A woman in a wheelchair accused of trying to stab Minneapolis Target looters was recorded being sprayed with a fire extinguisher. Now she's become an internet flash point.
- A divisive Twitter star emerged from the scene of a Minneapolis Target that was looted during protests over the death of George Floyd, who died after a police officer knelt on his neck.
- A woman identified only as "Jennifer" could be seen in videos sitting in a wheelchair while blocking people at Target. In one video where she was sprayed by a fire extinguisher and attacked with projectiles, she appears to have been wielding a knife or other sharp object.
- Both pro- and anti-Black Lives Matter posters and meme-makers have used the videos to support their arguments. The unconfirmed trending topics about the woman show how inflammatory social-media rhetoric can redirect the discourse around protests in just a few hours.
After a Minneapolis Target was looted during protests of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck, a new star emerged on Twitter: "Jennifer," a woman who appeared to be trying to stop the Target looters while wielding a knife or other sharp object.
The videos have been used by some anti-Black Lives Matter posters on Twitter as evidence that the crowd that surrounded the Target was violently attacking a woman with a disability, while pro-BLM and meme posters have used the videos as evidence that she was a threat. Many of the Twitter trends about the videos touted unconfirmed theories, including that the woman is 30 years old and able to walk without a wheelchair.
A top Twitter trend compared the woman to Gypsy Rose Blanchard, the real-life subject of the popular Hulu series "The Act" who conspired with her boyfriend to kill her mother in 2015 after years of being unnecessarily made to use a wheelchair as a victim of Munchausen symptom by proxy.
The adaptations of the "Jennifer" videos — as well as the resulting trends and discourse that has included prominent journalists and celebrities — shows how unconfirmed rumors and potentially misleading videos on social media can accelerate a politically charged movement on multiple sides in just a few hours.
Videos can be misleading, and the key videos of 'Jennifer' are being used to support multiple stances on the protests
In one trending video, a woman is seen sitting outside a Target side door in her power wheelchair. A white woman carrying a trash bag full of items passes her first, then a Black woman pulling a Target cart full of items attempts to get past her but can't because the wheelchair is blocking the exit.
—Hot Girl Luna (@BigKumiteEnergy) May 28, 2020
At this point in the video, which was disseminated on Snapchat with the caption "She stabbing people," people start shouting that the woman has a knife. "She's stabbing people" and "she got a knife" can be heard before a white man starts spraying the woman with a fire extinguisher. Some people in the crowd throw things at her and cheer. At least one person can be heard yelling "leave her alone."
A second video appears to show the woman putting away a sharp object in her hand as a man says, "Jennifer, is that enough?"
—Arturo Zaher (@ArturoZaher) May 28, 2020
Another video taken sometime before she was sprayed with the fire extinguisher shows the woman being hit in the head multiple times while another person appears to try to take something from her purse. Onlookers yell at the woman hitting "Jennifer" to stop.
—Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) May 28, 2020
The above video and another one appearing to show multiple people pushing the woman around in her wheelchair while she tries to block another Target exit were posted by Andy Ngo, the conservative journalist who was attacked by "Antifa," or anti-fascist, protesters during demonstrations last year in Portland, Oregon.
Ngo has campaigned against progressive protesters on social media, and as he has more than 340,000 followers, his reposts of the "Jennifer" videos were widely disseminated. By framing the woman in the video as an "elderly wheelchair-bound woman who was attacked" while "trying to do her part in stopping the looting," Ngo attracted anti-BLM discourse that, in his own replies, veered into violent, racist, anti-Black rhetoric.
As posters used the videos as anti-BLM material, unverified theories about 'Jennifer' trended on Twitter
Troll posters also spread the videos — some removed the sound so listeners couldn't hear "She's stabbing people" and "She got a knife" and didn't show the original Snapchat caption that said she had a weapon.
One such edited video was tweeted with the caption "Disabled white women attacked by a mob of black people #MinneapolisRiots," though the man who sprayed the fire extinguisher appeared to be white.
—Hot Girl Luna (@BigKumiteEnergy) May 28, 2020
These framings attracted Twitter users espousing racist views and others saying, without evidence, that the woman in the video was not elderly, as Ngo and others claimed. "She's 30," "SHE GOT A KNIFE," and "SHE CAN WALK" all trended on Twitter.
The unverified trends and inaccurate framing in some of the troll tweets demonstrated how inflammatory, unproved, and sometimes flat-out false rhetoric quickly amplified the online ideological clash.
—+Jax (@Jax_Collie) May 28, 2020
The "Gypsy Rose" comparisons emerged after a video appeared to show the woman walking without a wheelchair. Many people who use wheelchairs use them part time.
—Michael Angelo (@michaelxanqelo) May 28, 2020
Insider was not able to independently verify the identity of the woman in the video or her age. The Minneapolis Police Department does not know her identity, either. In a video recorded after the fire-extinguisher incident by another onlooker, the woman says, "I was peacefully protesting and trying to block the way so they couldn't leave" with things.
—Kaecia Williams (@PoeticKaee) May 28, 2020
She continued: "They attacked me from front and back. They punched me in my mouth, my head. I got punched in the head several times. I got grabbed from behind. People grabbed my wheelchair. They stole my keys. They stole everything they could off of me. I got maced in the face. I got covered with fire-extinguisher stuff. I've already seen the EMTs, and they told me to go home."
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