A viral and incendiary social media accusation against a St. Paul, Minnesota, police officer is false, the police department said in a statement. The situation shows how quickly false information can spread on social media, ricocheting around the Web and damaging people’s reputations, especially in a fast-moving situation like the unrest in the Twin Cities.
In this case, the social media falsehood happened to Jacob Pederson, a St. Paul police officer who was erroneously accused of being the mysterious black-clad, umbrella-carrying man involved in methodically breaking windows at an AutoZone during the protests/riots in Minneapolis/St. Paul, according to the police statement. Here’s a video of the umbrella man.
convince me this guy that started shit at autozone windows is not a COP pic.twitter.com/zmirgedQkD
— molly (@molllygurl) May 28, 2020
In a statement sent to Heavy, Steve Linders, public information officer for the Saint Paul Police Department, wrote that the post accusing Pederson was a “false social media post.” The man isn’t Pederson, he stated (although he didn’t use Pederson’s name, Heavy asked about that.)
The police statement read:
We are aware of the social media post that erroneously identifies one of our officers as the person caught on video breaking windows in Minneapolis. We want to be perfectly clear about this: The person in the video is not our officer.
Our officer has been working hard, serving his community, keeping people and property safe, and protecting the right to peacefully assemble. It’s unfortunate that people would post and share this untrue information, adding more confusion to an already painful time in our community.
Many people shared the accusation on social media, falsely accusing Pederson of “kickstarting” the riot by being the umbrella man. Some posts contained screenshots that purportedly contained unverified text messages in which someone who knows Pederson allegedly pointed the finger of suspicion against him. Different posts characterized that person’s relationship to the cop differently.
It’s all false, say St. Paul police.
People shared videos of the man systematically breaking windows at the AutoZone and used them to cast false aspersions on Pederson. “Here is a video of the incident which shows protesters trying to stop him from smashing the windows. We need to be aware of police purposefully creating violence just to give justification for future forceful reactionary measures. The narrative is ours and we must control it,” wrote one Twitter user.
Here’s the video:
The unrest in Minneapolis/St. Paul came after a viral video showing a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressing his knee against the neck of a man named George Floyd during an arrest. Floyd pleads that he can’t breathe, and then goes silent, but Chauvin keeps him restrained in that manner despite bystanders urging police to check on his welfare. Chauvin and three other officers have been fired; a federal investigation is ongoing. A cause of death has not been released by the medical examiner’s office. Floyd was pronounced dead a short time later at a hospital.
The turmoil in the streets escalated, starting on the evening of May 27, as an AutoZone was lit on fire, Target was looted and other businesses were destroyed or damaged. You can see a list and photos of some of the damaged businesses here.
Other falsehoods have spread on social media relating to this incident. For example, people falsely claimed on social media that Officer Chauvin was in a photo wearing a Make Whites Great Again hat, but it wasn’t him. It was a well-known prankster. Read about that photo here.