A North Carolina man wanted for allegedly ramming his car into Black Lives Matter supporters during a demonstration in East Tennessee on Saturday has surrendered to authorities after spending two days at large.
Jared Benjamin Lafer, 27, was charged Monday with one count of aggravated assault after cellphone video allegedly captured him striking the demonstrators with his SUV in Johnson City and then driving off.
Lafer, of Bakersville, turned himself over to authorities on Monday and was released on a $20,000 bond, the Johnson City Police Department said.
Video shared on social media shows the SUV stopped in front of several pedestrians at a crosswalk before the vehicle abruptly accelerates, visibly knocking one man to the ground. The vehicle continues to drive off.
One of the pedestrians was taken to a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries sustained in the incident, authorities said. 5 News Online reported that the injured man suffered two broken legs.
Similar violent scenes involving vehicles and pedestrians have been seen across the country in recent weeks as demonstrations promoting social justice continue in protests to the killings or wounding of unarmed Black Americans by police.
One review of vehicle-ramming incidents across the country between late May and early July counted 72 such incidents.
“They’re trying to intimidate the most recent wave of BLM protesters, to stop their movement,” Ari Weil, a terrorism researcher at the University of Chicago who has been tallying the incidents, told Washington, D.C., station WAMU, referring to the drivers of the vehicles.
“There’s an online meme culture around driving through protesters,” Weil told Denver magazine 5280. “I would contend that it makes it easier for someone to go through with it if they’re joking about it online.”
In an incident that gained national attention in the summer of 2017, a man drove his car into a crowd of people counter-protesting a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one woman and injuring more than two dozen other people. The vehicle’s driver, James Alex Fields Jr., had attended the rally with other white nationalists and neo-Nazis who were opposed to the city removing a confederate statue. He was sentenced to life in prison on federal hate crime charges last year.