Victims in Manhattan protest hit-and-run seek justice and path forward after attack

Protesters embrace after reliving the incident.
Photo by Dean Moses

Five days after a hit-and-run driver plowed through their Midtown protest, the victims of the incident gathered at the scene of the crime — East 39th Street and 3rd Avenue — on Tuesday to, in their words, “set the record straight.”

The injured and traumatized activists, many wearing canes, crutches and leg braces, arrived at the scene of the ill-fated Abolish ICE march on Dec. 11. About 15 protesters and their lawyer gathered on Dec. 15 to showcase video evidence of 52-year-old Kathleen Casillo of Howard Beach, Queens hitting protesters with her 2019 Black BMW Sedan and to discuss mistreatment by NYPD officers on the scene. 

Dennis Flores shows footage of the Black BMW Sedan hitting protesters. Photo by Dean Moses

The event began with Dennis Flores holding a laptop displaying video of the incident from two different angles. The footage exhibits the sedan hitting a single protester, lifting the man off his feet before the vehicle stops for a number of seconds.

After the brief delay, the sedan then speeds forward, sending those in the roadway hurtling into the air. 

Roque Rodriguez, one of the injured victims, addressed the press while resting on his crutches, sharing his traumatic experience with attendees. He stated that he and his fellow protesters spent Friday standing in solidarity with ICE detainees who have been on a hunger strike for 28 days at Bergen County jail, like those he was advocating for, Rodriguez ended the day neglected and abused.

“There was a similar lack of humanity shown to us by Kathleen Casillo when she sped through the crowd without even giving us the benefit of honking the horn to warn us to move out of the road. She didn’t even see me as a human being when she hit me with her car. When I had my back turned and flipped me through the air, [it] sent me traveling 10 feet through the air and left me to die in the street,” Rodriguez said, shaken. 

Rodriguez said the incident was a heinous attack on the individuals who were exercising their right to protest ICE, and he is calling for an investigation on the officers who responded to that incident, who he claimed created a barrier around him and other victims, preventing them from receiving immediate medical attention.     

Speakers became emotional while relieving the chilling moment the automobile sped through the crowd. Kayla Almanzar attended the protest that day with the intention of spreading awareness for the victims of  what she calls crimes against humanity.

Almanzar expressed that she never believed that she would too become a victim. With tears dripping down her cheeks, she shared her side of the story. 

Kayla Almanzar weeps as she relives last Friday’s incident. Photo by Dean Moses

“She purposely used her vehicle as a weapon, hitting at least six people and kept driving. I saw signs flying, heard screaming, and noted that my friend was no longer next to me. He was a few feet ahead lying on the floor and I feared for the worse. We did not deserve to get hit by a vehicle. She needs to hold herself accountable for her actions,” Almanzar said.

While the victims of the vehicle collision want the world to be aware that the attack was unprovoked, they also state that they are not calling for the driver to be incarcerated.

Grace Frutos, a protest organizer, and a few of the men and women she spent the last eight months protesting with spoke to amNewYork Metro after the conference, saying that she believes the prison system is only a symptom of the problem.      

As witnesses shared their personal accounts, protesters stressed that the NYPD hindered medical personal from assisting. They claimed officers used the commotion to assault those attempting to provide aid.

“No police officers, for the entire time that I was on the ground, came to me to check on me. They were like 30 of them, and they formed a wall because they were trying to intimidate the protesters that were still there. They were looking at them as protesters and not victims of a crime,” Rodriguez said. 

Almanzar also recalls the fear and pain she felt, but not just while laying on the street, also sitting in the emergency room with her friend as Officers arrived at the hospital to interview the victims. For a distraught Almanzar it was too soon to speak.  She said could hear them shouting her name throughout the hallway and laughing as they said: ‘We are just trying to help.’

“That is not how you approach people who are traumatized,” Almanzar said, who along with Rodriguez requested to speak to police the next day with their lawyers present. 

Na-lekan Masego, another victim of the driver, recalls feeling pure fear and anxiety as he lay on the ground waiting for EMS to reach him. Masego says that officers were preventing the help he desperately needed by crowding him, rather than allowing his friend, Nicole, to lead EMS his way. 

Nicole requested that officers step back due to Masego’s extreme, pain-fueled anxiety. However, instead she was thrown to the ground and arrested on the spot. 

Protesters return to East 39th and Third Avenue, where they spoke about Friday’s events. Photo by Dean Moses

“In the midst of everything that happened, with bodies everywhere, and people were hurt and it only seemed like the EMTs and our comrades wanted to help. It didn’t seem like the police wanted to help,” Masego said.