After a man drove his pickup truck through a crowd of peaceful Columbus Day protesters under the Reno Arch last Monday night, Reno Native American leaders are calling for justice for the five protesters who were injured at the incident.
“It disgusts me to see that these officers did not arrest this culprit for the crime that he committed,” said Quanah Brightman during a protest last Tuesday at the Reno Police Department. “That was a crime, a hit-and-run felony crime. It does not matter what skin color they are. If someone gets hurt, if someone gets injured, [the culprit is] supposed to be detained.”
Following Monday night’s incident, dozens of protesters gathered Tuesday evening at the Reno Police Department to protest the inactivity of the Reno Police in the arrest of the driver of the pickup truck. During the protest, several protesters said that if the driver of the car had been any other race but white, he would have been arrested.
What exactly happened Monday night?
The crime was reported to Reno police Monday night at around 6:41 p.m. after the Columbus Day protesters had marched from the Reno City Plaza to the Reno arch, where they had assembled peacefully.
According to Police Chief Jason Soto, the man who drove his truck through the protesters, Nicholas Mahaffey, was confirmed to have been seen driving past the group of protesters as they marched toward the arch. Mahaffey was yelling profanities out of his window at the protesters.
Several demonstrators at Tuesday night’s protest at the police station said they heard Mahaffey and his passenger yelling “F—k the Indians,” though the expletive was not caught on the videos taken of the protest.
After reaching the arch, the protesters began to gather underneath it to take a group photo. Videos taken of the incident showed that the group stayed at the arch to take the photo for about two minutes, Soto said.
“Some members of the group expressed to investigators that they intended to take a photograph under the arch, another participant reported that the plan was to occupy and block Virginia Street for two hours,” Soto said.
While protesters were still on Virginia Street under the arch, Mahaffey drove up to the group. Mahaffey reportedly revved his engine and honked his horn several times. That’s when, according to Soto, people who were not part of the protest began to surround the truck and threaten Mahaffey and his 17-year-old passenger.
According to Soto, some protesters were heard on tape telling Mahaffey to take a different route through downtown, but several other individuals were heard making threatening statements and saying they would remove him from his vehicle and hurt him.
Brightman said the group’s plan was to only take a photo under the arch, not to occupy the street for over a couple of minutes.
James Fletcher, a 24-year-old man who was under the arch, tried to open the door of the pickup truck and then punched Mahaffey in the face, Soto said. Fletcher is being charged by the Reno police for simple battery.
Mahaffey proceeded to move his truck forward to try to get through the protesters. As Mahaffey moved his truck forward, another individual under the arch, Samuel Harry, 21, is seen in a video punching Mahaffey’s 17-year-old passenger in the face.
Soto said Mahaffey then drove through the crowd, injuring 59-year-old Kitty Colbert, who was hospitalized for several fractures, and at least four other protesters. Soto said Mahaffey drove through the crowd because “he feared for his safety and the acts of violence.”
After a couple of minutes of driving through the crowd, Mahaffey called the police.
In the press conference held after the incident on Tuesday, Soto had not yet said whether the driver would be arrested. Soto did say the protesters did not receive a permit from the City of Reno to protest.
“If you want to protest on the sidewalk, there’s no law against that. Once you congregate on the street, there is a law for unlawful assembly,” Soto said.
Aftermath of incident triggers response from city officials and community members
After the first press conference last Tuesday afternoon, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve issued a statement:
“This incident is troublesome and saddens us deeply. I take these matters very seriously, and I believe they must be investigated thoroughly and promptly. Public safety is our highest priority, and I want all Reno residents to know that we are working swiftly and diligently to make sense of the events that took place last night. Please be advised that the Reno Police Department will hold anyone responsible accountable for their actions once the investigation has concluded.
“I respect an individual or group’s right to conduct lawful protest and encourage people to express their First Amendment rights.
Following the press conference and the second protest Tuesday evening, the Native American Student Organization hosted an event at the University of Nevada, Reno, on Thursday evening for students to show their support for victims of the Columbus Day protest.
The event began with spiritual Native-American music that featured several singers and drummers. Those who gathered for the event on the lawn in front of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center danced and covered themselves in burning incense.
Over 30 students and community members gathered at the event to show their support for those injured in the protest and to begin a conversation on why Columbus Day must be abolished. The open mic was avaliable for audience members to discuss how to use one’s voice to show support. They also discussed how to counter racism and intolerance.
“Columbus is dead but his legacy is not. It tells us whose lives matter and whose don’t,” said Caroline Hamy of the Pyramid Lake Paiute and Walker River Paiute tribes. “We can break away from this scheme, away from what Columbus created, and appreciate diversity. We can’t do that when this country holds onto a story of lies.”
Arrests made in connection to Monday night’s incident
Following the UNR gathering, the Reno Police Department hosted a press conference Thursday evening to announce that three arrest warrants were issued for the incident.
A warrant was issued for Mahaffey, who faces a misdemeanor charge of provoking an assault. Fletcher and Harry were both issued warrants for misdemeanor charges of simple battery.
After hearing about the misdemeanor charges, several protesters and Native American leaders reported to be disappointed, including Colbert who told Brightman, “She demands that they prosecute and arrest the culprits.”
According to Raquel Arthur, president of the American Indian Movement of Northern Nevada, the group plans to seek justice for Colbert.
“All of us want to be safe,” Hamy said. “This week, I did not feel safe. I feared for my family and my community.”
Rachel Spacek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.