Valerie Lindsey was protesting with a small crowd in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on Monday evening when a white sedan rolled up to an intersection partly blocked by activists enraged by the police killing of a local Black man.
Lindsey, who is Black, told The Daily Beast that the driver of that vehicle, 41-year-old Lisa Michelle O’Quinn, rolled down her window and said that if members of the Elizabeth City Police Department, who were guarding the procession, were not present, the protesters “would not be safe.”
Lindsey added that, when she and two other protesters came closer to O’Quinn’s car to confront her, O’Quinn, who is white, uttered racial slurs, including the n-word. Two other witnesses to the incident confirmed that slurs were uttered.
“She said it freely,” Lindsey told The Daily Beast.
Then, police say, O’Quinn drove her car into protesters, sending two of them—including Lindsey—to the hospital. The incident appeared to be just the latest instance of white reactionaries deliberately targeting racial-justice protesters, a brutal and grim hallmark of unrest in the George Floyd protest era.
And it came just hours before the anniversary of Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.
“I really feel like we were targeted,” Deshawn Morris, 41, whose wife Michelle was the other protester allegedly struck by O’Quinn, told The Daily Beast.
O’Quinn was arrested on Monday and charged with two felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill by the use of a motor vehicle and one count of careless and reckless and one count of unsafe movement. She could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, and it was unclear if she was being represented by an attorney.
She has not been charged with a hate crime, though the Elizabeth City Police Department said in a press release that they would be investigating possible hate-crime charges. Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble, who has been the subject of protester ire for declining to press charges against the county Sheriff’s deputies who shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man, as he fled being served a warrant last month, did not respond to requests for comment.
While police said O’Quinn struck Lindsey and Michelle Morris, 42, witnesses told The Daily Beast that a third person, Joshua Grooten, was also hit by her car a short distance away.
Grooten, 27, said he often rides his bikes along the sides of planned protest routes to help keep cars from entering permitted processions. He said a police car was riding ahead of the procession on Monday and that an officer made sure O’Quinn was completely stopped at an intersection before the protesters walked by chanting.
Grooten, who is white, said he heard O’Quinn saying that without police, the group would not be safe, and saw the tense exchange between O’Quinn, Lindsey, and others, though he could not hear it. He said that after O’Quinn drove through Lindsey and Morris, he put his bike in her path to stop her and she hit the brakes just short of hitting him, slightly bending his bike. He said O’Quinn told him to move after nearly hitting him, but said he only got out of the way when an Elizabeth City police officer asked him to do so.
Witnesses said they had no doubt about why the collision took place.
“That’s premeditated,” Deshawn Morris told The Daily Beast. “There is no doubt about that at all. She meant to do exactly what she did.”
He added that because O’Quinn allegedly used slurs and drove her car toward Black protesters, he believed hate-crime charges would be fitting.
According to witnesses and videos from the scene viewed by The Daily Beast, after O’Quinn hit Lindsey and Morris, an Elizabeth City police officer told protesters to move out of the way and let her through, angering them. “They just wanted to let her go,” Morris said. The Elizabeth City Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Grooten and other witnesses said that after O’Quinn sped away, she was stopped quickly by another police vehicle and arrested.
According to the Elizabeth City Police Department, O’Quinn was being held in the Albemarle District Jail with a bond set at $40,000. A spokesperson for the Albemarle District Jail told The Daily Beast that O’Quinn was still incarcerated as of Tuesday evening.
Lindsey said she was treated in the hospital and released with no life-threatening injuries. Morris said his wife was also released from the hospital but was still in pain and sore on one side of her body.
She’s also shaken up mentally. “She got hit by a car,” he said.
Morris, who said he grew up with Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City and has been protesting since his death in April, said the incident would not deter protesters from continuing to take to the streets.
He added that although no charges had been filed against the officers who shot and killed Brown—the FBI was still conducting a civil rights probe into the case—protesters weren’t even close to finished. And attacks like the one on Monday were not going to stop them.
“We just don’t have any faith at all in our top officials,” he told The Daily Beast. “We just need to put people in positions that are going to work for everybody.”