The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

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.


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.