Before a red SUV smashed into parade marchers Sunday in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the driver first plowed through barriers and raced past a police officer at a security post.
As horrible as the incident sounds, the brazenness of the vehicle assault is not altogether unusual.
The incident, which left five dead and at least 40 injured, raises new questions about the best security practices to protect crowds from a proliferating phenomenon known as “vehicle ramming.”
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Weaponizing of vehicles is a practice sometimes used by terrorists abroad. But the wanton attacks have also surged in the United States . The uptick began after the police murder of George Floyd prompted Black Lives Matter demonstrations, which in turn prompted angry or fearful motorists to run over protesters.
Joy turns to horror as SUV speeds into Christmas parade
A Boston Globe survey identified at least 139 incidents where vehicles rammed into crowds of demonstrators since Floyd’s death in May of 2020. Fewerr than half resulted in criminal charges.
The attack in Waukesha does not fit the demonstrator profile: Parade victims were simply celebrating Christmas, and Police Chief Dan Thompson stressed in a news conference that the carnage was not an act of terrorism. Instead, the driver identified as Darrell Brooks Jr., allegedly was fleeing the scene of an earlier domestic violence incident when the assault happened.
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Police said Monday night that they were drawing up five charges of intentional homicide against Brooks.
Yet the security questions remain the same. How did the SUV get onto a parade route? What security measures were in place, and were they enough?
At a news conference, Thompson said barricades had been put up at cross streets and police squads were in place to prevent traffic from breaching the parade.
“When the officer tried to engage and stop the threat, he (the driver) still continued through to the crowd,” Thompson said. The officer fired his gun at the SUV but was not able to thwart the attack.
Video shows the red SUV crunch into and over metal barricades laid end to end on the roadway, then roaring past a police officer.
Waukesha officials could not be reached Monday to discuss security measures in detail, and a copy of their plans was not immediately available.
Participants in the 58th Annual Waukesha Holiday Parade marched down Main Street, through the heart of the community's business district, with more than a dozen streets intersecting the route.
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Five people were killed and more than 40 others injured when a car plowed into a Christmas parade in Wisconsin.The suspect, 39-year-old Darrell Brooks, is in custody, authorities said.
A Department of Homeland Security web page on vehicle ramming notes that street events and other gatherings provide “soft targets” that often have little protection and can be attacked with “devastating impact.”
The DHS guidance says security plans should take into account event needs and venues, so strategies "cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach.” Standard precautions include the use of bollards, trucks, planters and other barricades to separate crowds from weaponized vehicles.
“It is important to ensure that these architectural solutions are appropriately sized, adequately anchored, and purposely reinforced against impact loads,” notes the DHS advisory.
Mia Bloom, a fellow with Georgia State University's New America's International Security Program, said event planning can help. But in the end, “Securing a venue is virtually impossible” — especially when the crowd is on a street. There are just too many access points, she said, and too many ways to attack.
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Hours before it started, they were already there — people sitting on lawn chairs or wrapped in blankets, awaiting an event the city's mayor described as straight out of Norman Rockwell. The Waukesha Christmas Parade, a tradition in its Milwaukee suburb for six decades, was to be particularly special this time around after its pandemic-related cancellation last year. Stepping off a few blocks to the east, parade participants were in the holiday spirit, too. Members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a crowd favorite on the Wisconsin parade circuit, donned white fur hats and waved white pompoms as they danced down Main Street to “Jingle Bell Rock.
She noted that the Waukesha driver penetrated security just as a terrorist would: “It wasn’t premeditated,” she added, “but it wasn’t accidental.”
Bloom warned that vehicle-ramming incidents are likely to increase because at least 15 states have adopted or are considering laws that shield motorists from criminal charges when they drive into demonstrators.
In an article for Just Security, Bloom said that tactic gained traction among right-wing extremists after neo-Nazi James Fields killed one demonstrator and injured others with his vehicle during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fields was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Today, Bloom said, fringe groups use social media to advocate vehicle attacks, stressing that drivers can simply claim they were fearful and defending themselves against rioters.
That legal posture seems to be successful: According to the Globe, of 139 vehicle attacks on political crowds over the past 16 months, fewer than half resulted in criminal charges.
From the mid-1960s until Floyd's death, there were only three such attacks targeting political protests.
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The Children's Hospital of Wisconsin released an update Wednesday afternoon regarding the status of their juvenile patients, with three of them able to go home for the holidayThe Children's Hospital of Wisconsin is sharing some much-needed good news in the wake of the tragedy in Waukesha on Sunday.
Bruce Butterwork, senior transportation researcher with the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, said Waukesha's tragedy points the difficulties faced by security planners.
City officials could hardly anticipate such an attack, he noted, and preparations always entail a balance of costs with safety — based in part on intelligence.
Butterwork, who co-authored a 2019 study titled, "Smashing into Crowds," said nearly half of all incidents involve a driver who is mentally unstable. Their behavior is unpredictable, he noted, and often doesn't show up on the intelligence radar used by threat analysts.
Brooks' psychological history is unknown, but The Milwaukee Journal reported that he was recently released from jail while facing several charges stemming from violent incidents.
Butterwork compared a heavy car or truck plowing into pedestrians to like a motorized bowling ball mowing down pins. The goal is to “eliminate the bowling alley,” he said, or limit lethality by creating barriers and escape route.
Amid attacks by mentally disturbed individuals and the surge in rammings at political gatherings, Butterworth said even small-town officials have a more difficult job devising security for carnivals, parades and rallies.
“The availability of a car as a weapon has now become part of the landscape," he added. "It’s not that you can eliminate easy targets, but you can certainly reduce them.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The Waukesha effect: A surge in weaponized vehicles plowing into crowds wreaks havoc on national safety
Waukesha suspect Darrell Brooks told judge he couldn't pay child support because he ‘was getting incarcerated' .
Waukesha Christmas parade suspect Darrell Brooks Jr. divulged details of his life, criticized the mother of one of his children and implied that he was unable to pay child support because he kept “getting incarcerated” in a letter sent to a Wisconsin judge in 2011 pertaining to one of the paternity cases, Fox News has learned. Brooks, 39, sent two letters to court officials over the course of two years in connection with the child support case for one of his children. In the first letter, he asked for one "more shot" and complained that he was being treated unfairly.