On Monday, reports surfaced that three New York City police officers were poisoned by milkshakes ordered at a Manhattan Shake Shack. Almost instantly, staunch badge supporters called it a hate crime, citing it as yet another example of what happens in a lawless society that denigrates police.
By early Tuesday, however, the NYPD had investigated the incident and concluded there had been “no criminality” on the part of Shake Shack employees. In other words, the story wasn’t what it seemed at first glance. Shake Shack put out a statement saying they’d pay close attention to cleaning products used on their milkshake machines and after a little context the whole thing seemed blown out of proportion.
Still, as bizarre as the story was, it seemed weirdly familiar.
Media Matters editor-at-large Parker Molloy tweeted a thread chronicling the numerous times in recent memory police have complained (and lied) about anti-cop bias at fast food restaurants. It happens surprisingly often and in what seems like increasingly absurd ways. One Indiana cop even complained McDonald’s employees took a bite out of his sandwich before he apologized by saying he forgot he’d taken the bite. The other stories Molloy linked—including an officer writing “fucking pig” on his own Starbucks cup—are Onion-esque to say the least.
What seems like a ridiculous series of stories is actually an instructive way for people to view police statements. Media outlets, particularly local ones, tend to regurgitate police blotters and report official statements as news with little vetting or inquiry. This perpetuates police narratives and provides opportunities for cops to play fast and loose with the truth. Since cops are usually taken at their word, there’s little downside in faking some weird fast food slight to garner sympathy and attention.
Over the past two weeks, police have repeatedly complained about a lack of respect from their communities as they continue inciting violence at peaceful demonstrations across the country. The juxtaposition isn’t coincidental. Even as the world watches, police are behaving as they normally would and trying to get away with their regular tricks, including lying about interactions to save their own skin.
it's still got a shine on it pic.twitter.com/CKLxDg8svq
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) June 9, 2020
The initial police report about the Martin Gugino incident—the 75-year-old man who was pushed by Buffalo, N.Y. police and began bleeding from his ears—insisted Gugino had tripped and fell. Video footage clearly showed he was pushed and several cops walked past him as he laid unconscious. Without that video, the initial report would’ve stood as the official account and the public would’ve moved on none the wiser.
The real question is why local media seems content reporting police statements as fact. Officers are incentivized to lie to downplay or eliminate their wrongdoing in situations of clear cut excessive force. Since police wield state-sanctioned power, control incident reports, and regularly get media to parrot them, they can basically say whatever they want. But in a world where they feel attacked and marginalized, cops will extend their lying into the dumbest possible realms as a ploy to invoke sympathy and victimize themselves. It doesn’t matter whether it’s obvious brutality or a funky-looking latte—cops simply shouldn’t be taken at their word.