WEST FARGO — It was his backpack filled with water bottles that possibly saved Francisco Lopez III’s life after a vehicle struck him during the Fargo Marches for George Floyd protest on Saturday, May 30.
With more than six years working road construction, Lopez, 23, was trying to divert traffic away from marching protesters near 45th Street on Main Avenue in West Fargo when a white Subaru Forester tried to drive around him, he said.
The car stopped for a moment, tried to pass, but Lopez obstructed the car’s path again.
Behind him, he said, were young children and hundreds of protesters chanting “No justice, no peace,” among other sayings, in response to Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody. “I was just worried about the crowd behind me. I knew there were toddlers,” Lopez said.
“I tried to tell (the driver) there was a crowd and to turn away, and it seemed like he was going to slow down, but then he sped up. I wasn’t expecting him to hit me,” Lopez said.
The impact made Lopez “fly up onto the hood and into the windshield, at which time (he) held on and the vehicle continued traveling westbound at approximately 40 mph for about three blocks until (he) fell off,” according to court records.
When Lopez found himself clinging to the hood at increasing speeds, he panicked, he said.
“I struck his windshield a couple of times to get him to stop, and he was swaying, trying to fling me off,” Lopez said.
Lopez could see clearly through the car’s glass.
“He had his mouth closed the whole time, and he looked me in the eye, three feet away,” Lopez said. "Just a dead, cold stare. After he was swerving, I couldn’t hold on anymore. I feared for my life while I was clinging onto the hood, but I realized that I was obstructing his view and that I had to let go. So I pushed off and hoped for the best. At that speed, I was expecting major blunt-force trauma and life-threatening injuries.”
Not wanting to get thrown beneath the car and not wanting to flip up into the air, he pushed himself to the side.
“I generally felt like I was going to die,” Lopez said.
He hit hard, but landed on his back, slid on the pavement and suffered severe scraping to his back and arms. And although everything happened too fast to remember clearly, he thinks a rear tire ran over his left foot, breaking bones in four places.
He rolled, stood up, walked five paces, then collapsed.
Protesters came to help, wrapped his bleeding arm in a sweatshirt before police and medics arrived, he said. He was taken to a hospital and treated. Now his foot and lower leg are in a cast. He survived, but will be using crutches for about five weeks. At night, sometimes the pain becomes almost unbearable, he said.
Law enforcement stopped the driver, Michael Griffin, 47, at a roadblock shortly after Lopez jumped from the car. The Cass County State’s Attorney’s Office has charged Griffin with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment, both felonies.
“We reviewed this case for every possible charge, and we chose the two that we thought best fit the facts,” prosecutor Joshua Traiser said.
The Forum's attempts to reach Griffin by phone Tuesday, June 2, were unsuccessful. Court records did not list an attorney for him.
The charges against Griffin have Black Lives Matter organizers wondering why he wasn't charged with attempted murder.
“It was attempted murder,” said Anyiwei Maciek, an organizer of Fargo Marches for George Floyd. “He knew what he was doing, and he was not provoked.”
If Lopez had one regret about joining the protest, it’s that he didn’t show up earlier. He joined the march shortly after noon Saturday near West Acres mall.
“If someone was going to get hit, I’m glad it was me and not some small child or someone who was elderly,” said Lopez, a lifelong resident of Fargo.
Lopez said he doesn’t support the violence that hit downtown Fargo Saturday night, and believes outsiders were at least partly responsible for the violence that led to riot charges against 10 people, four police officers injured, and multiple buildings vandalized.
“Justice is something you need to take a stand for. I believe we did come together and we did spread awareness. But where there are peaceful protests there are also riots,” he said.
What's important to Lopez is that the culture changes and racism ends. On Saturday, he believes that message was delivered.
“People began to see past privilege and see the view of people of color,” he said.
And the backpack that he believes saved his life — a gift from a friend — was left in the confusion at the scene, Lopez said.