A Black Lives Matter activist allegedly destroyed the reputation of a fellow student at the University of Virginia by claiming the girl had said protestors, some of whom were black, would make "good speedbumps" for oncoming traffic. Now, facts in the case suggest the activist either "misheard" what the girl said, or even worse, did not actually hear what she said at all but instead distorted a second-hand account of the girl's comments so that she might incite the crowd.
In the summer of 2020, Zyahna Bryant and Morgan Bettinger were both undergraduates attending UVA in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bryant, then 19, was likely heading into her junior year, while Bettinger was a senior with just one more year to go before graduation.
That summer was particularly unique for many university students, who had been forced to lock down inside their homes and attend classes virtually. Just three years earlier, a racially charged protest in Charlottesville cost one woman, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, her life. In short, many UVA students were angry, but with the lockdowns, had few outlets through which to vent their emotions.
BLM protests, which raged across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd, were one such outlet. One night in July 2020, Bettinger was driving home from work when she found her route partially obstructed by a dump truck. The driver of the vehicle told Bettinger that he had used the truck to block traffic to protect some Black Women Matter protestors who had taken to the streets that night.
"It’s a good thing that you are here," Bettinger supposedly told the driver, "because otherwise, these people would have been speed bumps."
Bettinger — a young, white female whose late father was a police officer — soon found herself surrounded by agitated protestors. She quickly returned to her vehicle and called her mother, unsure of how to proceed, she later claimed. As she attempted to find an alternate route home, the protestors, led by Bryant, began swarming her vehicle and shouting invectives at her.
"It's a Karen!" Bryant reportedly stated. "It's a Karen!"
"F***ing cry, b****," yelled another.
When Bettinger arrived home, she thought the incident was behind her. Hours later, she learned that was not the case. Bryant had reportedly launched a social media attack against her, claiming she had made a racially insensitive threat against the protestors.
"The woman in this truck approached protesters in #Charlottesville, and told us that we would make 'good speedbumps,'" Bryant wrote in a Twitter post. "She then called the police and started crying saying we were attacking her."
Other reports, some even given by local media, suggested Bettinger had repeatedly stated that the protestors would make "good f***ing speedbumps."
In the days that followed the incident, Bryant allegedly attempted to have Bettinger expelled from UVA. "EMAIL these UVA deans now to demand that Morgan face consequences for her actions and that UVA stop graduating racists," Bryant reportedly tweeted, though the tweets cannot be confirmed since Bryant has restricted those who can view her account.
"I was completely consumed," Bettinger claimed. "My phone did not stop blowing up. I didn't sleep for nights."
Two different UVA organizations, the University Judiciary Committee and the Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights, both conducted investigations into the incident and both agreed with Bettinger's recollection regarding her comment, the innocuous version which suggests only that Bettinger worried that protestors might become "speedbumps" if measures, such as the one taken by the dump truck driver, weren't taken.
"It was simply a comment made to a [dump] truck driver who was sitting and blocking the road, and just saying, like, 'It’s good you’re here,'" she later reiterated.
Almost no evidence substantiated the claim that Bettinger said anything about "good f***ing speedbumps," even from the testimony from Bryant's witnesses. (One witness did claim to overhear that version of Bettinger's statement, but that witness's credibility was later undermined by inconsistencies given in different interviews.) In fact, the EOCR determined instead that Bryant "more than likely" never actually heard the "speedbumps" comment herself and found in favor of Bettinger. Bryant later admitted that she may have "misheard" Bettinger's words that day.
Despite the lack of evidence that Bettinger had made any threats to protestors, the UJC jury found her guilty of using "shameful" rhetoric which "put members of the community at risk." That UJC finding left Bettinger with an expulsion in abeyance, a sentence which allowed her to finish her studies but which also remains permanently on her record. She was also forced to write Bryant an apology letter and perform 50 hours of community service with a social justice group.
"I think I was numb," Bettinger recalled about the moment she learned the UJC's determination. "That's probably the best way I could describe it. I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of making a face, making a sound, crying. I wasn't going to have any emotion."
Bettinger ultimately graduated the following year with an interdisciplinary degree in political philosophy, policy, and law. However, she hinted that the UJC ruling inhibited her chances of ever attending law school, and she refuses to share details about her current job and residence in Charlottesville for fear of continued harassment. She plans to file a lawsuit against the school.
"This whole situation has had a huge impact on my life," she claimed. "The university has never had to answer for what their actions have done."
Meanwhile, Bryant has enjoyed ever more adulation since making the unsubstantiated accusations against Bettinger. She has been listed on Ebony's "Power 100" and Teen Vogue's "21 under 21." She has also appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, and the New Yorker. On her website, she describes herself as an "student activist" and "community organizer" focused on "Racial Justice in Charlottesville." She has already successfully lobbied to have a statue of Robert E. Lee removed from the area.
Bryant is scheduled to graduate from UVA sometime in 2023, according to her LinkedIn profile. She did not respond to requests for comment from Reason or the New York Post.
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