A celebrated Black Lives Matter activist ruined a white student’s life by claiming she heard her threaten to run them over – only to later admit she may have misheard.
Zyahna Bryant, 19, claimed she heard fellow University of Virginia student Morgan Bettinger threaten protesters by saying they’d ‘make good speedbumps,’ in July 2020.
Although Bettinger, of Charlotteville, did admit during a student misconduct trial that she had said something similar to a truck driver that was blocking the road, she insists she hadn’t said it as a threat.
Bettinger – whose late father was a police officer – says she had merely been sharing her relief that the unnamed truck driver was there.
She says she did so because she was happy his presence lessened the chances of a repeat of the infamous 2017 Unite the Right rally in the city, which saw anti-racist protester Heather Heyer run over and murdered by a white supremacist.
But Bryant initially insisted on Twitter that Bettinger had indeed threatened her and others, even though it was later claimed she’d only been told about the speed bumps comment second hand.
She tweeted: ‘The woman in this truck approached protesters in #Charlottesville, and told us that we would make ‘good speedbumps.
‘She then called the police and started crying saying we were attacking her.’
Although Bettinger, of Charlotteville, did admit during a student misconduct trial that she had said something similar to a truck driver that was blocking the road, she hadn’t meant it as a threat, but rather that she wasn’t aware a protest over Heather Heyer’s death – who died after someone drove into a crowd of protesters – was taking place on East High Street, a busy road
The allegation – on a profile that’s now set to private – spread like wildfire.
Bettinger was quickly identified, with the revelation that she was pro-police – and with a late father who’d worked as a cop – further outraging her critics.
Bryant and others calling for a severe punishment or expulsion to be meted out to Bettinger.
Bettinger was shunned at college, and even stalked around her hometown, making her fear for her safety.
UVA’s Judiciary Committee later found Bettinger guilty of making a legitimate threat, despite being unable to prove Bryant’s claim about her intentions.
Its ‘jurors’ told her that even saying the words in a harmless manner during the anti-racism protests of summer 2020 merited punishment.
Bryant also filed a complaint with the school’s Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights (EOCR), where the student activist claimed Bettinger had made the statement five times and had discriminated against Bryant on the basis of race.
EOCR found that three of the five accusations could not be corroborated and Bryant herself later admitted she may have misheard the ‘speed bumps’ claim she attributed to Bettinger, which saw her reputation destroyed.
Most damningly, the report – which was brought forth because of Bryant’s complaint – found that the activist mostly likely did not heard Bettinger make the comment first hand. No eyewitnesses were able to corroborate Bryant’s version of events.
Zyahna Bryant, 19, claimed she heard fellow University of Virginia student Morgan Bettinger threaten protesters by saying they’d ‘make good speed bumps,’ in July 2020
‘Based on Bryant’s immediate and surprised tone following the second third party’s reply, EOCR finds it more likely than not that it was at that moment Bryant first learned that [Bettinger] made a statement about protestors making speed bumps,’ the report, obtained by Reason, stated.
Video evidence does not show the moment Bettinger made the comment, but it does show the aftermath of protesters banging on her car, yelling obscenities at her, and making fun of her for crying as she called her mother and the police.
Despite EOCR’s report basically exonerating Bettinger, the UJC’s ruling still stads.
Bettinger’s lawyer Charles Weber has sent a letter to the President to overrule it, which was ignored. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) also sent a letter, which President Jim Ryan said it would be ‘inappropriate for me to intervene in a case that has been properly adjudicated.’
Her reputation is beyond repair and UJC’s ruling is still on her permanent record – ruining the now-graduate’s chances at law school.
Bettinger is now considering filing a lawsuit.
‘This whole situation has had a huge impact on my life,’ Bettinger told Reason. ‘the university has never had to answer for what their actions have done.’
But there were no such consequences for Bryant, despite the apparent flimsiness of her life-destroying claims. She was the subject of a glowing Washington Post profile in 2021, made Ebony magazine’s Power 100 list and even starred in a Juneteenth post on Instagram’s official page.
It all started after Bettinger mistakenly drove down a blocked road and it ended with a series of damning tweets
Video evidence does not show the moment Bettinger made the comment, but it does show the aftermath of protesters banging on her car, yelling obscenities at her, and making fun of her for crying as she called her mother and the police
Almost immediately after the incident (pictured), Bryant took to Twitter to discuss the encounter, which gain thousands of retweets in a short period of time
On July 17, 2020, Bettinger was driving from work down East High Street when she saw a dump truck blocking the road. The then-student said she didn’t believe the truck was completely blocking the intersection so she drove around it.
When she realized the road was blocked, she claimed she was unable to turn around. She parked and got out and that when the truck driver called her over.
‘I had no interest in walking over to him to speak to him, but out of being polite, when he spoke to me I answered,’ she told police, according to Reason.
They had a brief conservation and that’s when the driver claimed Bettinger said: ‘It’s a good thing that you are here, because otherwise these people would have been speed bumps.’
