In the first few minutes after midnight on Saturday, Sept. 16, Pennsylvania House Representative Aaron Bernstine posted to Twitter his views on highway protests in a post that led many to believe he was implying he would run over a protestor blocking the highway.
His tweet was in response to the recent protests in St. Louis, Mo. during which people were protesting an ex-cop who was acquitted in the highly-politicized murder of a black man. Bernstine, the state representative for District 10, which SRU is in, tweeted, “If anyone EVER tries to stop my car on a highway with negative intentions… I will not stop under any conditions.”
While Bernstine might be trying to qualify his statement by specifying “with negative intentions,” it is dangerously unclear what that qualification means, especially considering many take his statement to contain violent intention. He was most certainly referencing the St. Louis protest, as his original tweet was actually a response to an article from The Hill about the protests. The St. Louis protest was not initially violent, 13 people were arrested, and according to police reports the hight of the violence peaked at protestors throwing rocks and water bottles at officers, who arrived at the protest already outfitted in riot gear. According to The Hill’s original article, there are additional reports said that police present at the protest had utilized pepper spray against protestors. There were no reports about protestors approaching or interacting with citizens in cars, so Bernstine’s tweet seems like an overreaction at best, and a verbal act of violence at worst.
While the question of the use of violence in protests is a hotly debated subject– even within The Rocket staff– it is deeply troubling to us that our elected representative is threatening actions that could potentially result in death, no matter the context. Would Bernstine run over protestors simply if they were blocking his way? Throwing water bottles at his car? Or would standing by the side of the road be enough for him to plow into a crowd of people protesting what they perceive to be a deadly injustice? And, what happens if one of his supporters, having seen or interacted with this tweet, does exactly what Bernstine suggests– will he be held accountable? To us, the threat is vague enough to be dangerous and clear enough to be newsworthy.
Over the weekend and through the beginning of the week, Bernstine doubled-down on his original comment in response to criticism, replying to several people who commented on his post. In his replies, Bernstine called protestors “thugs” and “snowflakes,” writing that he “won’t be assaulted in the name of ‘free speech’.” Bernstine also told people who said he should not promote running people over with his car to “Ask people in LA how that worked out for them.”
The staff believes that Bernstine’s original comment, as well as the language he used in defending said comment, is deeply troubling. No representative should ever threaten violence against their constituents (or others, for that matter), especially those protesting in an attempt to call out to their government.
Calling protestors “thugs” and “snowflakes” further reveals Bernstine’s immaturity when it comes to the issue; thug being a racially-charged word with a long history of violence against black men and snowflake being a term used to identify people (usually liberals and leftists) who complain or protest perceived injustice.
As of the writing of this editorial on Sept. 20, Bernstine has yet to walk back or apologize for any of his comments regarding the protests
The Rocket staff believes that it is unacceptable for an elected official to spread (and, by extension, promote) this kind of violent rhetoric across the internet. Aaron Bernstine represents the people of Slippery Rock– you– in the Pa. House of Representatives and we don’t think threatening to run over protestors is the best way to do that, regardless of whether or not you believe in their cause. Now is the time for officials to listen intently to their constituencies and respond efficiently– not for threatening to run over protestors.