A (Fake) Story of Child Abuse Sparks the Harlem Riots
An innocent Puerto Rican boy was beaten to death by the white man!
That story hit the streets in 1935 and sparked the Harlem riots, the first race riot in the area which killed three people, wounded hundreds and damaged property to the tune of roughly $2 million dollars. Adjusted for inflation, those figures work out to $200 trillion worth of property damage and 300 thousand casualties.
How It Got Started:
The kernel of truth behind this story is that a 16-year-old Puerto Rican boy named Lino Rivera was caught shoplifting a 10-cent penknife. A store employee apprehended the thief, and got his hand bitten for his troubles. Long story short, the police were called and Rivera was arrested and later released.
While all this was happening, a crowd had collected outside the store. The trouble started when a woman who witnessed the initial confrontation began shrieking that the boy had been beaten.
Naturally, when an ambulance showed up to treat the store employee for his bite wound--lest he turn Puerto Rican during the next full moon--the crowd assumed that it was there to pick up the boy. When they noticed a hearse parked nearby, the shrewd crowd applied Occam's razor to the situation, concluding that the boy must have been beaten to death.
"Nope, I just like hanging out with my hearse in Harlem."
That evening, demonstrations were organized in front of the store during which printed handbills and pamphlets, the blogs of their time, were passed around reading "CHILD BRUTALLY BEATEN." The prestige and credibility of printed media pushed the crowd over the edge: a rock was thrown through the store's window, and city-wide carnage ensued.
"According to this, I beat a Puerto Rican boy to death today. Curious."
Things only calmed down once pictures of the boy standing beside a police officer were passed around, disproving the rumor. As per their retraction policy, the rabble-rousing pamphleteers shouted at their recently-looted Jenkins JD-30 TV/Radio receivers a few hastily-worded apologies, which were cruelly ignored by the newsreaders inside the box.
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