Lucille Sherman and Zachery Eanes
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
In the hours after a Raleigh police officer shot and injured 26-year-old Javier Torres on Tuesday night, conflicting information about the incident spread on social media.
Police and local activists posted very different stories about what had transpired, including contrasting details about Torres’ age, condition and the context of the shooting.
As social media posts and tensions rose, hundreds of people marched through downtown in the early hours of Wednesday morning, angry over the third shooting by Raleigh police officers in less than a year.
In a press conference early Wednesday, Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown blamed “reckless and false information that has been spread on social media” for inciting the protests.
Activists and people who said they were at the scene of the shooting took to Twitter to post their versions of the incident — and police and video later contradicted much of it.
Some of the claims made on social media described Torres as 16 years old, unarmed, stealing a pizza, and/or shot in the back.
Police reported information that contradicted those claims in a press release late Tuesday night. A video released late Wednesday — footage from a police officer’s body camera — also showed social media memes were wrong.
In the moments before the shooting, someone called 911 to report a group of eight males near the 1000 block of North Rogers Lane, according to police.
The caller reported one of them had “a gun strapped on them” and was “flashing” the gun. The caller also described the male as Hispanic.
Police arrived minutes later, and Torres ran from the officers, according to police. Officers pursued him, giving Torres multiple commands to “drop the gun.”
Another officer responding to the scene encountered Torres running directly toward the officer with a gun in his right hand, according to the police report and body and dash camera footage of the incident released Wednesday evening.
That officer fired one round, which hit Torres in the abdomen. Torres is shown in the video with an abdominal wound.
Torres is now at WakeMed hospital, police said.
Anger and confusion
Zainab Baloch, who ran for Raleigh mayor last year and was one of many on Twitter after the shooting, said she went to the scene to get information for her followers.
In an interview late Tuesday, she said she saw a lot of confusion and anger. She said witnesses told her Torres was 16. She shared that with her followers, which resulted in hundreds of inaccurate retweets.
Many others tweeted about the incident, with one tweet in particular getting thousands of retweets and likes. It said the victim was “a Black teenage boy” who was “killed over pizza.”
Raleigh-Apex NAACP President Gerald Givens attributed the rapid spread of false information to emotions running high and the community on edge after recent shootings by police. Last April, the police shot and killed Soheil Mojarrad, a man who was holding a a knife; and earlier this year, Raleigh police shot and killed Keith Dutree Collins, who was holding a BB gun.
“Once the story gets started and people get on Facebook Live and Twitter Live, they are telling their perspective. And different people from all over the country are chiming in and trying to figure out what’s going on and what’s happening,” Givens said. “It’s very difficult to have a factual conversation on Facebook Live.”
Givens also went to the scene of the shooting Tuesday evening. He said he spoke with one of Torres’ family members, who confirmed police reports of his age.
The police body-camera footage was released early Wednesday evening. In the video, Torres appears to be holding a gun in the moments before an officer shoots him one time.
Approximately 6:40 p.m. A 911 caller reports a man “flashing” a gun.
Sometime after 6:49 p.m. Officers respond to the North Rogers Lane.
In the immediate aftermath: Videos and incorrect information begin spreading on social media.
9:51 p.m. The Raleigh Police Department releases the man’s age and condition on Twitter.
10:54 p.m. The Police Department posts a news release with Javier Torres’ name and details of the incident.
11:42 p.m. A video showing the aftermath of the shooting is posted by a Twitter user. It quickly reaches 20,000 views.
The same video was also posted on worldstarhiphop.com and has more than 300,000 views.
12:08 a.m. Protesters begin gathering downtown.
3 a.m. Protesters begin to disperse, according to The News & Observer reporters on the scene.
5:30 a.m. Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown holds a news conference and blames false social media information for inciting protests. “This is not who we are as a city,” Deck-Brown said.
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