Occupy DC: Are Police Giving Koch Allies the "Green Light" to Run Over Protesters?

Update: Police and Occupy DC protesters are offering sharply divergent accounts over the protesters hit by a car during Friday's protest at a Koch brothers event, prompting a march on police headquarters Monday demanding a thorough investigation.

The conservative Washington Times reports:

Protesters say police refused to arrest a Maryland man for striking multiple demonstrators with his car Friday night and did not collect witness statements from at least two of the victims. Police dispute the protesters' account, with Chief [Cathy] Lanier saying demonstrators have become "increasingly confrontational and violent toward uninvolved bystanders and motorists."

A police spokesman over the weekend also remarked that the protesters hit by the car were "drunk diving" on to the car, a seemingly groundless claim not backed up by either videos or eyewitnesses.

Yet two of the protesters hit by the car and eyewitnesses gave their a sharply contrasting version of events before the police showed up for their own news conference on Saturday. They also complained that the police had declined by that point to take the victims' and some eyewitness statements:

Following another press conference and a march on police headquarters Monday , where they were blocked from entering the building, the Occupy DC movement released a statement:

Today we proved that there were two hit-and-runs by one driver against people protesting the big corporations that ruined our economy and corrupted our democracy. The statement by Chief [Cathy] Lanier was false and timed to distract from the fact that we proved today that statements given by police to the public about last Friday's two hit-and-run incidents have been consistently false.

There is no evidence to show that protesters directly caused any injuries to anyone. The injuries cited by police were perpetrated by others against peaceful Occupy DC protesters - making today's police statement all the more dishonest.

UPDATE: Protesters from Occupy DC dispute the police's version of events, and launched a protest action Monday over claims that the driver didn't violate any laws when he hit two groups of protesters because he merely went through a "green light." On the Occupy DC website, activists contend:

According to the D.C. police, the driver will not be charged "because he had a green light when his vehicle struck the three on Friday night." To the contrary, there are no traffic lights at all at the scene of the first hit. Above all, a green light does not give anyone the right to drive into a person with their car.

The only green light we see here is the one giving people the right to attack peaceful, non-violent protesters of a system run by the wealthy elite at the expense of true democracy. Last night the police state told us that it is not a crime to attack peaceful protesters with vehicles.

The Associated Press quotes one pedestrian victim challenging the police notion that she and her child jumped on the car that ran them down:

Lt. Christopher Micciche said witnesses told police that the three pedestrians "either ran toward or jumped in front of the moving vehicle." He said one pedestrian jumped on the hood of the car.

But the demonstrators said that wasn't true.

Heidi Sippel of Vandalia, Ohio, said that she, her 13-year-old son and her wife Brandy Sippel were taking part in the demonstration when a silver Lexus sped toward them. The driver slowed down, threw up his hands in apparent frustration and then drove forward, hitting them, she said. Brandy Sippel, who is six months pregnant, was grazed by the car's rearview mirror. Heidi Sippel said she and her son were both hit by the front of the car.

"He just threw his hands up and hit the gas," Heidi Sippel said of the driver.


WASHINGTON - District of Columbia authorities say a car drove through a crowd near an Occupy DC protest and struck three people.

D.C. fire department spokesman Lon Walls said Saturday morning that the three were transported to two area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. He said none was in critical condition but that some injuries were "fairly serious..."

Fox 5 reported that the vehicle struck two people, kept driving, and then struck a third person. Police said the accident victims were all conscious.

TPM's Josh Marshall and other bloggers updated the story with some local news video of one of the victims:

D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells reported on his twitter feed: "Driver was not let go. Stopped further up and in custody. MPD will test for blood alcohol etc and determine next steps."

Social media, especially twitter and u-stream, featured photos and video of the protests and response to the apparent hit-and run. The driver in this video appears to be let go by police, but Wells and other accounts indicate he was put into custody.

A photo of one of the injured victims was soon uploaded by photographer Craig Hudson.

The Washington Post local news blog reported that about 500 people blocked intersections surrounding the Washington D.C. Convention center, preventing cars from entering and leaving.

In this jerky cell-phone video, you can see about the 23 minute mark, the crowd reaction to the injured protesters and EMS workers arriving to help, then at the 25 minute mark, angry protesters surrounding the car and are being urged to step back by police. At the 35 minute mark, protesters use the "mic check" crowd chant to challenge police procedures, and a bit later, to demand the police arrest the driver.

The #occupydc twitter feed offered a steady stream of news, photos and rumors all night. The group's latest general assembly meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at McPherson Square in Washington, D.C -- and they should have plenty to talk about as they plan their next actions.

In the days ahead, despite the anger, one question is: Will the Occupy DC movement be able to remain non-violent as it has? Or will fringe, extremist elements -- or undercover agents provocateur -- seek to incite violence that could reduce public support for the Occupy Wall Street movement as they did in Oakland? As Salon's Steven Kornacki points out:

Let's try to make sense of this. A new national survey from Quinnipiac University suggests that popularity for the Occupy Wall Street movement is plummeting, with 39 percent of voters now saying they have an unfavorable view of the movement, compared to just 30 percent who have a favorable one. At the same time, a new CNN poll finds that voters agree with OWS by a 2-to-1 margin, 36 to 19 percent.

Which one is right?

They both may be, and the explanation (as is often the case) can be found in the wording of the questions... Each question seems to be getting at something different. Quinnipiac's tight wording seems designed to focus respondents on the specific protests they've probably been watching on television and seeing pictures of on newspaper front pages. CNN's seems broader, testing attitudes not just about the literal protests but about the ideas behind them.

Violence linked to the protesters -- even if hyped and distorted by the mainstream media -- could undermine the movement's support. As Michael Moore warned recently on The Rachel Maddow Show, at the 10-minute mark: , "If you see someone trying to incite violence, start with the assumption that that person is... undercover homeland security or a cop or whatever, because this is the history of America, where those in charge have tried to ignite people, incite them to commit acts of violence. I tell them, don't be incited. Just assume right away that person is not part of the Occupy movement if that's what they're calling on people to do."

The strategic challenge ahead for Occupy DC , and the rest of the Occupy Wall Street movement, is how to harness the outrage over inequality and crony capitalism they've sparked to build a movement that can lead to real change and long overdue reforms -- like the "Robin Hood" financial transaction tax they've championed, along with Bill Gates and the Pope -- without falling prey to a relatively few extremists among them who could destroy what they're seeking to build.

The G-20 international conference rejected the tax on Friday, in part because of U.S. -- read Tim Geithner's -- opposition to it.

So the worldwide Occupy movements still appear to be essential for genuine reforms that could rein in the excesses of corporate greed. But Jon Stewart underscored the risk any vandalism and violence could pose, after the Oakland incidents that also featured police violence: "If this thing turns into throwing trashcans at Starbucks, no one will be down with that... You will always be judged by your worst elements":