Amherst BLM protest targeted by swerving car, triggers racist social media posts

Jul 31, 2020

Threats of violence made on social media followed in the wake of a Black Lives Matter demonstration and march in the Town of Amherst that partially blocked traffic on major roads Thursday evening.

The group of about 50 to 70 demonstrators also encountered at least one car that swerved toward the crowd, which was documented on social media.

A video screenshot shows a man leaning out of a car that swerved toward a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators on Transit Road in Amherst on Thursday, July 30.
Credit Video courtesy of Jennifer Page, used with permission

Multiple videos posted online captured the vehicle accelerating toward the crowd as a white man leans out of the window and holds up both of his middle fingers. The car appears to narrowly miss hitting any demonstrators, though other accounts on social media said the car did strike "several peaceful protestors" at one point.

The same vehicle can also be seen bumping into an Amherst Police Officer as it tries to drive out of the crowd in one video posted on Facebook. The car was then pursued down the street by demonstrators and its windshield was damaged, allegedly also by people involved in the march.

Amherst Assistant Police Chief Charles Cohen said that while the protest was an “inconvenience” for motorists and his police force, he does not condone the vitriolic social media comments that were posted in the aftermath of the march, many in the comments section on the original video posts.

No arrests were made Thursday, according to Cohen. "Identifying a suspect on either side would be pretty problematic,"  the assistant chief told WBFO's Kyle Mackie. "If there's something to folow up on we will follow up on it."

A late Thursday evening police statement about the protest said, "A large group of individuals began to march down several of the streets in town. Amherst Police monitored the situation and aided with traffic control." The statement made no mention of any arrests or the incident with the car, captured on video.

Cohen referred to the incident as a "minor hit-and-run" in his Friday conversation with WBFO but added, "if we can identify a suspect and lay charges we will."

WARNING: Video includes graphic language

“If that driver actually did continue to drive into us, he would have drove into me as well,” said Jennifer Page, who captured one of the videos. “That was really scary. Using your car as a weapon is like a form of terrorism. We were there safely, peacefully protesting police brutality against the Black community and their reaction is to use their car as a weapon? That’s why we’re out there marching.”

Page also said that several other cars sped close to the group and yelled at demonstrators throughout the course of the march, as another one of her videos shows.

The fact that the protest partially blocked traffic, as well as the damaged windshield, triggered dozens of hateful social media posts aimed at the demonstrators, including threats of violence.

A sampling of the posts

  

  

Cohen said taking any of the actions described in the comments would be "unlawful conduct."

"That’s inciting violence. That can’t be condoned."

Page, the activist who captured the video, said the abuse and hateful comments sparked by Thursday’s protest show that more demonstrations in support of Black lives are needed in the Buffalo suburbs.

"I definitely think that we will be hitting the suburbs more. It just needs to be—it needs to be said out there."