State Rep. Lynne DiSanto, R-Box Elder, was criticized by the state Democratic Party and others Tuesday and lost her position at a real estate firm after she made a post to Facebook that joked about striking protesters with a vehicle.
The post consisted of a drawing of an SUV mowing down stick-figure people, plus three lines of text: “All Lives Splatter,” “Nobody cares about your protest” and “Keep your (expletive) out of the road.” The drawing and text appeared to be a so-called “meme” — an item that is copied and spread by numerous internet users.
Above the meme, DiSanto wrote her own comment: “I think this is a movement we can all support.” She added the hashtag “alllivessplatter” — a play on the slogan "All Lives Matter," which arose in response to the Black Lives Matter movement — to make the post appear with other similar posts on Facebook.
The post, dated Sept. 7, attracted numerous comments from other Facebook users, including many who wrote comments Tuesday. Some of the comments were supportive, and others were sharply critical.
DiSanto removed the post from her Facebook page by mid-afternoon Tuesday and spoke shortly afterward with the Journal by phone.
“I am sorry if people took offense to it and perceived my message in any way insinuating support or condoning people being hit by cars,” DiSanto said. “I perceived it differently. I perceived it as encouraging people to stay out of the street.”
Just prior to that interview, the South Dakota Democratic Party had issued a news release about DiSanto’s Facebook post.
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“The right to peaceably assemble is fundamental to our democracy — so fundamental, in fact, it is included in the First Amendment to our Constitution,” said a quote in the release attributed to state Democratic Party Executive Director Sam Parkinson. “Whether one supports the cause of protesters or not, sharing an image promoting running them over is offensive and beneath the dignity of the office Rep. DiSanto holds. Even though she removed the image from her Facebook page, she still owes the people of South Dakota an apology.”
Then, at 7:24 p.m. Tuesday, a post appeared on the Facebook page of Keller Williams Realty Black Hills that said, "Due to recent events, Lynne Disanto is no longer associated with Keller Williams Realty Black Hills." DiSanto's occupation is listed as "Realtor" on her legislative biography page on the South Dakota Legislature website.
The controversy comes at a time of heightened national awareness about violence at protests. In August, for example, one person was killed and others were injured when a man drove a car into a group of people who were protesting against white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va.
DiSanto said she failed to consider examples of violence against protesters when she shared her Facebook post.
“That was a lack of judgment on my part to not take that into consideration, the highly charged political environment that we’re in,” she said.
Earlier this year, a highly publicized, monthslong protest came to an end against an oil pipeline in North Dakota near the border with South Dakota. That protest included some roadblocks by protesters, and state legislatures in North Dakota and some other states subsequently considered legislation to protect drivers from prosecution if they accidentally strike a protester on a road.
Though that legislation was not introduced in South Dakota, the Legislature and Gov. Dennis Daugaard did approve — with a “yes” vote from DiSanto — a different protest-related law in March. The new law gives state and local government officials new powers to restrict and respond to large-scale protests, and says that unless otherwise directed by law enforcement or other emergency personnel or to seek assistance for an emergency or inoperable vehicle, anyone who stands on a paved or improved or main-traveled portion of any highway with intent to impede or stop the flow of traffic is guilty of a misdemeanor.