Police have identified Nicholas David Kraus, 35, as the man who drove his SUV through a Sunday night racial justice protest in Minneapolis, killing one person and injuring three.
Late on Sunday night, Mr Kraus, who is being held in jail without bail on suspected vehicular homicide, allegedly sped through a Minneapolis intersection where protesters have been demonstrating since local members of a multi-agency federal taskforce shot and killed 32-year-old Winston Boogie Smith, a Black man whom they were pursuing on an alleged weapons violation, in a parking garage earlier this month.
According to court records, Mr Kraus had numerous DWI convictions, and had his driver’s licence revoked because he was a “danger to public safety,” data journalist Tony Webster reported.
Mr Kraus allegedly struck a parked car that a racial justice protester named Deona Knajdek, 31, had been using as a barrier to protect other demonstrators, killing her, according to her family.
"She was probably the most wonderful person you could ever imagine. She would ... tear the shirt off her back to make sure someone was warm,” her brother Garrett told KARE 11.
Witnesses recounted in horror watching the driver heading towards them.
“There was one line of barriers and then a second barrier, and he sped up. He sped up. He went even faster as he approached us. You could hear it ... start going even faster as he got close to us,” DJ Hooker told Minnesota Public Radio, adding “the car went through the air and it hit a young woman.”
Bystanders then apprehended the driver and held him in a headlock, before handing him over to police when they arrived.
Some witnesses on social media suggested Mr Kraus was a white supremacist, given the context of his alleged vehicular homicide. Protesters have been occupying an intersection in the Uptown neighbourhood of Minneapolis since 3 June, when Mr Smith, a local entertainer and father of three, was killed by police, the latest Black man to die at the hands of law enforcement in the Twin Cities after the high-profile killing of Daunte Wright and George Floyd.
Minneapolis police have said initial information suggests drugs and alcohol contributed to the crash, but haven’t described a motive.
Protesters have been demanding transparency after the latest killing as part of their broader campaign in the city to end its continued police violence towards people of colour. Unlike previous incidents in Minneapolis, there’s no police body or dashboard camera of Mr Smith’s death, even though a Department of Justice policy allowed local law enforcement officers to wear body cameras on federal task forces.
A female passenger who was riding with Mr Smith at the time of his death also contradicted the police account that he drew a weapon and fired at officers, telling journalists via her attorneys that she “never saw a gun on Winston Smith leading up to the shooting and she never saw a gun inside the vehicle — at any time.”
More than 100 people have been hit by cars at Black Lives Matter protests since last summer, as counter-protesters increasingly use cars as deadly weapons to target racial justice campaigners — most famously during the 2017 Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally, where James Alex Fields, Jr murdered a rights protester named Heather Heyer.
Republicans in multiple states have eased penalties for drivers convicted of hitting protesters, which critics argue is a blatant attempt to chill free speech and court violence.