On Wednesday morning, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea posted a video on Twitter of an NYPD officer on a street corner, facing what look like several blue plastic bins full of bricks or concrete chunks. “This is what our cops are up against,” he wrote. “Organized looters, strategically placing caches of bricks & rocks at locations throughout NYC.”
There is one major issue with that story: VICE has confirmed the video was taken on a street corner in Gravesend, a part of South Brooklyn where no protests, looting or rioting actually occurred. Interviews with both workers in the area and location data from both Snapchat and Instagram show there were no protests anywhere near that corner.
In a press conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio this morning, Shea said of his tweet, “In terms of the tweet today, unfortunately it’s not an isolated incident…. That was two locations. One was in Brooklyn, one was in Queens. Where prestaged bricks are being placed and then transported to quote unquote peaceful protests, which are peaceful protests, but then used by that criminal group within to sow fear. We’ve had construction sites burglarized in recent days in Manhattan. It’s interesting. Construction site burglary is not that uncommon, but during a riot it’s interesting what was taken, bricks.” Shea also accused demonstrators of throwing water bottles “filled with cement” at police or at their vehicles.
VICE asked the NYPD’s press office for more information on other locations where caches of bricks or other rioting materials were found; they referred us only to Shea’s statement.
Though several business owners in the area had seen or heard about the blue bins, all confirmed their street has been quiet; it’s worth pointing out, too, that Gravesend is extremely far from either Manhattan or Downtown Brooklyn, where many of the protest actions have taken place.
“I saw them,” a worker at Knapp Pizza II who identified herself as Jessica told VICE Wednesday morning. “It was yesterday morning. They were removing them,” meaning the bins. “I didn’t see who put them there. They removed them Tuesday morning. No actions were taken from what I know. Everything was good this morning when I came into work, thank God.”
Shea wasn’t in fact the originator of the video; the person who originally posted it was Yaakov “Jack” Kaplan, whose bio says he lives in the Midwood area. Kaplan tweeted, in part, “Bricks have been placed strategically around Brooklyn in anticipation of protests. ANTIFA is way more organized than politicians pretend.” The video has been viewed more than a million times on Twitter.
Kaplan did not provide any evidence that the bricks were placed by Antifa. With the help of both Commissioner Shea and alt-right activist and conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, who reposted the video, it has now been viewed more than one million times.
During the same press conference where Shea accused rioters of pre-planting bricks and lobbing cement-filled water bottles, Mayor de Blasio himself also made a jawdropping and entirely unsubstantiated set of claims, not just about the bricks, but about protest actions nationwide.
“Unquestionably we are seeing an organized effort to create violence,” he opined. “It does not reflect the vast majority of peaceful protesters and is separate from the criminals who are doing the things like the looting. There is a politically motivated group, with an ideology I cannot make any sense of, that is trying to do violence and organizing it, has game plans, has materials they use, training they do, people out spotting for them. There’s all sorts of clear tactics being used, here and around the country. It’s really straightforward.”
The mayor’s statements were untethered from reality. Thus far, the best evidence we have that any organized group is trying to spur violence under the cover of the protests and looting nationwide are far right groups who hope they can use this time of unrest to incite a civil war, and neo Nazis who are believed to be calling for terror attacks at a time when law enforcement resources are spread thin. Neither are likely to be dumping blue bins on a quiet street corner in a remote part of Brooklyn, nor are they who Shea or de Blasio appeared to be referring to; at the very least, neither the mayor nor the commissioner clarified who they believe these organized, rock-toting groups to be.
In recent days, rumors that bricks have been “strategically placed” by the police themselves have also spread wildly online. A viral video taken in Boston has circulated repeatedly, often with the context stripped away, which purports to show the police loading bricks in a police vehicle to be planted somewhere. The person who originally posted the video elected to take it down, writing, “those who replied that it lacked context/the cops could have been taking bricks off the streets for safety were correct! there’s no way of me knowing.” Boston.com was able to confirm that the police are from the Northeastern University Police Department, and police there say they were in fact unloading bricks that had been removed from a broken sidewalk.
“On Monday, June 1, while on a routine patrol of campus, two of our officers came across a damaged brick sidewalk at the corner of Tremont and Coventry streets that posed a safety hazard for pedestrians due to loose, upturned and broken bricks,” police said in a statement, reported by the news site. “To prevent injuries to pedestrians, the officers collected the bricks and returned them to [Northeastern University Police Department] headquarters, where they immediately notified the City of Boston of a need for repair to the sidewalk and to request that the city collect the broken and damaged bricks.”
NBC reported that a similar rumor was also spreading in Dallas; they were able to show that those particular bricks had in fact been sitting in that location for months. Police in Frisco, a suburb of Dallas, also tweeted that they too had investigated “suspicious” bricks, found they were part of a construction site, and removed them. They appear to be the same bricks that a Trump supporter in Texas with hundreds of thousands of followers tweeted yesterday that she found suspicious.
In the case of the New York bins, it is, of course, theoretically possible that well-organized looters with a penchant for doing things the hard way would place bins full of rioting materials on a busy street corner miles from any of the many large protests happening elsewhere in the city, presumably to be picked up later and transported to protests by car, which of course many New Yorkers own, only for those highly conspicuous bins to be found in broad daylight by the police. That is, anyway, the version of events that we’re apparently being asked to believe.
Update, 1:48 P.M. EST:
Mark Treyger, the City Council member who represents District 47, which includes Gravesend, tweeted, "This is in my district. I went to the site. This construction debris was left near a construction site on Ave X in Gravesend. Could be evidence of a developer breaking law since phase 1 hasn’t begun, but there was no evidence of organized looting on X last night that I’m aware of."
Do you know anything about the blue bins in New York, or any other allegations of brick-planting? We want to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Joseph Cox contributed reporting to this article.