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Law enforcement agencies photograph journalists and their IDs as they cover protests

March 12, 2021

During the spring of 2021, at least 31 journalists covering protests in two cities had their faces, IDs or press credentials photographed by law enforcement agencies, according to accounts from the media and the journalists involved. Those photographed were covering protests in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon. Law enforcement agencies in both cities did not disclose why they documented the identities of the journalists or what was done with the images they captured.

Portland

On March 12, the Portland Police Bureau detained more than 100 protesters and at least six journalists by surrounding them using a “kettle” maneuver in the city’s downtown Pearl District. After initially detaining the crowd, police ordered members of the press to leave the kettle, despite a court order prohibiting Portland officers from dispersing media and legal observers who are monitoring protests. Six journalists who were ordered to leave the kettle said that officers required them to show a government-issued ID and be photographed before their release. Some specified that police took photos of them without masks and with strips of duct tape across their chests on which police had written the journalists’ names and dates of birth.

Photojournalist Maranie Rae Staab, who has freelanced for The Washington Post and The New York Times, posted footage of her forced removal from the kettle.

“I’m a member of the press,” Staab is heard explaining as three PPB officers tell her they’ve asked the press to leave. “It’s my job. I am a member of the press. I want to report, I do not want to leave.”

Officers then proceed to escort her out despite her protestations, and an officer can be heard saying, “You have to leave.”

Independent journalist Adam Costello, who was covering the same Portland protest, wrote on Twitter that officers pulled him out of the kettle and ordered him to identify himself and tell them his date of birth.

“They wrote it on a piece of duct tape and took a picture of me,” wrote Costello, who publishes to social media and the online publishing platform Medium.

Freelance journalist Laura Jedeed, whose work has been published by Salon and Willamette Week, among others, reported a similar experience of being photographed before officers ejected her.

“The cop told me if I committed criminal activity I would be arrested and I laughed,” Jedeed wrote in a subsequent tweet. “He asked me why I didn’t leave with the rest of the press and I said I wanted to document. Then he let me go.”

Similar experiences were reported by freelance journalists Alissa Azar, Garrison Davis and Suzette Smith.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that the journalists removed from the kettle were escorted more than a block away, where they could no longer see what was happening inside the kettle. According to OPB’s story, bureau spokesperson Sgt. Kevin Allen said that journalists were not forced to leave.

PPB did not ‘remove’ the press,” Allen said. “Legal observers, press, and medically fragile individuals were all offered a chance to leave if they wished as they were not being detained. Those that stayed were escorted out one by one.”

Allen did not respond to the Tracker’s request for further comment about the law enforcement actions to identify and photograph journalists.

Brooklyn Center

At least 25 journalists covering protests in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, reported having their faces, press credentials and government-issued IDs photographed by local and state law enforcement during a period of several days of public demonstrations.

The demonstrations began after the fatal police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center on April 11, which occurred as a former police officer in nearby Minneapolis was on trial in the death of George Floyd. The events rekindled a nationwide wave of racial justice protests that began almost a year earlier after Floyd’s death. In Brooklyn Center, protests began outside the police department the day Wright was killed and continued daily through mid-April.

One of the first journalists to report law enforcement actions to record reporters’ identities was Sloane Martin, a reporter for Minneapolis CBS affiliate WCCO. On April 14, Martin posted on Twitter that law enforcement officers took photographs of her press credential and her identification while she was covering demonstrations that night.

Martin wrote that she was in a gas station trying to return to her car, and she shouted “Press!” to a line of officers from a distance to identify herself. An officer whom she believes was a Minnesota State Patrol trooper shouted at her to get on her knees, but another officer directed her to come over and show her ID, she wrote. Martin didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Martin’s tweet was in response to a clip posted by Fox News reporter Lauren Blanchard, who, on the same night of April 14, was ordered to the ground and detained by police alongside her news crew. At least six journalists who were detained or arrested while covering demonstrations that night had their faces and identification photographed before they were released:

  • Lauren Blanchard, Fox News national correspondent
  • Les Baker, Fox News national photojournalist
  • Naasir Akailvi, The Neighborhood Reporter journalist
  • Nick Rojas, Fox News national producer
  • Niko Georgiades, Unicorn Riot journalist
  • Tracy Gunapalan, The Neighborhood Reporter journalist

Two days later on April 16, Minnesota District Judge Wilhelmina Wright granted a motion for a temporary restraining order barring all local law enforcement agencies from arresting, threatening to arrest, using physical force against or seizing the equipment of journalists documenting the demonstrations. That same day, law enforcement surrounded a crowd that included members of the press in a “kettle” and established a “media checkpoint” where journalists had their faces, press passes and IDs photographed before they were permitted to leave the area.

