Meme unfairly blames “protesters” for four crimes

A Facebook meme that claims “3 of these 4 honorable men were killed by ‘protesters'” is false.

I don’t mean that I can prove that not a single one of the guilty parties ever participated in a protest. However,

  1. Police never connected Beaty’s death with the protests (and the FBI declined to do so when asked).
  2. Police sent out an alert that specified Underwood’s death was unrelated to protests.
  3. Dorn was responding to a burglar alarm at a business that was being looted hours after a protest ended.
  4. Brewer was injured not during a protest, but 40 minutes after protesters had left, while cops were relaxing after successfully dispersing the crowd.

I’m glad I looked up news stories about these four names.

I don’t own a business, I don’t have any family members or close friends who are cops, and I haven’t attended any of the demonstrations.

My social network does include business owners, blue families, and people who live-streamed police officers firing into peaceful crowds. I am interested in and I learn from all of these perspectives.

Teaching journalism is part of my job, so naturally I also follow a lot of journalists — some of whom are my former students. The social media algorithms show me stories about journalism because that’s what I respond to most readily — and I see a lot of stories about journalists (who are supposed to be exempt from curfew laws) being assaulted and arrested by cops, and sometimes assaulted by protestors.

I gained useful perspective by looking up each of these names on news.google.com, and reading stories my social media feeds probably would never have shown me. In brief, here’s what I found:

I’m glad to see that the poster seems to have removed or replaced whatever incorrect statement she initially said about the media coverage. (In a comment, she writes “I fixed it” after someone points out “the media is reporting on all of these cases.”)

  • Beaty: His best friend denies protesters were involved (SI); police “could not confirm if the shooting was connected to downtown demonstrations” (ESPN) (no arrests)
  • Underwood: Oakland Police Department “sent an alert to reporters saying the shooting didn’t appear to be related to that night’s demonstrations” (CNet) (no arrests)
  • Dorn: Responded to a looting incident hours after the official protest ended (CNN) (no arrests)
  • Brewer: Suspect Avery Goggans was charged with serious injury by vehicle, DUI, reckless driving & marijuana, 40 minutes after protestors had dispersed. I found nothing supporting the claim he was a protestor, much less a “protestor” in scare quotes.

It is of course possible I’ve missed something. Here are more details, with links:

Chris Beaty

  • His “best friend” says, “These were not protesters, they were just bad guys out there robbing people.” (Sports Illustrated)
  • “Indianapolis police could not confirm if the shooting was connected to downtown demonstrations about George Floyd and other police-involved deaths.” (ESPN)
  • A good-faith application of “innocent until proven guilty” means that, given the available evidence, it’s not reasonable to pin the murder of Chris Beaty on protestors.

Patrick Underwood

  • A story with the headline “Amid George Floyd protests, weaponized misinformation floods social media” says “Initial news reports of Underwood’s shooting linked the incident to the protests. As is often the case, the conjecture on Twitter and other social media sites ran away from the changing facts on the ground. As early as Friday night, the Oakland Police Department sent an alert to reporters saying the shooting didn’t appear to be related to that night’s demonstrations. And the FBI has never linked the two in its statements to the press. It confirmed to CNET that Underwood died in a drive-by shooting but declined to comment further because its investigation is ongoing.” (CNET)
  • Given that an official statement from the police directly contradicts Russell’s statement, it’s not reasonable to pin the murder of Patrick Underwood on protestors.

David Dorn

  • “David Dorn, 77, was killed while responding to an alarm at a pawnshop overnight Monday” (CNN).
  • This incident happened hours after the protest was over, and no arrest has been made, so about the most sympathetic I can be to anyone who blames this on a protestor is to say that they’re speculating.
  • Truly horrific footage of Dorn’s final moments aired live on Facebook. I feel sick at the thought that this black man’s tragic death is being used as part of a smear on the thousands and thousands of peaceful demonstrators marching under the “black lives matter” banner.
  • When Trump tweeted about this incident, he blamed not protestors but “despicable looters.” Yet whoever shot Dorn was, most importantly, a murderer
  • That guilty party was probably a looter, and could possibly have been part of that evening’s peaceful demonstration. Possibly. That person might possibly have been a bad cop, or a rival business owner, or a rogue journalism teacher. But establishing a thing is possible does not make it true.
  • If there is even the slightest meaningful difference between the categories “protester” and “looters who are also murderers” then it’s not reasonable to pin the murder of David Dorn on protestors.

Max Brewer

  • Injured by an ATV that sped past a line of police who were relaxing after dispersing a crowd.
  • On air, an 11Alive reporter says this incident happened about 40 minutes after the protestors left the area. His TV crew caught the ATV speeding past and later showed the injured officer lying on the ground.
  • “The driver of the ATV, 42-year-old Avery Goggans, was also injured. APD identified those injuries as minor. He was later charged with DUI, serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, possession of marijuana and other traffic charges” (11Alive).
  • Because police have a suspect, and because that suspect hasn’t been charged with things like unlawful assembly, resisting arrest, violating a curfew, vandalism, burglary, inciting a riot, or voicing opinions that make powerful people uncomfortable, it doesn’t look like the police associated the suspect with the protest.
  • Given the available evidence, it’s not reasonable to pin the serious injuries of Max Brewer on a protester.