Law enforcement officers are seen in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 14, 2021. Police have recently obstructed journalists covering protests. (AP/John Minchillo)

Minnesota law enforcement must stop obstructing journalists covering protests

Washington, D.C., April 19, 2021— Minnesota authorities must respect journalists’ rights and refrain from charging members of the press for doing their jobs, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On the evening of April 16, law enforcement in Brooklyn Center corralled dozens of journalists along with people demonstrating against the police killing of Duante Wright, ordered them to lay face down on the grass, and released the reporters only after authorities reviewed their credentials and photographed their faces, according to news reports, posts on social media, and a letter sent to Governor Tim Walz and other Minnesota lawmakers by the law firm Ballard Spahr. CPJ and about 30 other press freedom and media organizations co-signed that letter, which was sent after the firm and media representatives met with state officials.

Previously, on April 13, police arrested Adam Gray, a chief photojournalist for the U.K.-based South West News Service, while he was covering protests in the city, Gray told CPJ in a phone interview.

Officers released Gray after issuing him a citation, which CPJ reviewed, for failure to obey police. The citation requires Gray to schedule a court appearance within 30 days. Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, told CPJ via email that he is hopeful that the case will be dropped.

“It is outrageous that Minnesota law enforcement officials have continued to harass and obstruct reporters. This is not the first time that authorities have dealt with protests, and it is appalling that they are not better prepared to ensure the safety of those present, including journalists,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “State and local authorities—both in Minnesota and across the United States—must do a better job of establishing rules and consequences for law enforcement officers who harass members of the media.”

On April 16, before police corralled the journalists, a federal judge ruled that state law enforcement cannot attack or arrest journalists for covering the protests, according to a copy of the temporary restraining order published by the American Civil Liberties Union.

During an interview yesterday with a local CBS affiliate, Governor Walz said that “Apologies are not enough; it just can’t happen,” referring to state and local authorities’ attacks on the press.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which CPJ founded with Freedom of the Press Foundation, is investigating reports of at least 20 arrests and 24 assaults of reporters covering Black Lives Matter protests since the beginning of 2021, including several instances reported on social media by journalists who were attacked on the evening of April 16.