Journalists covering protests in Brooklyn Center last week following the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright say they have been assaulted, pepper-sprayed and detained by law enforcement officers despite showing their credentials and in light of a Friday court order barring officers from arresting or using force against members of the media.
In an interview Saturday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said these incidents are «unacceptable in every circumstance.» He said law enforcement leaders will communicate to officers guarding the Brooklyn Center police headquarters that they must follow the court order and let journalists do their jobs.
«Democracy cannot thrive without a free and fair and safe press,» Walz said. «These individual incidents will be looked into. They just need to make sure they don’t happen in the first place.»
On Friday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring officers from arresting or using force — such as less-lethal projectiles, pepper spray and batons — against journalists covering protests in Brooklyn Center.
Freelance photographer Tim Evans said he was pepper-sprayed, tackled and hit in the face Friday night by officers who ignored his assertions that he was a credentialed journalist. Evans got caught in the middle of the officers’ late-night rush to make arrests after a curfew passed.
«I’m yelling that I’m press the whole time,» Evans said. «[One officer] is telling me to shut … up, he doesn’t care.»
Evans said officers released him on the condition that he leave the area.
Joshua Rashaad McFadden, a freelance photographer working for the New York Times, said he was covering protests outside the police station Tuesday night when officers moved in to arrest protesters. McFadden, who is Black, said he and another journalist returned to their car and were about to leave the area when officers surrounded the vehicle and started beating on the windows with wooden batons, yelling for them to get out.
The officers pulled the other journalist, who was white, from the car and then started beating McFadden with their sticks as they tried to get him out, McFadden said.
«They’re hitting me, they’re hitting my camera as if they’re trying to break my camera lens, over and over again, telling me to get out, but I clearly couldn’t get out because now they’re blocking the doors,» said McFadden, who added that he told officers he was a journalist but that they did not believe him. When the other journalist also stated that McFadden was press, the officers let them go.
«I am assuming because I am a Black photographer that they would not believe me or look at my press credential until who I was with said, ‘Oh, he’s with the Times,’ » McFadden said. He said he was detained a second time while covering protests Friday, and once again, it took another photojournalist backing him up for officers to believe he was a journalist.
Freelance journalist J.D. Duggan said he was with a group of journalists Friday night who were surrounded by law enforcement and forced to the ground. When Duggan got down to his knees, an officer pushed him onto his stomach, he said.
«We weren’t supposed to be detained,» Duggan said.
Four Star Tribune journalists were among dozens ushered to a checkpoint for detailed ID checks late Friday, where officers took pictures of their faces and credentials.
Walz said law enforcement officers will no longer photograph journalists’ faces and credentials, acknowledging it «created a pretty Orwellian picture.»
In a statement Saturday, the Minnesota State Patrol said it «has and will continue to respect the rights of the media to cover protest activity.» The patrol’s statement noted that while journalists have been temporarily detained, none has been arrested.
In a seven-page letter sent Saturday night to Walz and law enforcement leaders, attorney Leita Walker, representing a broad media coalition that includes the Star Tribune, thanked the officials for hearing out complaints about the treatment of journalists at protests and reiterated «the gravity of the misconduct» on the part of some law enforcement.
The letter cited Judge Wilhelmina Wright’s temporary restraining order banning certain actions against journalists and laid out examples in which those actions continued.
«We want to assure you that the media takes its role in the events unfolding very seriously,» Walker wrote. «They understand the challenges you face in keeping the peace and they do not want to make your job harder. They are reasonable people who have no interest in ‘being a part of the story’ themselves. All we ask is that law enforcement also act reasonably and in a manner consistent with the U.S. Constitution and judicial orders.»
Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234