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‘BLM Trapped 100 Shoppers’ in Wegman’s in Rochester, Explained

Claim

Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters "trapped" 100 shoppers inside a Wegman's in Rochester, New York on March 23 2021.

Rating

Decontextualized

Reporting

On March 23 2021, right-wing websites started pushing claims that Black Lives Matter protesters had “trapped” more than a hundred grocery shoppers inside a Rochester, New York Wegman’s supermarket:

Many of these claims were presented with misleading context. For example, the Daily Wire elected to use an old photograph from a September 2020 nighttime protest, not images from the daytime demonstration on March 23 2021.

Variations and Iterations

The site claimed:

Black Lives Matter protesters in Rochester, New York, mobbed a Wegmans grocery store on Tuesday afternoon [March 23 2021], trapping an estimated 100 customers inside.

Video shows protesters chanting “Black Lives Matter” and referring to Daniel Prude, a black man who died about a week after a viral encounter with the Rochester Police Department [in March 2020]. The state’s Democratic Attorney General announced last month [February 2021] that a grand jury will not seek charges against officers involved in the incident.

Before heading to the grocery store, protesters yelled, “We have a long walk today, we’re shutting s*** down,” according to 13WHAM-TV reporter Michael Schwartz.

The Daily Wire’s reporting hinged heavily on Twitter content not from a journalist, but from a right-wing blogger and talk radio host named Bob Lonsberry. Lonsberry — who is no stranger to racist controversies — tweeted at length about the protest, describing BLM as “this mob,” calling the demonstration “an embarrassing day” for local law enforcement, and claiming that police had been “castrated”:

Lonsberry also accused journalists of ignoring the protest at Wegman’s, including the hashtag “#PeacefulProtestMyAss”:

On the same day, Breitbart.com’s “REPORT: BLM Protesters Trap 100 Customers in New York Grocery Store” began:

Conventional and social media report that an estimated 100 customers are trapped inside a Rochester, New York, grocery store by Black Lives Matter protesters. The action followed a street march Tuesday morning [March 23 2021], protesting the in-custody death of 41-year-old Daniel Prude.

The Daily Wire later quietly added an update to their story, stating that no one was in fact “trapped” in Wegman’s:

UPDATE: Wegmans posted a tweet Tuesday afternoon [March 23 2021] informing the public that customers were allowed out of the store, though it remains closed.

In the embedded @Wegmans tweet, the chain said:

Commentary from the Scene of the BLM Protest Near Wegman’s

At 11:01 AM on March 23 2021, Twitter user @meowburger stated that Wegman’s was “literally keeping people hostage” in the store, and that the location had halted scheduled vaccine appointments:

In response to a question about why protesters had gathered, @meowburger explained that it was partly to commemorate the death of Daniel Prude, and partly a response to Wegman’s relationship with Rochester law enforcement:

Local Journalists’ Tweets

Despite the claims from radio host Bob Lonsberry, reporters were on the scene. For example, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reporter Justin Murphy began tweeting about the day’s events just after 8 AM local time, at the moment observing a few dozen people “spread out” at a separate location, and adding:

By 8:29 AM, Murphy reported that at least a hundred people had arrived for the demonstration, raising his estimate to roughly 150 just before 9 AM. At 9:20, Murphy tweeted that protesters had begun to march to other locations:

At 10:34, Murphy mentioned the demonstration appeared to be heading to Wegman’s. By 10:52, Wegman’s had apparently locked their doors:

Murphy added:

At 1:48 PM pm on March 23 2021, WROC reporter Kayla Green attempted to clarify confusion brought on by inaccurate and misleading claims like the Daily Wire’s:

In her tweet, Green emphasized that “customers were kept inside temporarily, but were let out soon after,” that protesters had never entered the store to begin with, and primarily, that no one had been “trapped” inside.

Another reporter, WHEC’s Raven Tiara Brown, also objected to the Daily Wire’s claims, tweeting:

Several commenters questioned the outlet’s use of a misleading image to accompany their tweet and published material:

Summary

On March 23 2021, right-wing entities, including the Daily Wire and Breitbart, published pieces (at least one of which used an unrelated, nighttime photograph) to claim that Black Lives Matter protesters had “trapped” a hundred people inside a Wegman’s supermarket in Rochester, New York. Journalists and protesters on the scene described the events very differently, indicating that the protest was peaceful and that Wegman’s locked their doors before marchers even arrived.

Wegman’s clarified their decision in a tweet confirming that the doors were briefly locked, and that no customers remained in the store. It was true that a march approached a Wegman’s, but circulating claims and unrelated images enabled misinformation and disinformation to proliferate on social media platforms.

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