DOWNTOWN — People are spreading false rumors about gas cans in alleys, white supremacist Proud Boys in parks and the North Side being set ablaze — and it’s putting Black lives at risk.
Sensationalist rumors have circulated widely on social media, but police and activists are asking people to stop the misinformation. The untrue posts are creating anxiety, said Chicago Police Supt. David Brown.
And activists said they’re worried the posts could lead to violence against Black people.
“We need your help with rumors on social media that fuel some of the divisiveness in our city,” Brown said during a Tuesday press conference. “This is fueling more and more anxiety, more and more anger. We need your help.
“I know this is a big ask, but the best thing you can help us with: Stay off social media. Don’t buy into the rumors. Help us deal in reality and facts as it relates to what’s happening on the ground.”
Police and other officials have dismissed the most widespread rumors, saying there’s been no confirmed reports of right wing groups at an Uptown march, nor have they gotten reports of Noble Square and Ukrainian Village residents finding gasoline cans hidden near houses.
Another popular falsehood that spread was a meme that said June 1 was the day several North Side neighborhoods would be “burnt to ashes.” Chicago Police said they were aware of that rumor, but it was also fake.
Kofi Ademola and Aislinn Pulley, two organizers with Black Lives Matter Chicago, said these claims are in no way associated with their movement. Both learned about the claims from speaking with a Block Club reporter Tuesday.
The rumors reminded Pulley of agitation tactics used by white supremacists. She encouraged non-Black residents to inform their families and networks of attempts to incite racial violence when they see these fake posts.
“White supremacists have done this for decades and centuries and we are seeing a resurgence of an old racist method of inciting racialized violence,” she said. “These fake memes are occurring because we’re at a critical turning point. … We have the ability to enact substantial systemic change.”
In fact, false posts on social media have already been used to hurt Black Chicagoans during the protests for George Floyd.
Adam Hollingsworth is a Black cowboy who normally takes his horses, Prince and Bella, around the South Side and Downtown to delight people. He’s recently ridden his horse at protests in honor of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in Minneapolis.
But people have snapped videos of Hollingsworth riding at protests in Chicago and posted them on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, incorrectly claiming he stole his horse from a mounted police officer.
The posts have gone viral, and people have harassed Hollingsworth. Someone even egged and spray painted his car, writing, “Return the Horse Bitch.”
As peaceful protests continue across the city, Ademola said he hoped the fake claims would not amplify racism among Chicago’s non-Black residents.
“It’s very disconcerting,” Ademola said. “We’re at a volatile time when the South and West sides are already hurting from the consternated poverty, the disinvestment … the pandemic. … We can’t couple that with racist attacks.”
Ademola said the racist narrative of associating Blackness with criminality could also be contributing to the spread of fake claims.
Like Pulley, Ademola encouraged non-Black residents to respond to the claims by showing solidarity.
“If they are afraid, instead of thinking about how to defend themselves, they should be building bridges to support our communities right now,” Ademola said. “Solidarity is gonna be more helpful in this moment than isolation and violence. … The reality is we’re vulnerable. … We’re in danger.”
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