There's a still from an Indianapolis Black Lives Matter march going around, and on the face of it, it's shocking stuff: two men armed with handguns are standing in the road, in front of a pickup truck they have apparently stopped. It's usually accompanied by some outrage-inducing text, and on Facebook or blogs, it brings forth a long string of posturing comments about "driving through."
There are a number of problems with this narrative. Oh, the photo is real enough; it's from a video, a minute or so in. The video puts things in better context.
Everyone involved is in the wrong, including the driver of the truck. The march appears have been done without a parade permit; the marchers seem to have stopped in front of the studios of at least two local TV stations,* blocking traffic while making statements a bullhorn about a recent police shooting. While Indianapolis doesn't have a jaywalking ordnance,† they do have one about "obstructing traffic." It's a misdemeanor.
Some background for the video: the segment with the truck happened on Meridian, between 12th and 11th streets, where the elevated portion of the "inner loop" freeway crosses overhead. The camera points West/Southwest most of the time. Protesters/marchers appear to have fully blocked the street near the 11th St. intersection. When we first see it, the truck is moving South -- in a Northbound lane. So something has already happened.
I have been driving through this intersection almost every work day for over thirty years; I have lived in this neighborhood and one of my work locations is nearby. At one point, I was parking in a lot North of 12th and walking a block and a half to work. I know the area at least as well as I know the street in front of my house.
There is a man holding a handgun at "low ready" in front of the truck, and he is quickly joined by another person doing the same thing. Indiana has no "brandishing" law; it's a felony to point a gun at someone but having a gun in your hand is not per se illegal. (There are many situations in which it's a damn stupid idea, however, and I think this is one of them.)
As the scene develops, the conflict appears to be that the people with guns (and others near them them) want the truck to turn around and leave, while the driver makes several attempts to go forward and towards the group blocking Meridian Street, including crossing to the Southbound lanes; eventually the driver turns the truck around and heads back North.
Take the politics out of this -- you or I are driving our nice blue truck, maybe down Meridian, maybe headed West on 12th and turning South, when we realize there are people all across the street, doing something, We slow down and see they've got the street blocked and people are holding signs. There we were, on our way to [generic location] and they have the street filled up with some kind of a protest! They're telling us to turn around. One of them's got a gun.
You make the call! Do we:
A: Get the hell out of there, pronto,
B: Keep trying to press forward.
If you picked B for any reason, you're a fool. Don't think people ought to be in the street? Call the police; clearing them out is not something one person in a truck can accomplish.
I keep seeing commenters complaining, "But they've got no right..." Indeed, they almost certainly have no right at all to do what they're doing in the way they are doing it; but there they are, lots of them, and there is one of you. A couple of them are armed, and you have a truck. You can certainly both manage to injure or even kill one another, and then what next? You're definitely not going to get wherever you were going.
In this kind of encounter -- in any kind of encounter with large groups of people doing unexpected things, or with armed people -- your goal is to survive, as intact as possible. This is real life, not an action movie, and no matter how badass you are, no matter how justified you think you might be to take action against them, if flight is available then fleeing is the best course of action. It exposes you to the least immediate risk, and it exposes you to the least short- and long-term risk of negative outcomes from threatening or harming others.
Look, I get that it's not at all satisfying to your ego -- but neither is getting shot in the face through your own windshield. For that matter, no matter how much you may loath the other person's politics, if you run someone over with your car, you will be tangling with the criminal justice system over it, and that's costly even if you don't face charges, more costly if you are charged and found not guilty, and life-changingly bad if you are found guilty of even the lightest charge.
Even worse, by engaging the crowd in a way that implies your errand is more important than the risk to their lives from your driving through the crowd, you are confirming their narrative: your behavior tells them their lives don't matter to you. You are, in fact, making things worse for everyone.
There's a public-safety campaign about avoiding flooded streets that uses a simple slogan, one that applies even when the street is flooded with people: Turn around and live.
Didn't you have something do that was more important than street theater?
* Good luck with that, kids: due to coronavirus precautions, there are no more than four of five people in those TV station buildings, none of whom is allowed to conduct outside interviews. Field crews edit on their laptop computers and send in video over the Internet or by cellular-phone links. Most of them haven't been anywhere in their station's building for months except for the lobby, to swap out broken equipment.
† Typical of Indiana law, it works the other way around: you can cross the street anywhere you like, but the only place where pedestrians are preemptively given the right-of-way is in a marked crosswalk.
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