Hold those who tread on our freedom accountable
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnis
Most mornings, I drive to work.
Most other Californians do the same.
We know our cars can be dangerous, so we use turn signals and follow the speed limits and yield to pedestrians. We purchase insurance and wear seat belts; decry drunk driving and mourn when accidents take lives.
When cars are used as weapons, there are no “accidents.” So what do we call it then?
In New York this past week, a man who apparently followed an ISIS how-to guide drove into a crowd, killing eight and injuring more. The press is calling it terrorism.
In Charlottesville in August, a white supremacist barreled into a crowd of protestors, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring others. Some called it a hate crime. Others said there were “two sides.”
In Orange County last week, a car pushed through a group of mostly Latino families protesting outside Congressman Ed Royce’s office, sending several to a nearby hospital with minor injuries.
Officials won’t even call it a crime.
Police briefly took the 56-year-old driver, identified as Daniel Wenzek, into custody. Then they let him go, and it’s unclear whether charges will be filed.
Make no mistake, all three of these acts involve the use of a car as a weapon—a weapon to protest against, to retaliate against, to intimidate, and ultimately to silence those with whom the driver disagrees.
When someone uses a weapon against a group of people—whether it’s a car or a firearm—they must be held accountable. Especially when the attack threatens our democratic rights.
It is true that the Orange County example thankfully didn’t involve any deaths—and maybe it wasn’t Wenzek’s intention to take any lives. But his actions threatened lives, causing one brave woman to jump onto the hood of the vehicle in an attempt to slow it down before it continued into children in its path.
And it’s worth noting that the protest was part of a coordinated effort led by the union UNITE HERE in 40 cities nationally. Yet the only act of violence associated with this national effort took place in Orange County.
This should be a wake-up call to us all.
Our nation’s values have been forged through acts of peaceful protest. Children read about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in history books to see the power of protest to shine a light on inequality, to challenge the status quo, and to bend the arc of the universe toward justice. But we remain a work in progress.
The families who participated in the Orange County protest were exercising their rights, urging Congressman Royce to protect a program that allows those who have arrived in our country to remain here legally because hurricanes, floods, violence and other disasters have made their homelands uninhabitable. The Temporary Protected Status program is currently being considered for elimination, threatening the livelihoods and futures of 100s of thousands of families nationally.
So what kind of message does it send to these families when they’re attacked while exercising their democratic rights, and then nobody is held accountable? Why are some people held accountable, while others aren’t?
As a community, we must send a message loud and clear that we support American values, which means we support the democratic right of everyone in this country to stand together in protest. And that we will not tolerate any attempt to frighten, intimidate, injure or kill any person who is exercising those rights.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: November 3, 2017