Police Violence Against Journalists Covering Daunte Wright Protests

Police in Minneapolis have once again decided to flex on journalists. This time it's the reporters covering the Daunte Wright protests.

Similar scenes in Daunte Wright protests
Minneapolis Police fire tear gas at those protesting the May 25th death of George Floyd. (Caption & Image by: Chad Davis ~ IG @chaddavis.photography)

Minnesota police have used the Daunte Wright protests as another playground to bully and assault journalists.

Both Governor Tim Walz and a federal judge called foul on the police for actions that range from intimidation to violence.

Tim Evans, a Minneapolis freelance photographer, said police sprayed him in the face with pepper spray and tackled him to the ground. After which, an officer punched him in the face, tore off  his press badge, and threw it in the dirt.

Joshua Rashaad McFadden, a freelance photographer for the New York Times, said police surrounded his car while he was trying leave the protests. They beat on his windows with baton, forced him out of the vehicle, and beat him and his camera.

“It was definitely scary — I’ve never been in a situation like that with so many police officers hitting me, hitting my equipment,” McFadden explained.

As criticism mounted about police violence against journalists, Walz came with the pro-press statements.

These incidents are “unacceptable in every circumstance,” he said. “Apologies are not enough; it just cannot happen,” he also declared.

Remember the George Floyd Protests?

The Daunte Wright protests aren’t aren’t Walz first time calling out police for flexing on journalists. Police mistreating the journalists who cover the aftermath of police shooting black men is familiar ground.

It was less than a year ago when state police arrested a CNN crew covering George Floyd’s murder. The crew was filming live, and the police didn’t care that the world was watching.

“This is one is on me, and I will own it,” Walz said afterward. “I take full responsibility. There is absolutely no reason why something like this should happen. This is a very public apology.”

And part of that’s true: There’s no reason that trained, armed law officers should find it necessary to arrest a crew from one of the most recognized names in news–unless the intention is to send a message.

Walz admitted journalists must be part of the solution.  He also acknowledged that the way police treat journalists sends a message to the community.

“The issue here is trust,” Walz said. If the community sees a reporter being arrested the assumption is something is going to happen that police don’t want seen. So that is unacceptable, he added.

Walz went on to declare “this is about having a plan… This is about having and aggressive approach to understanding what the community needs, to not coming in heavy-handed with them, to create space where the story can be told.”

“Even if you’re clearing an area, we have got to ensure that there is a safe spot for journalism to tell the story.”

Walz said we shouldn’t expect to see that type of police strong-arming again.

But in April 2021, it became obvious that either there isn’t a plan, the police are comfortable ignoring the plan, or it wasn’t the type of plan Walz alluded to.

Coverage of Daunte Wright Protests Prompts Lawsuit

The Evans and McFadden accounts are just two on list of a list of reported physical altercations, incidents of journalists getting pepper sprayed, and reporters being detained or ordered to stop reporting.

In some cases, police were conducting detailed ID checks and photographing  journalists and their credentials.

If you choose to believe Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, law enforcement was photographing journalists’ faces and IDs to be helpful.

He said the officers thought it would lead to speedier processing if the journalists got caught up. But he admitted, “it was a misstep on our part.

And Walz said it  “created a pretty Orwellian picture.”

Nearly a year after all of the protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder, in the city where Floyd was murdered, how can this be explained away as a misstep?

You don’t have to be a history whiz to know that police gathering the identity of journalists is a blazing red flag for intimidation and retaliation.

The ACLU of Minnesota called some of the police actions “outright retaliatory assault.” Conditions for journalists covering the Daunte Wright protests were so outrageous that the ACLU of Minnesota filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of over 20 media organizations hoping to protect the press from the police.

Judge Wilhelmina Wright said the state troopers’ behavior is “clearly intended to discourage journalists from covering protests.”

On Friday  April 16,  She issued a temporary restraining order barring police from doing any of the following to journalists:

  • Arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force — including flash bangs, non-lethal projectiles and riot batons.
  • Using chemical agents.
  • Seizing recording or photo equipment, or press passes unless someone presents an imminent threat of violence or harm to people or property;
  • Ordering them to stop reporting or covering the protests.

She made clear that orders to disperse do not apply to journalists

The restraining order only applies to state police. But the ACLU’s attorney said the judge made it clear that unconstitutional conduct designed to suppress free speech will not be tolerated. So, hopefully the other agencies that are part of the law enforcement coalition in Minneapolis will willingly choose to change their behavior.

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Walz Weighs In

Last year, after the CNN incident, Walz acknowledged that journalists must be part of the solution and how police treats them sends a message to the community.

Now, he’s again come after the fact with what to talk about the importance role of journalists.

A day after the judge issued  restraining order Walz called a meeting with media and law enforcement.

Afterward, the Minnesota State Patrol agreed to stop using force and chemical agents. The force agreed to stop photographing journalists and their credentials.

State police journalists won’t be ordered to report from certain locations and acknowledged journalists are exempt from dispersal orders.

On April 22, Walz wrote to the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board, the state’s police licensing board, citing “an urgent need to increase trust and transparency in policing.”

Walz called for thoughtful and expedient action on proposals before the board, including a call to establish rules for police accountability during protests.

According to the Star Tribune, the board voted unanimously in favor of the proposal.

Now, the board is supposed to develop a statewide model. And it’s supposed to include potential licensing action against licensed officers and chiefs who violate department policies.

But it, the Star Tribune said it will still be several months before the rule changes become official.

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What do you think about police treatment of journalists in Minneapolis?  And the fact that it’s necessary for a court to ban violence against journalists? Also what do you think about governor Walz role in this?

Drop your comments below.

Don’t forget to check out: Court Rules for Journalists in Portland, Oregon and Tips for Covering Protests & Demonstrations

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