Activists are calling on the MTA to fire two of their employees who drove through demonstrators near Times Square during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer. In early July, an SUV driven by one of the men sped through a crowd of protesters and bicyclists, leaving one person injured.
Videos of the incident show a Dodge Durango SUV lurching forward as several protesters surround the car. The driver speeds forward, the protesters scatter, and several bicycles are crushed. From a different angle, you can see the vehicle slow down as it approaches a protester who has one hand raised and one hand on his bicycle. But then the SUV speeds up, smashing into the man’s bike and dragging it down the street as sparks fly.
The driver was William Wurm Jr. His passenger was his father, William Wurm. The MTA confirmed the two men are employees and were involved in the incident while off-duty.
Luis Galilei, one of the organizers of the protest, told Gothamist that he approached the vehicle when the driver refused to back away from the protesters. "In my head, I’m defending the protesters behind me and I’m also trying to de-escalate a situation so no one gets hurt,” Galilei, 26, said.
There are conflicting accounts about what happened next. Protesters said they chased the vehicle down and caught the two men after police on the scene that night ignored what happened. The NYPD said the driver pulled over and called 911.
Wurm Jr. was arrested at the scene, but was released without charges. Police determined that he was the victim, and told Gothamist they believed he "feared for his life" as he encountered the protesters, who police say hit his SUV, and slashed his rear tires.
“Whoever did pop the tires, I’m glad they did, because those people could’ve killed hundreds of protesters,” said Matthew Coursen, 23, who was up front with a megaphone during the protest. “If someone did, that was in safety of the protesters because I watched these two men swerve into the protesters, not to avoid them, but to actually kill them.”
No arrests were made for the tire slashing.
Listen to reporter Stephen Nessen's radio story for WNYC:
While protesters remain upset about the incident, they don’t want further police involvement. Instead they want their own form of justice.
“In the world that we fight for we want him to be accountable for threatening people’s lives,” Galilei said. “So we really want to sit down and understand why this happened and how the harm can be repaired moving forward.”
Protesters believe Wurm Jr and his father are racist, and shouldn’t be allowed to work for the MTA; they have shared the below Facebook post by the younger Wurm to back up their claim.
A school board member in California resigned after posting a similar meme, though her posting also featured a confederate flag in the background.
Protesters have held four protests outside of MTA Headquarters, most recently last Friday.
The MTA referred the issue to its own internal investigative unit. But in a letter to the protesters they said the men would not be fired.
“The scope of our review was limited by the fact that the two NYC Transit employees involved were not on duty at the time of the incident, were not using an MTA owned vehicle, were not being directed by MTA supervision and were not on MTA property,” wrote Miranda V. Grant, the MTA’s Chief of Special Investigations. “The information reported by news organizations and social media was not sufficient for us to take any actions. If law enforcement or other authorities had made any relevant determinations about the July 7th incident, we would have taken those into account.”
In response to the white pride Facebook post, the MTA wrote, “the MTA is committed to equal opportunity, diversity in our workforce, and ensuring that all employees and the New Yorkers they serve on a daily basis are treated with dignity and respect.”
“Their response was an absolute insult to New Yorkers and all protesters that hit the ground and exercised their first amendment right,” Galilei said.
Both William Wurm and William Wurm Jr. didn’t reply to messages and phone calls for comment.
According to an article in the Long Islander News, Wurm Jr. is a 2003 Iraq War veteran who suffers from PTSD and has a service dog that helped him recover. “I have found that having a companion next to me all day helps me in my day to day life in a way that nothing else can,” Wurm Jr. told the paper.
In a letter back to the MTA, protester Grace Futos wrote, “The MTA has the opportunity to prove that it serves the people and the community, by firing Will and Bill Wurm and bringing about a process of restorative justice that emphasizes rehabilitation rather than imposing punitive carceral measures.”
More protests in front of MTA headquarters are expected in the coming weeks.
A researcher at the University of Chicago documented a major uptick in drivers hitting protesters after the George Floyd demonstrations began. From the end of May to mid June there were more than 50 incidents of vehicles hitting protesters. The researchers called these numbers “surprisingly high.”
The day before the Times Square incident, there was a driver who allegedly ran into protesters in Huntington, Long Island. He was arrested, and a court date is scheduled for October.
Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer who often represents cyclists, said he wasn’t terribly surprised that the NYPD didn’t arrest the driver in the Times Square incident, despite ample video evidence of reckless driving.
“We have often found to be the case of police sympathizing with vehicle occupants and having little or no regard for people if they’re not inside vehicles, even if their right of way is blocked,” Vaccaro said.