In the immediate news cycle following the above, now-infamous picture of an undercover California Highway Patrol officer pulling a gun on Oakland #blacklivesmatter protesters on Dec 10th, a piece in The LA Times made a fairly explosive claim: protesters had been openly "posing" with weapons on social media.
[California Highway Patrol Chief] Browne said tensions have risen among officers as several protesters have posted pictures of themselves on social media claiming to be armed with handguns, rocks and explosive devices.
Chief Browne, in an attempt to show why his officer's feared for their lives when confronted by largely peaceful protesters had to present evidence - any evidence - to support this claim. Absent any direct or demonstrable proof, the CHP spokesman appealed to the always reliable "twitter reports" - a vague straw man that the press rarely, if ever, actually asks to cite. But here's the rub: Twitter is entirely public so evidence of Chief Browne's claim really shouldn't be hard to come by, especially if there are multiple instances as he indicates. So I asked the CHP, via email, for the URL's showing the tweets of protesters posing with said weapons, if only because the very same LA Times report also mentioned the CHP was running a series of fake twitter accounts posing as protestors --
Officers have also been creating Twitter accounts, on which they don't identify themselves as police, in order to monitor planned demonstrations.
and I wanted to make sure they weren't crossing their own wires by citing their own undercovers or the undercovers of other agencies. After all, in a follow up report in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland PD admitted they had no idea the California Highway Patrol had undercover officers at the protests:
So the idea that different departments could, in fact, be citing each others' Twitter undercovers - while unlikely - was entirely possible. After my initial questions, however, it soon became clear that the problem wasn't with the CHP potentially citing tainted twitter accounts, but rather that no such twitter accounts actually existed in the first place. My questions and their response below:
So they couldn't be immediately found, fair enough. After a few more weeks of pestering them, their predictable answer finally came back this afternoon: no such tweets could be provided:
Now, while it's true that one cannot say for certain the CHP is lying - that the tweets never existed in the first place - it's the only rational conclusion to reach for two reasons:
1) The CHP has every reason to lie.
2) The idea that the CHP needed to "preserve" the tweets is a non sequitur - Twitter is public and only the tweeter can delete or erase tweets so this means for any of the evidence to be scrubbed off social media, each and every one of the alleged weapon-posing "protestors" would have to have deleted their tweets to the last man.
When asked, point blank, if it's possible their officers had simply made up (or, more generously, assumed) the tweets in question, the CHP moved the goal post once more, writing back:
We do, however, have audio records of radio traffic by officers on the ground, our aircraft overhead, and our dispatchers which relate that our officers were assaulted on several occasions with rocks, bottles, and other projectiles, and that incendiary devices were utilized against our patrol vehicles, officers, and our helicopter.
But radio traffic is, once again, just an assertion by the police. It could be true, but its not the same thing as the objective evidence of pictures of "protesters" "posing" with weapons on social media. It's not even close to being the same thing. The most likely scenario is the police widely believed they saw these weapons (again, entirely possible) and instead of telling the press "trust us" simply asserted vague social media evidence they knew the press was unlikely to follow up on. After three weeks and the resources of the largest state government in the union, the most likely reason they could have for not providing a single URL of the (supposedly several) tweets in question is simple: no such tweets actually exist.
The post will be updated if and when the CHP follows up again