On Tuesday, as a Minnesota jury convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin of second-degree murder for the killing of George Floyd on May 26, 2020, social media erupted in joy. It's been less than a year after Chauvin, who is white, pinned the 46-year-old Black man down with a knee to his neck last May.
Soon after the verdict, Americans celebrated-- honked car horns and streamed through the streets with signs of Floyd's face. Many broke down in tears, it felt like justice, at least, this one time.
George Floyd's death had set off worldwide protests. It had also set off a series of misinformation.
The jury rejected Chauvin's efforts to blame Floyd's death on drugs, a weak heart, and even the police car's exhaust. This was unusual given the history of such cases-- Unlike juries in so many previous prominent cases in which officers killed unarmed Black men – including Terence Crutcher, Philando Castille, and Freddie Gray – this jury did not accept the police officer's excuses.
The tragic death of Floyd and the global protests that followed led to a plethora of misinformation campaigns, rumours, and conspiracy theories, ranging from the absurd to harmful.
How the Misinformation Started
On the morning of May 26, 2020, Minnesota police spokesman John Elder sent a brief press release regarding a death that had occurred the prior evening. The statement that was headlined "Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction" said that "on Monday evening, shortly after 8:00 p.m., officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress. Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence.
"Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later," it read.
It was only after bystander videos and security footage from the scene started going viral that showed then officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes while Floyd repeatedly said, "Please, I can't breathe" that the protests began. The Minnesota police deleted their first statement from their website.
Fake News Around George Floyd
It was known that George Floyd had multiple brushes with the law and was sentenced to serve five years in prison for his involvement in an armed robbery in 2007 while he still lived in Houston. But, facts were botched up on the Internet. Some viral posts claimed the woman robbed, Aracely Henriquez, was pregnant and that Floyd beat her and threatened to kill her baby. Some social media also shared photos of a woman with bruises and cuts on her face, claiming it is Henriquez. It wasn't, the photos were of a different woman, not related to the incident. The woman in the photo was of another woman, Andrea Sicignano, an American student who was assaulted and raped in Madrid in 2018.
George Floyd's Death Was Not Staged
Soon after Floyd's tragic death, a viral post claimed former US President Barack Obama tweeted an image of a protest sign with Floyd's face on it, eight days before his death. The misleading article concluded that "the whole thing was planned in advance." It was fake. The Obama Foundation told AFP, "There is no truth to this internet rumor. The preview image for Obama.org updates dynamically on social media sites, based on the information set. The photo with the George Floyd protest sign that previewed for Obama.org was taken on May 30, 2020 and first used on our site on May 31, 2020."
George Floyd Did Not Die of Overdose
Social media posts shared tens of thousands of times claimed that George Floyd overdosed, suggesting that was the cause of his death. It was after American conservative political activist Charlie Kirk's claims in a video that a medical examiner said George Floyd's death should be ruled an overdose that the fake theory started doing the rounds.
That was false too--the 46-year-old black man's death in police custody was ruled a homicide by a medical examiner. While an autopsy by the Hennepin County medical examiner's office did find drugs in Floyd's system, it concluded that the cause of his death was "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression," and that the manner of death was "homicide."
George Floyd's Brother Is Not A Suspect In North Carolina Shooting
"Why isn't this on the NEWS Channels? George Floyd's younger brother, Dejywan Floyd, has been arrested in North Carolina for a 'road rage' shooting of a white couple, killing the mother of six sitting in the passenger seat," a Facebook post from April 11, 2020 read. The post included photos of a Black man and a white woman. The claim was debunked. Dejywan Floyd is not related to George Floyd. "This is not true! At all," Bridgett Floyd, one of his siblings who now runs The George Floyd Memorial Foundation, had told AFP. She said she shares four siblings with George Floyd: Philonise, LaTonya, Terrence and Rodney.
Fake Protest Videos
A video posted on Twitter purported to show gunfire exchange on a street was viewed tens of thousands of times on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Weibo in June 2020. The claim was that the video was shot in the US, where widespread protests against police brutality following Floyd's death continued. Fact-checkers found that the video has circulated online since at least January 2020 - months before the protests erupted in late May - and actually shows a scene from The Tomorrow War, a US movie expected to be released in 2021.
Trump Joined In
The official White House Twitter account shared a video montage showing piles of bricks on the streets in different cities, and protesters throwing projectiles with a tweet that accused an anti-fascist group, Antifa, and "professional anarchists" of domestic terror through "staging bricks and weapons to instigate violence". On the day of Floyd's funeral, the then US President Donald Trump joined in the disinformation campaign, suggesting that 75-year-old Martin Gugino, who remains hospitalized in serious condition after being shoved to the ground by two Buffalo, New York, police officers, maybe an "ANTIFA provocateur" and that the whole incident could be part of a "set up." Gugino's lawyer called the president's accusations "dark, dangerous, and untrue." Court records and research shows the loosely affiliated group didn't have that much to do with these protests.
"We are able to breathe again," George Floyd's brother said while speaking at a press conference following the verdict but he said that his fight for justice will continue. A 12-member jury found Chauvin, 45, guilty of all three charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter after considering three weeks of testimony from 45 witnesses, including bystanders, police officials and medical experts. Deliberations began on Monday and lasted just over 10 hours.
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