Local social media journalists detained while covering Brooklyn Center protest

April 14, 2021

Independent journalist Tracy Gunapalan, who reports with the Minnesota-based social media news outlet the Neighborhood Reporter, said she was detained while covering a protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on April 14, 2021.

Gunapalan told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she was detained by Minnesota State Patrol troopers at the same time as her Neighborhood Reporter colleague, journalist Naasir Akailvi. The Neighborhood Reporter covers social justice movements in Minnesota’s Twin Cities region and publishes on social media platforms, according to Akailvi.

Demonstrations were held several days in a row outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department in response to the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop on April 11. Wright’s death occurred as a former police officer in nearby Minneapolis was on trial in the death of George Floyd, rekindling a wave of protests against racial injustice and police brutality that had started nearly a year earlier.

Akailvi and Gunapalan were returning to their car late on the night of April 14 as the protest was winding down, they told the Tracker. As they were moving away from the police department, close to a nearby church, a group of people were tapping on the windows of law enforcement vehicles and going up to officers, so Gunapalan said the pair stopped to film the interaction.

Suddenly, she said, a line of MSP troopers started running up the street toward them. Gunapalan said the journalists held up their camera and microphone and yelled to identify themselves as press, but the troopers shouted at them to move, so they turned and started running.

Gunapalan said that she jogged slowly because she was concerned that running away could result in a charge for attempting to evade arrest. She said a trooper grabbed the back of her hood and pushed her to the ground.

“The whole time I kept yelling, ‘I'm press, I'm press, I'm press!’ and they didn't seem to care,” she said.

Gunapalan said she told the troopers that she had a press credential on a lanyard around her neck. She said she was holding a camera and a phone attached to a tripod as she was pushed down.

Police restrained her hands behind her back with cuffs, which were so tight that they nicked the skin on her hand, she said. After a few minutes, troopers got her up off the ground and brought her over to where they had detained another independent journalist, Niko Georgiades of Unicorn Riot.

Troopers had the journalists pull their face masks down, and they took photographs of the journalists’ faces and press passes, Akailvi said. He said he and Gunapalan wear self-made press cards that have their photographs, identify them as press and say “The Neighborhood Reporter.” Gunapalan said the police told the journalists they wanted to keep a record of their faces so they wouldn’t be detained again. The journalists, who were released after their photographs were taken, said they were detained for between 10 and 15 minutes.

The Minnesota State Patrol did not respond to a request for comment.

On April 16, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Minnesota State Patrol from arresting or threatening to arrest journalists. In a statement in response to the court order, MSP acknowledged that the agency is prohibited from enforcing dispersal orders against journalists.

“While journalists have been detained and released during enforcement actions after providing credentials, no journalists have been arrested,” the MSP statement said.

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.

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

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