Rogers died, one of more than 6,200 people killed after being shot by police since 2015, according to The Washington Post’s database of such incidents. Of those, nearly 300 of the shootings involved a similar rationale: Law enforcement officials were responding to the threat of a suspect driving a vehicle. Sometimes the officers were in their own vehicles. Sometimes they were not. Every state except five has had an incident in the past six years in which a person was fatally shot by police after a vehicle was perceived as a danger.
We’ve identified three particular states on the above map: Iowa, Oklahoma and Florida. In those three states, a total of more than 30 such incidents have occurred since 2015, including Rogers’s death. (Some incidents in which the precise location couldn’t be shown are not included on the map.) In other words, there have been more than two dozen incidents in those three states in which police have fatally shot someone after the individual allegedly drove at them in a vehicle.
We have highlighted those incidents in those states because each state has also recently passed a law reducing the penalties that people might face for striking protesters with their vehicles.
In Iowa, a section of a bill passed by the state House would “grant civil immunity to drivers of vehicles who injure someone who is blocking traffic while engaging in disorderly conduct or participating in a protest, demonstration, riot or unlawful assembly without a permit,” according to the Des Moines Register.
The floor manager for the legislation, state Rep. Jarad Klein (R), said during the debate over the bill that it was born of having “listened to our courageous heroes in law enforcement.”
In Oklahoma, the bill is narrowly tailored to offer new protections to drivers. It protects a driver from criminal penalties if he or she “unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual” in circumstances where the driver is “fleeing from a riot” and “under a reasonable belief that fleeing was necessary to protect the motor vehicle operator from serious injury or death.”
In some ways, states are applying the same logic to cars that they apply to firearms: Use one to defend yourself in a moment of crisis and it’s okay. Aim it at a police officer and you risk being shot to death. But that invites an extension of the analogy. A Rand Corp. study found that states with “stand your ground” laws allowing residents to use firearms in self-defense were states that had more firearm homicides. Allowing people to use guns to kill in some circumstances correlated with more people using guns to kill.
The laws in Iowa, Florida and Oklahoma are ostensibly meant to differentiate between the good guys — drivers — and the bad guys — threatening protesters. That’s the same differentiation police use in shooting incidents, but in reverse: They’re the good guys, and the individuals driving toward them are the bad guys. The clarity of the line blurs when considering how context-dependent the situations are. Should we assume that a Black man driving through a pro-Second Amendment demonstration would have his motivations evaluated in the same way as a White man driving through a Black Lives Matter protest?
Oklahoma’s new law followed an incident in Tulsa in which a man at the wheel of a truck pulling a horse trailer drove through protesters who were blocking a highway. Three people were injured, including a man who was left paralyzed. State Sen. Rob Standridge (R) defended the legislation by citing that incident, claiming that, while he supported protesters, “if they start beating up on people’s cars” or attacking drivers, “those innocent citizens need a way to get out.”
“If things come to Oklahoma like have been happening” — that is, protests elsewhere in the country — “this will protect some folks,” he said.
As NPR reports, the Tulsa district attorney chose not to press charges against the driver, citing the fear the driver felt for himself and his family members who were with him. That result does tend to diminish the perceived need for similar legal protections.
It’s hard not to assume that the legislation will encourage drivers to try to force their way through crowds. Not that they need much encouragement: Last summer, USA Today reported that there had been “at least 104 incidents of people driving vehicles into protests from May 27 through Sept. 5,” largely at protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Of those, eight incidents, such as one in Brooklyn captured on video last year, were ones in which police officers were doing the driving.