Thursday, June 11, 2020

Hoboken Bricks and Mortar


Many of you have heard about a demonstration planned for Friday in Hoboken. You may have also seen some of the disinformation and fear-mongering on social media regarding this event. Today, I did something about that.

But first some background.

One of the most common online memes during the nationwide protests is the mysterious bricks conspiracy. It’s not just being repeated by random trolls and bots but has captured the social media accounts of the Trump White House, too.

It goes something like this: “Professional anarchists” are leaving pallets of bricks and stones at demonstration sites. The purpose is to incite protesters to wreak havoc, hurling the projectiles at police and breaking the windows of nearby businesses.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other platforms have been flooded with video clips of piles of bricks on sidewalks suggesting some clandestine scheme to fan the flames of violence and disrupt constitutionally protected protests.

President Trump has conveniently laid the blame at the feet of Antifa, a loose collection of black-clad provocateurs whom he seeks to classify as “domestic terrorists.” Others have suggested that the bricks may be part of the “Boogaloo,” an effort by white supremacists to provoke the next civil war, pitting Blacks against whites in America.

Many of these video clips have been effectively debunked by fact-checkers and journalists. In most cases, the bricks are simply part of a nearby construction or repaving project. In one bogus video created and spread by the White House, the stones in question were actually an anti-ramming barricade erected more than a year ago by a Jewish Community Center in California.

Infecting Hoboken
Sadly, this misleading online meme has spread to Hoboken. There are a number of tweets linking the Friday demonstration to mysterious piles of bricks, which allegedly were deposited under the cover of night at locations along the route of the march. I'm purposefully not linking to them here.

In all of the instances I’ve seen, the photos are of bricks that aren’t at Hoboken locations. Oftentimes, the twitter accounts posting this disinformation were recently created and have few followers (tell-tale signs of a troll, bot, or other online agitator). The owners of the accounts refused to identify themselves to me or say that they were from Hoboken.

Fear and Plywood in Hoboken
The concern is already seeping through our community. One former Hoboken politician (Yes you, Tony) attempted to sow fear with a tweet warning of widespread vandalism and chaos should Mayor Ravi Bhalla and local police not shut down all means for outsiders to enter our city. Wiser minds have prevailed, apparently, as he's since deleted this alarmist tweet.

A number of Hoboken restaurants and shops have started boarding their windows. Expect to see more doing this today as fear spreads to other owners who rightly don’t want to become victims of vandalism, but whose (over?)reaction still feels shameful.

In search of Hoboken's mystery bricks
I decided this morning to take a walk to the demonstration site at Maxwell Park. From there, I walked the route along Sinatra Drive to Pier A that the protest organizers said they’d be following. (See my interview with the organizers here).

Gifts from the greatest anarchist of them all
My goal was to find and photograph mysterious piles of bricks that have been left along the way. As you might expect, there were none.

I did find some random rocks, deposited at the foot of the Stevens Institute cliffs by that greatest professional anarchist of them all, Mother Nature.

I also found some paving stones on a pallet at Pier A, part of a city-permitted project to repave a portion of the walkway between 4th Street and the pier.

I contacted the contractor and asked whether the bricks were placed there for some purpose other than beautifying our city. At first, he thought I was joking. After some convincing, he assured me that beautification is indeed what they were intended for.

Beautification is not the 'Boogaloo'
You see, we do have bricks in Hoboken we also have mortar. They are the people who look out for the welfare of one another. We hold ourselves together during times like these. We protect the rights of everyone — to be free from fear when speaking out, assembling and demanding justice for all.

We should reject anyone seeking to take away those rights or to frighten us into taking action against people expressing their concerns about systemic racism and police violence. Those spreading false information in order to pit people in conflict with one another need to be called out repeatedly.

On Friday, Hoboken has the opportunity to come together in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives. We should join together at Maxwell Park in a socially-distant show of strength and support for one another and for those who may be less fortunate than we are.

Please join us. Yes, wear a mask. And don’t let fear or its mongers win the day.

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