Downtown Belleville protester injured after truck tries to drive through march
A protester participating in a march against police violence in downtown Belleville Saturday was injured after she fell off the back of a pickup truck that had driven through the group.
A second protester declined medical treatment and police were investigating whether the truck clipped her while driving through the intersection of East Main and North High streets, Belleville Police Chief Matt Eiskant said.
Two people have been arrested, Eiskant confirmed from the scene.
J.D. Dixon, a local activist who ran as a write-in candidate for Belleville mayor in 2021, was one of the protest’s organizers. About 30 marchers rallied in protest of the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old man who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers in January.
“We’re having two different sides here,” Eiskant said of Saturday’s incident. “We’re having witnesses saying that the vehicle drove through and clipped the young lady and we have other witnesses state a totally different story.”
A Belleville News-Democrat reporter covering the Saturday’s march witnessed the events that led to the woman’s injuries.
Protesters were marching north on High Street and they stopped at the intersection of East Main Street shortly before 1 p.m. when one of the protesters yelled “occupy.” Shortly after that, a westbound gray pickup truck on East Main Street attempted a right-hand turn onto North High Street. Some of the protesters attempted to block the truck by surrounding it and pushing back against the front bumper.
The truck’s driver continued forward slowly until the protesters backed away, but a younger woman held onto the rear tailgate as the truck continued on North High Street between East Main and East A streets. She fell off after a short distance and landed on the pavement as the truck continued away from the scene.
Police and ambulance crews arrived and she was transported to a hospital. The extent of her injuries are not known but Eiskant said she was alert and conscious. Before the ambulance arrived, she asked the protesters who were comforting her whether anyone else was hurt.
A second truck, which was serving as an escort vehicle for the protesters, pursued the other pickup and rammed into it according to witnesses, Eiskant said. No one was injured in the collision but both drivers were arrested in the area of North Douglas Avenue and East C Street, he said.
No charges have been filed as of 2 p.m. Saturday.
“This is what systemic racism is,” Dixon said. “We’re out here exercising our constitutional rights to protest, and this racist individual used his vehicle to enact violence on a peaceful protest. That’s what happened.”
The demonstration continued for about an hour following the incident as protesters marched west down East Main Street to the Public Square, where the protest ended about 2 p.m..
The group began protesting before noon on the Public Square. They then marched east down East Main Street at about 12:30 p.m., turned right onto Charles Street, right onto Garfield Street and then right onto High Street where they continued to the intersection of High and East Main streets when one of the protesters shouted “occupy” shortly before 1 p.m.
While the group was marching on Garfield Street, one person standing about 80 yards from the protesters made an obscene gesture toward the group. Earlier in the protest, motorists had honked their horns as they passed by the protesters on the Public Square.
The group shouted “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace” as they marched. One of their signs read, “The people demand: End police terror.”
Nicole Nelson, a protester who is from University City, Missouri, said motorists were “patient” when encountering the protesters in Belleville but she criticized the driver of the truck that approached the group at the intersection of East Main and North High streets.
“I honestly thought once they started that line barricade with people that he would respect what we were doing in this moment but to see him literally try to run them over, that was kind of traumatizing to me,” Nelson said.
Body camera and surveillance footage of Nichols’ beating was released last week, sparking protests across the country. Six officers from the Memphis Police Department have been fired for their roles in the beating, and five have been charged with second-degree murder and other crimes.
Nichols, a Black motorist who died after a confrontation with the Memphis officers during a traffic stop on Jan. 7, was a FedEx employee, The Associated Press reported.
Each of the officers arrested in connection with Nichols’ death are Black and they each face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression, the AP reported.
The sixth police officer, who is white, was fired from the department on Friday, according to ABC News.