Anatomy of Yet Another Hate Crime False Alarm

A reminder to be skeptical of all such breaking stories, whether they have to do with alleged racist hate crimes or anti-police hate crimes.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

From the New York Post (Craig McCarthy):

The three cops at the center of the NYPD milkshake "poisoning" scandal never even got sick, and there wasn't the slightest whiff of criminality from the get-go — but that didn't stop gung-ho brass from rolling out the crime scene tape and unions from dishing out empty conspiracy theories, The Post has learned….

Police sources explained it was clear that the workers couldn't have known cops had placed the orders "since it wasn't done in person" — and they couldn't have dosed the drinks after the officers arrived, because they were packaged and waiting for pickup when the trio walked in.

Soon after sipping the shakes, however, the cops realized they didn't taste or smell right, so they threw the drinks in the trash and alerted a manager, who apologized and issued them vouchers for free food or drink, which they accepted, according to sources.

But when the cops told their sergeant about the incident, the supervisor called in the Emergency Service Unit to set up a crime scene at the fast-food joint for an evidence search around 9:20 p.m. — nearly two hours after they first got the sour shakes….

[B]y 10:45 p.m., the Detectives Endowment Association was declaring that Finest had become "ill" after being "intentionally poisoned by one or more workers at the Shake Shack" — as Police Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch made a show of visiting Bellevue while his union declared at 10:47 p.m. that police officers came "under attack" from a "toxic substance, believed to be bleach." …

Both messages flurried across social media, spawning a trending #BoycottShakeShack hashtag ….

I thought of referring to this as a hate crime hoax; but because it's not obvious that there was more here than just overreaction, jumping to conclusions, and broken telephone (maybe there was and maybe there wasn't), I thought I'd be cautious and label it just a false alarm. Still, of course even such false alarms can be damaging to innocent businesses (here, Shake Shack) and can lead to needless fear, hostility, and social tension.

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  1. When I read the title of this post I thought it was going to be about Bubba Wallace.

    1. Well, he might be able to copy paste most of this again in a few days, who knows! The hoaxers aren’t usually that bright, nor are the white supremacists.

    2. Ding, ding, ding! Yes, folks, yet another fake hate crime. The “noose” was a garage door pull rope that had been in place since 2019, before Bubba moved into that space.

      https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nascar/2020/06/23/nascar-fbi-details-noose-bubba-wallace-garage-talladega/3245722001/

  2. Might actually help Shake Shack business-wise, if you catch my drift….

  3. Anti-cop crimes are not hate crimes in the usual sense. “cop” isn’t an immutable characteristic.

    1. There is nothing about the notion of a “hate crime” that requires that it be motivated by some “immutable characteristic” of the victim.

      1. I hate you. Justifiably.

    2. Nor is religion, or, nowadays, gender. Or sexual orientation, given how many people have transitioned from one to another later in life. And age is inherently mutable; you can’t stop it muting, no matter how much you try.

      1. I here by self-identify as an immortal dragon.

        Please form three lines.

        The line for supplicants who wish to bow down and worship me forms on the left. Supplicants bearing tribute in the middle and the line for virgin sacrifices on the right.

        1. The line on the right sure is a short one.

          1. I know. Virgins are so hard to find these days.

            1. Have you tried reddit?

    3. The cops screwed up — they should have immediately reported it to whatever bureaucracy deals with food poisoning and hazmat issues in NYC. Fast food places use a lot of chemicals that they really shouldn’t because they have a lot of employees who don’t know how to read and often mistake them for food ingredients.

      This happens a LOT more often than you might think.

      My first thought wouldn’t be those three shakes but the next thirty coming out of the machine because for all you know, some idiot mistook a gallon of this for a gallon of something else and poured it into the machine. And for all you know you might have to chase down those 30 people and make sure they are OK — or if they already are in various hospitals, tell the hospitals what they are dealing with. (That’s also why they shouldn’t have thrown their shakes out.)

