Month: August 2017

Sanity Check the News

Speed Read This
Posted by on August 15, 2017

Regarding what happened recently in Charlottesville –

Actually, first, I’m going to put this filler paragraph here, so that people looking for quick emotional engagement can go read something else. This post is about subtleties, and I would prefer that anyone who wants to eschew subtlety in favor of emotion unsubscribe from my wall.

That out of the way, Alex Fields, the driver of the car that ran into a crowd, is by all accounts a racist and a scumbag. I fully expect that he will be hung to dry, and I have no problem with this. However, given his prominence in the news cycle, I believe it’s important to be truthful and precise about exactly what he did. The story running in the news is that he committed premeditated mass-murder, by running into a crowd of counter-protesters with his car.

I make a habit of fact-checking news stories, both political and non-political, and calling out any errors I see. I decided to check this one. Was it really murder, or was it merely vehicular manslaughter? This is important, because falsely believing that other people have escalated the level of violence in a conflict can *cause* the level of violence to escalate. So, how strong is the case against Alex Fields?

I’ve looked at it from as many angles as I could find, and reconstructed the sequence of events as best I could. Using a stopwatch for time and Google Maps for distance, I (imprecisely) estimated the car’s speed. I sorted through YouTube’s terrible search to get non-duplicate videos. I watched the important moments of them frame-by-frame. Here’s the sequence of events:

  1. Alex Fields is driving south towards a protest. There are pedestrians about 120ft ahead of him. His brake lights are on. The camera moves away from his car. and returns a second later.
  2. In 3.1s the car moves 105ft (about 24mph).
  3. Alex’s car is struck hard on the rear bumper by a stick or pole. Prior to this point he has not hit any pedestrians.
  4. About 50ft ahead of Alex’s car is a white convertible; in between, there are pedestrians.
  5. Alex’s car accelerates. Two pedestrians go over his hood, one is sandwiched between his car and the next, and several more on the sides are knocked over without being seriously hurt.
  6. Alex’s car hits the convertible, and the convertible hits the car in front of it, a red minivan. The minivan goes into the intersection, hitting about ten pedestrians
  7. Alex Fields shifts into reverse and starts backing up
  8. About seven people charge the car, striking it with sticks, smashing the rear windshield and the front windshield on the passenger side
  9. The car backs into two of the people who were attacking it, one of whom seems to end up seriously hurt

I think the most likely explanation is that, after the first strike on his car, he panicked. I am fairly certain that this will be his defense in court, and, unless evidence is found which is not yet public, I don’t think his guilt can be proven even to a preponderance of evidence standard.

From behind:
From front:
People hitting the car after it crashes:
Drone view:

(Cross-posted on Facebook)