She admitted she had said something similar, but meant it more in a way of saying thank you, rather than a direct threat toward the Black Lives Matter protesters.
‘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 said, according to Reason.
Afterward, she walked around the truck to get a look at the protesters who noticed her and began to film. She snapped a photo and returned to her car to call her mother, but a few of the protesters began to follow her.
‘With the one woman hitting on my car and other people shouting and starting to threaten me, I didn’t know what was going to happen,’ Bettinger said, according to Reason.
Bettinger, who’s late father was a cop, called 911 and eventually an unmarked police van showed up.
While waiting on police, she was able to back her car up one street while protesters continued to yell, including Bryant, who screamed: ‘It’s a Karen, it’s a Karen!’
Bettinger was snapped on the phone while in her carin July 2020, as screaming Black Lives Matter protesters heckled her from outside
Moments later, police removed her from situation and allowed her to drive a few blocks away before interviewing her.
‘I was physically shaking and very taken aback by the whole experience,’ Bettinger said.
Almost immediately, Bryant took to Twitter to discuss the encounter, which gained thousands of retweets in a short period of time.
Bettinger was quickly identified – and a frenzied mob began attacking her reputation.
Bettinger said she wasn’t even aware of the Twitter frenzy until her friend sent her a link to it and asked if she was okay.
The activist’s Twitter thread garnered a lot of hatred toward Bettinger, with people posting the student’s Facebook account, photos of her profile picture with the Blue Lives Matter banner, and photos of her and her later father in his uniform.
She was branded a Nazi, with journalist Molly Conger tweeting: ‘if you know this karen, please take her keys. if she feels the overwhelming need to run people over, she shouldn’t be driving.’
Journalist Molly Conger was among those condemning Bettinger, despite two panels later ruling the claims made against her could not be corroborated
Other local news outlets gave the story further gravitas by reporting on the incident as if the facts of what Bryant allege happened had been proven.
Critics called for Bettinger’s expulsion and demanded the school stop graduating ‘racists’ and demanded her license being taken away.
Her own classmates didn’t want to be in the same virtual classroom as home and tired to get her kicked out of her major. One of her classes became asynchronous.
The school’s director of the political philosophy, policy, and law program – which Bettinger majored in – condemned her student’s alleged incident.
‘Regardless of whether your classmate made the remark, and whatever one’s views on the legal limits of free speech, its substance and import must be unconditionally condemned….No academic institution or program dedicated to free and open reflection on our deepest public disagreements can condone such an attitude,’ the teacher said, according to Reason.
A student panel found Bettinger guilty, despite being unable to fully collaborate she had made the remark – sanctioning and nearly expelling her
Bettinger’s late father (pictured together) was a cop – something many critics zoned in on
The September 25, 2020, UJC hearing was filled with a student-elected jury, real lawyers, student counselors, and two woman who haven’t been in the same room since the protest.
The student judges had to be filled in what the legal definition of threat prior to the hours-long trial in order to give her an accurate hearing.
They were also given ‘panel instructions’ to follow, which would later prove to be confusing and her attorney would take issue with it.
When Bettinger arrived for the 5pm hearing, her lawyer, counselor, and Bryant’s lawyer and counselor was pulled into a meeting to discuss the instruction, but it was later dismissed and the panel continued with the instructions they were given.
Despite knowing she had a ‘solid case,’ Bettinger was admittedly nervous. She ended up losing her case, despite Bryant’s witnesses not able to fully collaborate that Bryant’s tale that the student threatened them.
However, one thing was glaring to Bettinger: The panel hadn’t said she lied.
In their single paragraph ruling, the student jury wrote: ‘We the judges of this trial panel find that your actions on July 17th were shameful and put members of the community at risk. You yourself acknowledged saying “it’s a good thing you are here because, otherwise, these people would have been speed bumps.”‘
They did not take into account the harmless context in which Bettinger insists she made the remarks.
Bettigner would attempt appeal the panel’s decision.
Bryant’s second compliant with the EOCR called out a glaring error in the activist’s tale – despite around 30 people witnessing the event, no one could collaborate that Bettinger referred to them as ‘speed bumps’
The EOCR’s investigation was completed by June 2021.
It found that three of five alleged times Bettinger referred to the protesters as ‘speed bumps,’ couldn’t be collaborated at all.
The only one that had enough evidence was when Bettinger said it the truck driver, which was collaborated through the police report.
The other alleged incident was supported by another witness, but the report said the person contradicted themselves and Bryant later changed her mind and admitted she may have heard the statement wrong.
It also found that the activist more than likely hadn’t heard Bettinger say the words at all, but rather heard it from someone else who heard it from someone else.
‘Based on Bryant’s immediate and surprised tone following the second third party’s reply, EOCR finds it more likely than not that it was at that moment Bryant first learned that [Bettinger] made a statement about protestors making speed bumps,’ the report said.
Despite the report, her future is still in limbo and her dreams of being a lawyer feel farther than reach.