In Brooklyn Center, Minnesota—the Minneapolis suburb where protests have erupted over the fatal police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright—journalists on the ground have allegedly been harassed, assaulted, and wrongfully arrested by law enforcement. In a letter, lawyer Leita Walker, writing on behalf of more than 20 news organizations, laid out a series of alleged police attacks on journalists in the past week, including being sprayed with chemical irritants and beaten by law enforcement, the New York Times reports.
The claims of “widespread intimidation, violence and other misconduct directed at journalists” included the stunning mistreatment of CNN producer Carolyn Sung, who was attempting to comply with a dispersal order when state troopers reportedly seized her by her backpack, forced her to the ground, and zip-tied her hands behind her back, despite the fact that Sung did not resist and repeatedly identified herself as a journalist. At one point, an officer apparently yelled, “Do you speak English?” at Sung, who is Asian American. She was held at the local jail for more than two hours before attorneys secured her release.
Responding to the allegations over the weekend, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz called the attacks “chilling” and pledged to correct the mistreatment, saying in a tweet that he had “directed our law enforcement partners to make changes that will help ensure journalists do not face barriers to doing their jobs.” In another Twitter statement, Walz wrote, “A free press is foundational to our democracy.” The Minnesota State Police also responded to the letter, vowing to “respect the rights of the media to cover protest activity” in a statement. “All of these words and claims may be put to the test soon,” CNN’s Brian Stelter reports, adding: “Unrest is no excuse to violate the First Amendment.”
The protests in Brooklyn Center are less than 10 miles from the courtroom where the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd, has been playing out for the past three weeks. In that time, fatal police shootings have mounted. Closing arguments are set to begin Monday—Chauvin last week invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify—and the jury will begin to deliberate afterwards. The world is anxiously awaiting a verdict in State v. Chauvin, the outcome of which could spark heightened unrest in the Twin Cities and beyond. “Walz and other state officials expressed an understanding that the eyes of the world are on Minnesota right now, especially with the Chauvin verdict looming, and that they don’t want attacks on the media to be part of the story,” according to Stelter.
The press freedom situation in Minnesota follows a pattern. Last year, journalists documenting the unrest prompted by Floyd’s killing were also targeted by state police—reports that, as CNN’s Sara Sidner pointed out, likewise prompted Walz’s assurances and expressions of dismay but apparently little else. “We heard the regret before” after CNN’s Omar Jimenez and his camera crew were arrested on-air, Sidner recalled Sunday on Reliable Sources. “So what changed, exactly? Nothing,” she said, adding that police are also engaging in this behavior with “some of the protesters who had nothing to do with the violence as well, and we should speak on that as well.”
“Some in law enforcement clearly view reporters as part of the problem and are trying to force us to commit to their controls regardless of basic rights,” CNN’s Miguel Marquez tweeted Sunday, describing police “forcing reporters to the ground and then photographing faces and IDs” as something he had only seen “in Afghanistan when US forces were trying to control a local population.” USA Today photojournalist Jasper Colt witnessed one such incident over the weekend, as law enforcement officers rounded up protesters and members of the press into one group, yelling for them to get “flat on our stomachs” before picking out media to photograph them, along with their credentials. Colt said he and other journalists had been “slow to leave the area” because they “didn’t think we needed to, and we wanted to cover what was happening.”