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 information can spread on social media, ricocheting around the web, especially in a fast-moving situation like the unrest in the Twin Cities.
Heavy asked police how they know that the umbrella man is not Officer Jacob Pederson, and they said that the officer had an alibi that checked out for that day and time. “We spoke with his supervisor, who was with him. We spoke to his colleagues, who were with him,” said Steve Linders, public information officer for the St. Paul Police Department.
Police say Pederson is being falsely accused of being the mysterious black-clad, umbrella-carrying man involved in methodically breaking windows at an AutoZone during the protests/riots, which have broken out in Minneapolis/St.Paul. Here’s a video of the umbrella man.
In a statement sent to Heavy, Linders 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).
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.
Heavy asked police how they know? As to the alibi, Linders told Heavy: “We were able to verify where the officer was and who he was with. In fact, he was working, as a Saint Paul police officer, protecting people and property.” Heavy asked the police if Pederson will grant an interview, but they said no, repeating that he had an alibi.
Police also wrote on Twitter, “RUMOR CONTROL … 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’ve seen it. We’ve looked into it. And it’s false. So we also want to be perfectly clear about this: The person in the video is not our officer.”
Heavy has asked Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder if police know the identity of the umbrella man, and, if so, who it is (we asked Linders the same question, but he didn’t respond to that question.) The AutoZone in question was located near the Minneapolis police 3rd precinct.
Many people shared the accusation on social media, 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 with the cop differently.
Dylan Park, an author, shared the text message screenshots and wrote, “From a close friend in Minny. There it is.” The messages have the names of the sender and recipient blacked out. They basically purport to show a person claiming to recognize Pederson as the man in the umbrella man video, in part because of the gas mask and gloves he’s wearing. The umbrella man’s face is mostly obscured by a mask, although his eyes are visible. Heavy has reached out to Park through his website asking for his comment on the police alibi statement and asking for the names of the text message sender and recipient so they can be contacted for interviews.
Park defines himself on Twitter as “Writer: 68 Whiskey, NYT Bestseller ‘The Moth Presents: Occasional Magic.’ Director: Nike, et al.” Park has more than 33,000 followers on Twitter, including some prominent people like former President Barack Obama and journalist Yashar Ali.
He wrote on his Twitter page that he’s received racist messages from strangers since posting the screenshot of the text messages and writing other tweets about the matter.
“My grandfather used to get the same death threats and he never backed down. Ever. On February 12, 1974, Klan members walked into his house and killed him while he was sitting on the couch watching tv with his family in the next room,” Park wrote.
“I am black you dumb motherf*cker. My grandfather was murdered by the KKK. My little brother was murdered by a white boy. I’m angry mfer. F*ck off,” he wrote in another tweet.
However, St. Paul police insist the accusations against Pederson are false.
People shared videos of the umbrella man systematically breaking windows at the AutoZone and used them to cast what police say are 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 another video showing the mysterious umbrella man:
The unrest in Minneapolis/St. Paul came after a viral video showing 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.
Falsehoods have spread on social media relating to this incident. For example, people falsely claimed on social media that 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.