day, a young man allegedly purposefully drove his car into them, killing one woman, Heather Heyer. There were 19 others injured.
Cohen went on to detail the timeline of Thursday's protest in Brea. After beginning the march in Los Angeles, protesters "boarded buses to deliver handwritten notes to Congressman Royce's office with the hope of pushing Royce to preserve TPS, but also to create a permanent solution," Cohen said. But after Royce's staff refused to meet with the group, they "led a march that took over the intersection right by his office." Cohen went on to refer to Weznek as an "irate driver."
Cohen called the incident "pretty terrifying," but noted that none of the protesters were seriously injured, despite six being taken to the hospital for evaluation.
The use of a motor vehicle to harm protesters is one that has been occurring with alarming frequency. Besides Charlottesville, there have been instances in St. Louis and several cities in Europe. And some right-wing outlets came under fire in 2015 for seeming to promote the idea of running over protesters. Both the conservative website The Daily Caller and Fox News were pressured into pulling down a video that not only seemed to make light of a car plowing through a crowd of people, but to even encourage such an act as an acceptable one. Fox News suggested viewers "study the technique."
The legal system will now decide what fate awaits Weznek for driving his car through a group of protesters.
More to come...