A right-wing echo chamber amplified a tiny, insensitive protest into a “crowd” screaming death wishes

News outlets disproportionately focus on “we hope they die” comment against police from approximately five individuals

After two deputies were shot in an ambush in Compton, California, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) tweeted that protesters were blocking the entrance to the emergency room and yelling, “We hope they die.” LASD’s tweet was amplified by right-wing media figures and spread to mainstream media, with some using the incident to criticize ongoing nationwide protests against police violence even though the number of protesters on the scene appeared to be in the single digits.

The story gained additional media attention after sheriff’s deputies outside the hospital arrested KPCC and LAist reporter Josie Huang. On Twitter, LASD falsely alleged that Huang did not identify herself as a journalist, though video she recorded shows Huang identifying herself as press “at least five separate times,” in addition to a lanyard displaying her credentials, while deputies apparently tried to destroy the footage by stepping on her phone. Huang was reportedly released from custody with a citation for obstruction, “visible bruises and scrapes, a sore shoulder and a blackened eye.” 

NBC’s Today covered the sheriff’s department’s claim that “a small group of protesters arrived chanting, ‘Death to cops,’” and a screenshot of the protesters shows an extremely small group surrounded by law enforcement. An additional video of the incident raises further doubt that the small group of individuals actually blocked anything or led any chants, although one person does say “I hope they die.” 

A screenshot from NBC's Today showing four or five protestors carrying red, black, and green flags, outnumbered by a small number of LA county sheriff's deputies

Citation NBC screenshot

Despite the tiny number of protesters, the incident was deemed worthy of coverage across multiple segments on CNN and MSNBC since the LASD’s tweet early Sunday morning. Suggesting the sensationalism at play, “We hope they die” was also a TMZ headline.  

In one cable news segment, Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough suggested that all “25 million peaceful protesters” who support the Black Lives Matter movement had to answer for the insensitive comments of these few individuals. 

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Citation From the September 14, 2020, edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe

CNN’s Josh Campbell reported that “authorities say that some in the crowd were chanting some disparaging things about the deputies, including indications that they wanted them to die,” and that  “a small group that we saw on video that appeared to be blocking the entrance,” before moving on to cover LASD misleading the public on Huang’s arrest. 

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Citation From the September 14, 2020, edition of CNN Newsroom

Several print outlets also lent credence to the overhyped police claim. The Wall Street Journal headlined an editorial with the offensive quote, denouncing the “cultural poison nurtured by the left-wing anti-police movement sweeping the country.” The Los Angeles Times editorial board included the anecdote in an editorial calling for peace. USA Today also credulously included LASD’s tweet in a report on the shooting, even though the same article later acknowledged that video from LAist showed the sheriff’s department had lied about its arrest of Huang.