Journalists say police mistreated them during Minnesota protests

A police officer uses pepper spray against demonstrators as well as journalists covering a protest on April 16, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, where a young Black man was shot and killed by a policewoman who says she meant to fire her Taser
·3 min read

Several journalists said Saturday that police wrongly impeded their work while covering a protest in a Minneapolis suburb over the death of Daunte Wright, a young Black man killed by a white policewoman.

The Friday night protest came only hours after a federal judge issued a restraining order against police making clear the journalists' right to report without interference.

On what was the sixth consecutive night of protests since Wright was killed during what should have been a routine traffic stop, nearly 500 people gathered before a chain-link fence surrounding the police station in Brooklyn Center, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of Minneapolis.

Police with loudspeakers ordered the crowd of protesters to disperse shortly before a 10:00 pm Friday (0300 GMT Saturday) curfew. They then deployed dozens of officers in riot gear.

Tensions are additionally high in Minneapolis this weekend with closing arguments expected Monday in the closely watched trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former police officer accused of killing George Floyd, a Black man, in the city last year.

- Restraining order -

The officers surrounded the demonstrators, then used pepper spray against several members of the media who had clearly identified themselves as such, reporters said.

The journalists were forbidden to remain in a holding pen set up by police to document what eventually were at least 100 arrests. But they were first obliged to let officers photograph them and their identity documents.

On Saturday, the Minnesota State Patrol said in a statement that it would "continue to respect the rights of the media to cover protest activity" and would no longer photograph journalists or their credentials.

It also said it had provided guidance to law enforcement outlining actions against journalists that were forbidden, such as dispersal and arrest, as stated in the restraining order.

The behavior by police Friday night came despite the temporary restraining order signed by US District Judge Wilhelmina Wright against Minnesota police following a complaint filed by several journalists and a union representing them.

That order enjoined police against "arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force... against any person whom they know or reasonably should know is a Journalist," unless they believe the person has committed a crime.

"Such persons shall not be required to disperse following the issuance of an order to disperse, and such persons shall not be subject to arrest for not dispersing," it said.

The order banned targeting journalists with flash-bang grenades, nonlethal projectiles, riot batons and chemical agents including pepper spray.

Police were also banned from seizing journalists' equipment.

"The potential harm arising from suppressing press coverage of the protests is great and the public interest favors protecting these First Amendment principles," the judge wrote.

The advocacy group US Press Freedom Tracker said at least seven journalists had reported being attacked or otherwise targeted by law enforcement, and three arrested or detained while covering earlier Brooklyn Center demonstrations.

Kim Potter, a 26-year police veteran, was arrested Wednesday on manslaughter charges in the shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. She said she mistakenly fired her Glock 9mm handgun, thinking it was a Taser.

Potter has resigned and faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.