      Overreacting — no more than taking a fire alarm seriously. 95% of the time you’ll be embarrassed to be making a fuss — it’s the 5% of the time that justifies taking this seriously. Just like with dorm fire alarms.

      Something similar happened at a Buffalo Wild Wings last fall — and they wound up with a dead manager and 13 people in the hospital. See: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2019/11/08/buffalo-wild-wings-burlington-death-chemicals/

      Someone spilled sodium hypochlorite onto a floor that already had acid spilled on it, and got what I suspect was chlorine gas — quite lethal. The proper approach is to evacuate — pull the fire alarm and get everyone out — and then warn the responding firefighters.

      Prof Volokh, rolling ESU was the right thing to do. 95% of the time they aren’t going to be needed. You just don’t know this isn’t going to be the one time they are.

      1. No, that’s pretty much wildly overreacting.

        From the facts of this story, it’s quite clear that the employees did clean the equipment. And there is nothing to suggest that they used anything but the appropriate food-grade cleansers and sanitizers required by the health department. The step the employees cut short was the rinse after.

        A little leftover sanitizer is going to make your food taste funny. You’re not going to have to call Poison Control, however, unless you try to drink the stuff straight. There’s a reason the food safety people require the cleansers they do.

        The appropriate response is a report to the restaurant manager who orders the machine taken out of service and re-cleaned. The customer deserves a replacement or his/her money back. That’s it. If it happens to you twice, maybe think about reporting it to the local food safety regulators. But a single incident? Don’t be ridiculous. If you’re that scared of other people messing with your food, eat at home.

      2. The overreaction was not reporting the bad food. For the reasons stated, this can actually be very serious.

        The overreaction was reporting this as a “hate crime” when it was not for the reasons stated such as didn’t know who placed the order, the order was sealed when picked up, etc

  4. There is no such thing as a hate crime.

    1. The police hate crime.

  5. Any time I see “noose” I assume it is a fake hate crime. No actual white supremacist has ever hung a noose as a form of intimidation. It is something that leftist fakers though think is a standard tactic so they always try to replicate it.

    1. Yeah, maybe but

      I have been watching a lot of British Crime TV shows lately, there being no sports to watch. It seems that every crime is settled by checking with CCTV, what they call their camera surveillance system that seems to be everywhere in Britain.

      Reportedly, this was a locked and restricted area with camera surveillance. So, what is taking so long to figure out.

      1. So, what is taking so long to figure out.

        Concocting a plausible story that supports the narrative while also explaining away the absence of substantiation for the allegation. Also, figuring out how to not look stupid after having not learned anything from the Smollett and so many other hoaxes.

  6. From the same article:

    “It was unclear why the sergeant and lieutenant escalated the situation.

    “Detectives easily closed the case after interviewing five employees and reviewing surveillance footage showing the shakes were made normally, sources said.

    “The machine was cleaned before the officers ordered, according to sources, and it still contained residual milkstone remover — a typically acidic solution used to combat buildup in dairy equipment.”

    Milkstone remover can cause severe skin burns. If ingested, it is treated as a poison, with rinsing of the mouth recommended and no vomiting. But readers still have no idea how much residual acid may have contaminated the drinks.

    The moral of the story seems to be: while news gets exaggerated or wholly fabricated for different agendas, it’s always best not to eat out, just in case the kitchen equipment isn’t throughly cleaned.

    1. Milkstone remover?!? Yuck…you learn something (disgusting and scary) every day.

      1. Milk is high in calcium. I suppose if you leave a lot of liquid dairy product sitting for a long enough time, you will get calcium mineral deposits.

      2. I worked at a custard stand when I was in college. I operated and cleaned the shake machines. Prior to today, I had never heard of milkstone remover.

        From what I can see from looking it up on line, it’s more intended for industrial scale dairy equipment than for restaurant grade equipment.

        1. What I noticed immediately is that it was *not* NSF Certified — the National Sanitation Foundation is the UL for restaurants and as a general rule, you don’t want to use stuff they haven’t certified.

