LOS ANGELES (CNS) — A Black woman who was photographed surrounded by a crowd holding flags and wearing Trump hats at a protest in downtown Los Angeles on same day a destructive mob breached the U.S. Capitol has been interviewed by police, authorities said Thursday.
The photos, which were widely shared on Twitter, including by actress Jane Lynch, show the woman being held from behind by a man while a person who is out of frame holds a canister — which many speculated was pepper spray — near her face.
The Los Angeles Police Department said Thursday night the woman, who initially had not come forward to police, was interviewed and "(b)ased on her statements and other evidence, a hate crime/battery report was taken."
The woman, 25-year-old Berlinda Nibo, told FOX11 a group numbering about 40 began following her after she flipped them off. She told the station the group was shoving her, calling her a racial epithet, and "asking me who I voted for."
Nibo said the man behind her was trying to help her, and was whispering in her ear, "Don't move, they're trying to kill you."
In a statement posted on its Twitter account, the LAPD said the man standing behind Nibo "was determined to be a Good Samaritan that helped her get away from the hostile crowd, by carrying her to safety."
In an earlier statement, the department said it was "aware of disturbing images" of the incident, and urged "anyone who was a victim and/or witness to any crime that occurred during yesterday's protest activities in DTLA to contact LAPD's Central Area."
The LAPD had said "a designated area was established within the protest location for individuals to report crimes and/or seek medical attention," while noting that "during fluid incidents such as protests, victims/witnesses of criminal activity or actions may leave the area prior to making contact with officers."
In response to many tweets — including from Lynch — identifying the man holding Nibo as an employee of a Southland Toyota dealership, Toyota wrote on Twitter: "The actions in these photos are inconsistent with Toyota's guiding principle of Respect for People. We do not condone this conduct."
The company added, "While Toyota dealerships are independently owned and operated entities, we can confirm this person is no longer employed by any Toyota dealership."
Many initially speculated on social media that the man was part of the group attacking the woman.
A GoFundMe page created for Nibo by a Los Angeles resident had raised more than $31,000 by 7 p.m. Thursday. Mayra Garcia, who told City News Service that she reached out to Nibo via Instagram after seeing the images, wrote that Nibo "needs medical help. Her shoulders, back and head are hurting her."
During the protest downtown, which began about 9 a.m. Wednesday, many held flags and carried signs reading "Stop the Steal." Members of the group stood along Spring Street while others circled the area in their vehicles.
The LAPD eventually declared the event an unlawful assembly, saying "several fights" broke out during the day as Trump supporters clashed with counter-protesters.
In total, six people were arrested — three on suspicion of carrying unpermitted items while attending a public demonstration, two on suspicion of failing to disperse and one for resisting or obstructing an officer, LAPD officials said.
The department said it is investigating the incident involving Nibo, encouraged "any witnesses or those with information on the suspect(s) to contact Central Area detectives."