A well-known Black Lives Matter activist allegedly ruined the reputation of a fellow University of Virginia student over a “misheard” remark, according to a report from Reason Magazine. The incident took place in July 2020, during the height of BLM protests and riots following the death of George Floyd.
UVA student Zyahna Bryant, then 19, accused fellow student Morgan Bettinger of threatening to run Bryant and a group of BLM activists down with her car. Bryant accused Bettinger of threatening to use the BLM protesters as “speed bumps,” sparking a massive social media hate campaign against Bettinger.
“The woman in this truck approached protesters in #Charlottesville, and told us that we would make ‘good speedbumps,'” Bryant wrote. “She then called the police and started crying saying we were attacking her.”
Bryant never posted footage of the then-unidentified Bettinger making the alleged threat, but she did post videos of the aftermath. The accusation was ultimately retweeted more than 1,000 times. The videos show a white SUV reversing down a street while Bryant and several BLM activists follow. “It’s a Karen, it’s a Karen,” Bryant could be heard shouting.
The next day, Bettinger was identified as a senior at UVA. “Good morning everyone but Albemarle High grad, UVA student and daughter of a cop, Morgan Alyse Bettinger, who threatened protestors in Charlottesville last night by saying from her blue Subaru that we’d ‘make good speed bumps,'” wrote one anonymous Twitter user. The post contained a screenshot of Bettinger’s Facebook profile, complete with a “Blue Lives Matter” banner. The post was ultimately retweeted over 750 times.
“Absolutely disgusting. She knew the history, and she knew what she was doing. A person who makes this kind of threat should not be a student at UVA. There can be no community of trust with people like her in it,” wrote Student Council President Ellen Yates in response to the tweet. Other students joined Yates in calling for Bettinger’s expulsion, with one referring to her as a “f****ing Nazi.”
A day after Bettinger’s identity was established, Bryant urged students to file complaints to school administrators demanding her expulsion.
“EMAIL these UVA deans now to demand that Morgan face consequences for her actions and that UVA stop graduating racists,” she tweeted. Bryant herself filed a complaint with the University Judiciary Committee, accusing Bettinger of threating students’ health and safety.
The University of Virginia eventually issued a statement, saying it “strongly condemns any threat directed at other members of our community. We are aware of the allegations on social media about a student’s conduct with respect to a protest in the city and are actively investigating the matter.”
Bettinger then became the subject of multiple investigations in the months that followed the incident.
According to her, she had noticed that a truck was partially blocking the road on the day of the protest, but she did not know that the road was blocked off until it was too late. By the time she noticed, her car was surrounded by protesters and she was unable to turn around.
At that point, Bettinger engaged in a “casual” conversation with the truck driver, who explained that he had parked there to protect the protesters.
“It’s a good thing that you are here, because otherwise these people would have been speed bumps,” Bettinger told the driver, who ultimately corroborated her statement with police.
“Not once did anything from the past, of even the rally, Unite the Right rally, cross my mind,” Bettinger says. “It was simply a comment made to a truck driver who was sitting and blocking the road, and just saying, like, ‘It’s good you’re here.'”
A student disciplinary hearing found that Bettinger was guilty of making a “legal threat” against the protesters. But a second investigation found that Bryant didn’t hear what Bettinger said firsthand and considered her evidence “shaky,” Reason reported.
Additionally, not one of the 30 witnesses to the event ever corroborated Bryant’s claims.
Bettinger was ultimately able to graduate from UVA, but with a permanent mark on her record. Bryant meanwhile has been the subject of numerous glowing profiles from major publications, including The Washington Post.
While Zyahna Bryant was getting glowing profiles in the Washington Post, the girl she falsely accused of trying to run over protesters had her plan of going to law school shattered and was being prescribed medication to sleep at night. pic.twitter.com/ESMKQUGU10
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) May 1, 2023
Bettinger told the outlet that while she is glad her name was ultimately cleared, she still suffered reputational and emotional damage and is preparing a lawsuit against the school. “This whole situation has had a huge impact on my life,” Bettinger said. “The university has never had to answer for what their actions have done.”