          I’m actually surprised that an outfit as large as Shake Shack was using a non-NSF Certified cleaner, and wonder where they were getting it as I doubt there are many farm supply stores in NYC…

          1. 1. It may just be that one franchise.
            2. “The machine was cleaned before the officers ordered, according to sources, and it still contained residual milkstone remover” Until the “sources” are identified, I’m not convinced the milkstone remover thing isn’t just more BS. As a general rule, I am skeptical of anything attributed to anonymous sources.

    2. The moral of the story is you presume the worst until you know otherwise.

      Maybe the sun is drying the water off the shingles on the roof — or maybe the house had been hit by lightning and the attic is on fire. It was the latter, and I’m damn glad I took it seriously.

  7. “…jumping to conclusions, and broken telephone …”

    Are we allowed to call the game Chinese Whispers any more? Or have more enlightened times morphed it into “Telephone?” (I had to Google ‘telephone’ to make sure it was the same game that I had learned, as a kid, under that other name.)

    1. It’s been called “Telephone” since I played it in the 80’s. I had never actually heard it called Chinese Whispers. But my guess is you can’t call it that anymore. Nor really should you. It should actually be called “drive-thru ordering”.

    2. We called it telephone in the late 1960’s. Must have been a regional thing.

      1. I grew up in West Los Angeles. In a *very* liberal elementary school. I am assuming that this was the exception that proves/proofs the rule.

        1. I grew up in West L.A. from 1975 on — I never heard it called “Chinese whispers,” but always “telephone” or “broken telephone.”

  8. Nice write-up.

    Now I would like for you to perform a thought experiment. Pretend that instead of a bunch of police, this was a group of African-American college students.

    Before you dismiss the thought experiment out of hand, I will remind you that the mayor of Oakland California recently publicly stated that intentions do not matter when it comes to race. So even when a black man hangs exercise equipment that in no way resembles a noose in a tree, it is clearly a hate crime intended to discriminate and intimidate.

    So now, back to your thought experiment. How many apologies would have to be issued? How many people would have to be fired? How much Social signaling would people have to do on Twitter and Facebook?

    1. You’re nutpicking again. The mayor of Oakland was wrong; you don’t see a lot of people on the left taking that stance.
      Don’t wallow in speculative victimhood, it’s not healthy.

      1. Wallowing in victimhood isn’t healthy even when it isn’t speculative.

      2. I take it you are not from the SF Bay Area? The mayor’s position is pretty much the consensus among the Oakland city council:
        https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial-justice/2020/06/17/879758336/oakland-mayor-launches-hate-crime-investigation-into-nooses-found-at-park

      3. you don’t see a lot of people on the left taking that stance

        Well *you* might not see it…which is understandable given how far up your own nether regions your head appears to be permanently lodged.

    2. Anyone remember when a Black woman mistook (yellow) pine tree pollen for a hate crime?

  9. I thought that the most amazing thing about this story was how this ‘leftover cleaning material’ only got in those three shakes.

    Because it would have contaminated the whole batch.

    Magic!

    1. Not if it was in the piping, the pure product behind it would flush it out — although why it was exactly three and not two or four is interesting.

    2. Maybe there were a dozen bad milkshakes. Ordinary civilians without the power to bring down the law on people often just walk away from incidents where they get screwed in minor to moderate ways. If I get some bad tasting food I toss it and go somewhere else next time. No police report, no lawyers, not even a complaint to the manager.

      The rest of those bad milkshakes went to people who were neither Karens nor cops.

      1. Personally, I remain skeptical that there were ANY bad milkshakes.

        1. And if there were bad milkshakes, it could have just been bad mix.

          If that Shake Shack wasn’t rotating stock properly, they could have had some mix that sat too long and ended up in the machine.

  10. Thank you for this needed follow-up. At an event where people on more than one side are getting injured and killed, one doesn’t tend to believe anything is accidental, but sometimes it is.

  11. This sort of thing would be more understandable if it weren’t police doing it. Police are supposed to be in the justice business, not the grievance for profit/power/political gain business.

    If the police are going to become Al Sharpton, then we don’t need them.

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