ACLU of Minnesota’s Legal Director Teresa Nelson sent a letter to Wright on April 17, condemning the actions of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner and the Minnesota State Patrol, which are defendants in a suit brought by the organization. The letter reads, in part: “Last night, hours after the TRO [temporary restraining order] took effect, the State Defendants escalated the level of assault and harassment of journalists to an intolerable degree.”

According to the letter, freelance photojournalists Chris Juhn and Chris Tuite, who were covering protests the day the court order was issued, both were ordered to go to the checkpoint. Tuite said he was also roughly grabbed by officers with enough force to rip his shirt, which the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented here.

“To get out of their kettle, we had to take off our gas masks and helmets and hand them our media passes and IDs. They took photos of our faces up close and then of our IDs and media passes,” Tuite said. “They told us nothing of what they were going to do with the photos, and they essentially brushed it off as, ‘We just want to make sure you guys are legit.’”

Minneapolis Star Tribune reporters Susan Du and Liz Sawyer were also directed to the April 16 checkpoint which was set up at a nearby Pump n’ Munch gas station, according to footage Sawyer posted to Twitter that night.

A student journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Tracker she was separated from a group of other student journalists reporting at the protest and found herself in the kettle.

“As people either escaped or were arrested around me, I ended up alone on the completely cleared-out block on Humboldt,” she said. “I approached some state troopers holding out my press pass who yelled at me to join a group of reporters who had already been detained in front of a gas station.”

Both Du and Sawyer were among the journalists in the group the student was directed to join, and she, too, had her face and forms of identification photographed.

“I have no idea what they are using those photos for, we were not told, but I obviously found that disturbing and a violation of our rights as reporters,” she said.

Three AFP journalists — photographer Chandan Khanna, videographer Eléonore Sens and reporter Robin Legrand — were pepper sprayed by Minnesota State Patrol troopers and then ordered to pass through the media checkpoint as well, according to footage Sens posted to Twitter.

Khanna, who is an Indian citizen, told the Tracker that when he showed his ID to law enforcement at the checkpoint, the officer asked to see his passport. Khanna said he didn’t have his passport with him, but the officer pressed him for it. When Khanna pulled up a photo of his passport from an online folder, the officer photographed it and asked to see Khanna’s visa, photographing it as well.

Khanna said he is worried about what will happen with the photographs and wonders what the officer will do with the information.

“It's my privacy, my information. Why will I share my information with anybody?” Khanna said.

At least 10 journalists were ordered to get on the ground or kettled prior to having their credentials and IDs photographed on April 16, which the Tracker classifies as detainments. These journalists include:

  • Aaron Nesheim, freelance photojournalist on assignment for The New York Times
  • Alex Kent, independent photojournalist
  • Babs Santos, Fox 9 News correspondent
  • J.D. Duggan, freelance journalist
  • Jasper Colt, USA Today photojournalist
  • Joshua Rashaad McFadden, freelance photojournalist on assignment for The New York Times
  • Leah Millis, Reuters photojournalist
  • Liz Flores, Minneapolis Star Tribune photojournalist
  • Reg Chapman, WCCO reporter
  • Renee Jones Schneider, Minneapolis Star Tribune photojournalist

According to a statement from the Minnesota State Patrol, troopers photographed journalists and their credentials “in order to expedite the identification process,” and the journalists were allowed to continue reporting after being identified. While some of the journalists confirmed to the Tracker that they were able to resume covering the protests, some left the area immediately. Those that remained said they were directed to a media staging area more than a block away from the kettle, which made it impossible to document police activities.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, signed a letter to Gov. Tim Walz and the heads of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Minnesota State Patrol and Minnesota Department of Corrections detailing what it said were violations of the TRO, as well as the concerns of more than a dozen press freedom and media organizations. Among the concerns was that the images might be entered into a facial recognition service such as Clearview AI, which has been used by both the Minneapolis Police Department and the Minnesota Fusion Center to monitor and target individuals, including protesters, according to RCFP.

“Whatever the intent behind this ‘cataloging’ of journalists, it was deeply disturbing for those involved, and it has caused much fear regarding what use might be made of these photographs and accompanying identifying information in the future, including full names, dates of birth and home addresses,” the letter reads.

“We hope that any photos that were improperly taken will be expunged rather than stashed away in a law enforcement database,” RCFP said in a post about the violations.

On April 17, Walz told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that law enforcement officers would no longer photograph journalists’ faces and credentials, noting it “created a pretty Orwellian picture.”

Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell also noted that the photographs were “a misstep on our part,” the Star Tribune reported.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here. To learn more about how the Tracker documents and categorizes violations of press freedom, visit pressfreedomtracker.us.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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