Journalists sometimes have to put themselves in harm's way to do their jobs. But when that harm comes from law enforcement officers who have been showed proper credentials, when it is deliberate and intentional, it is unconscionable and unacceptable.
On Friday a judge issued a temporary order barring law enforcement in Minnesota from using physical force or chemical agents against journalists, or from seizing equipment journalists need to do their jobs, including their press credentials. Within hours of that order, however, journalists covering a Friday night protest in Brooklyn Center were rounded up and forced by officers to lie on the ground on their stomachs. They were released only after having their faces and press credentials photographed.
Reporters and photographers have been gassed with chemical spray at close range, shot with rubber bullets and treated roughly even after showing identification. A photojournalist for the New York Times, who is Black, said he was dragged from his vehicle by police and hit with batons. A Star Tribune photojournalist was across the street from the action and behind a fence when an officer shot his hand with a rubber bullet, breaking one of his fingers in two places despite the protective gloves he was wearing. A CNN journalist, who is Asian, was thrown to the ground, searched and detained for two hours before CNN was able to extricate her. Another photojournalist was pepper-sprayed, tackled and hit in the face.
Gov. Tim Walz has denounced the incidents, expressing regret and embarrassment. On Monday, Walz said, "We have got to get this right. ... We're not here to manage the press. They are not meant to be managed." During chaotic events, he said, "that is the time it's most important for press freedom and we're not getting it right." Earlier, the governor had called the incidents "chilling," and said that "apologies are not enough. It just can't happen."
But it keeps happening. This is no one-off. Last May, during the riots and protests over George Floyd's death, a CNN reporter was arrested during his live broadcast, when it was evident that he was well away from the action, with few others around him. A journalist at that time was blinded in one eye by an officer's rubber bullet, and others were injured, mistreated, arrested and detained. Walz apologized then, too.
This time, news media outlets acted in concert to defend reporters and photographers, meeting with Walz and other leaders. Since then, a directive has gone out from the State Patrol to the many agencies involved in Operation Safety Net about respecting journalists and assuring that they can do their jobs. In other words, to obey the judge's order. Officers cannot subject journalists to curfew, and are prohibited from arresting, detaining, threatening or using physical force against them. They may not spray those they have reason to believe are reporters.
That's fine as far as it goes. But the State Patrol statement also said that the agency "has and will continue to respect the rights of media to cover protest activity," and "has not and will not target the media." That is a carefully worded statement that avoids characterizing the actions of other law enforcement agencies or individual officers. The fact is that some members of law enforcement have not respected the rights of media to cover protests, and have targeted journalists. There should be an acknowledgment of those actions, to bring greater credibility to any promise to do better.
We recognize the enormous complexity of this situation. Journalists have faced some hostility from protesters as well. And two National Guard members were injured in a drive-by shooting early Sunday morning.
All of this comes against the heightened tension of a jury verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, accused of George Floyd's murder. More Guard troops will be deployed, along with law enforcement from other states. That makes it imperative that Minnesota's policy on the treatment of journalists covering civil unrest is crystal clear. Journalists will continue to do their jobs, even when it comes at the risk of their personal safety. Law enforcement should not make that risk greater.