What would you do if you are driving down the street and suddenly surrounded by angry protesters? Let’s imagine you were totally unaware of your surroundings and now you are in the thick of it, unable to reverse or retreat. This is a question posed to me time and time again as protesters and rioters shut down highways and neighborhood streets, trapping innocent people in their cars. Actually, being a firearm instructor the question is often phrased, “Can I shoot a protester if they trap me in my vehicle?” Let’s talk about what you can do if you ever find yourself in this precarious situation.
Because I am not a lawyer, I can not give legal advice. I can only tell you what I might do if I ever find myself in this situation. As always, consult with your criminal defense attorney.
Whenever we play the “what if” game it comes down to the affirmative defense triad of ability, opportunity, and intent to cause immediate death or great bodily harm. If all three things are not present, the use of lethal force is not justified. That is, in a split second you must decide;
Do these protesters have the ability to cause me death or great bodily harm. Do these protesters have bricks, bats, or other weapons? Is the disparity of force, that is their sheer numbers, enough to cause me death or great bodily harm?
Do these protesters have the opportunity to cause me death or great bodily harm? If they have no weapons, but they have a disparity of force, you are safe until they open the door or break a window. The window prevents opportunity against unarmed attackers. However, if they have bricks or bats, they could easily break your windows. Do they have an immediate opportunity, or is there a barrier between you and the angry protesters?
Do the protesters have the intent to cause immediate death or great bodily harm? The intent is demonstrated through words and actions. Are they surrounding your vehicle telling you to stop but displaying no other threatening actions? Perhaps someone is laying in the road ahead which is why they want you to stop. Are they beating on your car, yelling and screaming? Are they pulling on your door handles trying to rip open the doors? Would the actions and the words of the protesters lead a reasonable person (read: judge or jury) to conclude the same as you did?
Let us assume that in this split second that you’ve been surrounded you’ve decided without a shadow of a doubt that your life is in immediate danger. Let’s assume that you have answered yes to all three questions regarding ability, opportunity, and intent. Now, what do you do to defend your life against these angry protesters?
If you recall I mentioned the question is often phrased “can I shoot?”. My answer is usually, “Why would you shoot?” I mean that seriously. Why would you shoot? Again, this is not legal advice, but if I felt my life were in danger, I would simply accelerate the vehicle, if possible. The most prudent course of action may simply be to press on the gas, if possible. The vehicle can be a lethal weapon, the same as a gun. By accelerating the vehicle, I not only eliminate the threat but also simultaneously escape the threatening situation. This makes the assumption that there are no immovable objects ahead of my vehicle and I truly do fear for my life.
Keep in mind, I may not need to smash your gas pedal. Perhaps simply taking my foot off the brake is enough to move the protesters out of my way. The ultimate goal is to escape the situation and only use the least amount of force necessary. Only use force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm if you have no other choice. I know some protesters may try to use their bodies to block my vehicle, but most will move out of the way as a natural and normal human reflexive action.
Is force really necessary against protesters?
Is force necessary against protesters? Maybe, or maybe not. Again it is situational. However, we know from modern history that it is not impossible or even rare for angry protesters to remove innocent people from their vehicles and use violence against them.
In April of 1992 driver, Reginald Denny was stripped from his truck and beaten, almost to death during the Los Angeles riots. Denny’s skull was fractured in over 90 spots.
In March of 2016 driver, David Wilcox was beaten after exiting his car in Chicago by a mob of 4-5 attackers because they assumed he was a Donald Trump supporter.
In May of 2020 driver, Bogdan Vechirko was ripped from his truck on a Minnesota expressway occupied by protesters and beaten.
In May of 2020 an unidentified 29-year-old female driver in Buffalo, NY was ripped from her vehicle and seriously injured.
In conclusion, if I were Trapped in my car by protesters, I would first attempt to avoid the situation if at all possible. Avoidance takes awareness. I would try to flee or retreat if at all possible looking for any turns I might make or any empty pockets I could weave through. If I felt in danger I would slowly accelerate through the crowd. If I felt my life was in imminent danger, I’d go faster.
I can say I’d only shoot if I felt there were no other options. I can’t go backward. I can’t go forwards. There is no way to deescalate a mob. My life is in immediate danger? I will act swiftly and decisively, although reluctantly.
Be armed. Be trained. Be Alpha.
Also see: Can I shoot if ____? A conversation about justified use of force.