Cops’ Most Deranged Lies and Bizarre Claims About the Protests
From glaring falsehoods about straight-up violence to absurd fantasies often involving ice cream, cops have been creative.
Protesters are not filling ice cream containers with concrete. Shake Shack employees are not putting bleach in milkshakes. And buses full of anti-fascists are not about to descend on a small town near you.
That’s just what police are saying.
As protests over racial justice and police brutality unfold across the country, police departments are taking to social media to tell their side of the story. The trouble is, they’re frequently wrong—and sometimes so wildly so that it begs the question of why they even bother.
Christopher Slobogin, director of Vanderbilt University’s criminal justice program, said cops can be mistaken, just like everyone. But sometimes police lie because they view themselves as in opposition to criminals, who also lie.
“It’s possible that police concoct lies because even though they know what they’re saying isn’t true, they believe the lie is in service of a greater good,” Slobogin told The Daily Beast. “If cops are convinced that, overall, they’re in the right, what’s a little lying here and there? I think that’s human nature, not just cops. But the problem, the cops have the power, they have the weapons, and people in authority tend to believe them.”
What follows is a smattering of the most impactful, egregious, or just plain weird fibs, panicky projections, falsehoods, or exaggerations about protests to come from cops, their spokespeople, and their unions in recent weeks.
The New York City Police Benevolent Association, which represents city police officers, claimed this week that workers at Shake Shack had put a bleach-like substance in officers’ milkshakes. The PBA—which joined a similar claim made by the Detectives’ Endowment Association—cited no evidence, aside from officers’ apparent gastrointestinal distress after they purchased Shake Shack’s notoriously heavy drinks while on the job. An official NYPD investigation quickly cleared Shake Shack workers of wrongdoing.
No Concrete Proof
New York City police also claimed internally this month that protesters were filling ice cream containers with concrete—presumably to throw at cops as projectile weapons—and leaving them at a construction site. Twitter users quickly noted that, not only was the concrete in coffee cups instead of ice cream containers, but that mixing concrete samples in coffee cups is standard practice for construction workers. The cups were even labeled with workers’ notes on the concrete composition. The construction site where the cups were apparently recovered even had a permit for concrete work.
Phantom Brick Piles
In Brooklyn, NYPD hyped up a rumor about protesters gathering brick piles to throw during protests. “This is what our cops are up against,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea tweeted, parroting the rumor, which has also been promoted by President Donald Trump. “Organized looters, strategically placing caches of bricks & rocks at locations throughout NYC.” Reporting by The Daily Beast and other outlets cast doubt on those claims, pointing out that they were near a construction site, and nowhere near protests.
On Monday, New York City’s Sergeants Benevolent Association (another police union) tweeted a video of protesters running through a Brooklyn street and throwing things at a cop car. “This was tonight,” the SBA tweeted, “Flatbush Ave Brooklyn.” The tweet also implied that a program that discourages unnecessary arrests was responsible for the chaos. In fact, there was no chaos that night in Brooklyn. The video was from May, and that area of Flatbush Avenue had long been calm, reporters covering the protests noted.
In Columbus, Ohio, police tweeted evidence of what they said was a clear violent scheme: a bus full of rocks, clubs, and a meat cleaver. “There was a suspicion of supplying riot equipment to rioters,” Columbus Police tweeted. “Charges pending.” In fact, Columbus Alive reported, police had stumbled across a colorfully painted circus bus. The frightened circus troupe told the outlet that the “clubs” were juggling clubs, the rocks were crystals, and the meat cleaver was pulled from the troupe’s cooking utensils. “Yeah, there’s a hatchet on the bus—with a bunch of wood sitting next to a wood-burning stove,” the bus’s owner said, noting that the vehicle was literally his house.
Technically Tear Gas
U.S. Park Police offered an oft-changing explanation for firing irritants at protesters in Washington D.C.’s Lafayette Park in order to clear it for a Trump photoshoot in early June. Police initially denied using “tear gas” in a statement, then walked that back, claiming that, technically, the projectiles were “smoke canisters and pepper balls.” Nevertheless, reporters for D.C.’s WUSA9 recovered tear gas casings from the scene—and as Vox noted, “tear gas” can be a broad term, sometimes referring to the pepper projectiles Park Police admitted to using. Attorney General William Barr also falsely claimed that pepper spray “is not a chemical irritant. It’s not chemical.” The Washington Post’s fact-checking department awarded the claim “four Pinnochios,” which is the maximum number of Pinnochios.
A Bad Trip
Police in Buffalo, New York, became the focus of national ire after they were filmed pushing a 75-year-old man to the ground, causing him to lose consciousness and bleed from the head. But before the video went viral, Buffalo Police offered a different characterization of the incident. “During [a] skirmish involving protestors, one person was injured when he tripped & fell,” police said in a statement. The video would later reveal that the man was alone when he calmly approached officers. He has a fractured skull and is still unable to walk, his lawyer said this week.
Small Biz Shakedown
After protesters took over a six-block area in Seattle, the city’s police claimed—without evidence—that the activists were extorting businesses in the area. Police appeared to walk back that claim several days later, after the local business association and prominent businesses in the area said they’d seen no indication of the alleged protection racket. Some businesses even said they were volunteering with the protests.
The Antifa Express
Multiple police departments have promoted a hoax about anti-fascists coming to their towns by the busload to wreak havoc. In Oregon, Curry County Sheriff John Ward shared a Facebook post warning that "3 buss loads of ANTIFA protestors are making their way from Douglas County headed for Coquille then to Coos Bay." Hundreds of locals reportedly stood outside with guns overnight awaiting the menace that never came.