Minneapolis Star Tribune photojournalist Carlos Gonzalez was pepper-sprayed while covering protests in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 12, 2021.
Demonstrators had gathered in front of the Brooklyn Center Police Department to demand justice in the killing of Daunte Wright, a Black man, who was fatally shot by a white police officer on April 11.
Gonzalez told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he’d arrived in the afternoon to document the second night of protests in front of the police department. At around 7:50 p.m., he said, he noticed an agitated woman confronting the police and being held back by others at the demonstration.
In footage Gonzalez posted to Twitter shortly after the incident, the woman can be seen confronting a line of officers in front of the department. Moments later, an officer can be seen shooting a burst of pepper spray at an individual out of frame, then turning and spraying Gonzalez.
“I felt the spray come into my eye from my right side, so I didn’t even see it coming,” Gonzalez said. “It was obvious that I wasn’t agitating anyone, that I was documenting and not part of the protest.”
Gonzalez said he didn’t want to speculate on what the officer was thinking but noted that he was clearly identifiable as a member of the press; Gonzalez said he was not only carrying his professional camera but had both his standard press pass and a large yellow “PRESS” card — which the Star Tribune issued all of its journalists last year — around his neck in plain view.
“I walked away almost immediately and was trying to retrieve some pepper-spray wipes that I had in my pack, but my hands were all wet and I couldn’t get them,” Gonzalez said. “Some medics must’ve seen what happened and came over to me quickly and were able to help.
“At that point I was in significant pain for some time, so after I was able to open my eyes again, I went back to my car to collect myself. While there, I started editing some of my pictures and talked to my editor to tell them what happened and that I might have captured it on my GoPro.”
Gonzalez told the Tracker he doesn’t remember whether he returned to document the rest of the protest that night or not, as the days have blurred together.
“Obviously it was a protest and a bunch of things were going on,” Gonzalez said. “But the main point is that myself, my colleagues, all the other press out there — we’re out there working, being professionals. We’re not chanting and yelling and getting in cops’ faces, or anything like that. I think it’s pretty obvious to distinguish who we are.”
Two other Star Tribune journalists were assaulted during protests that day. 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.
CNN reported the following day that City Manager Curt Boganey was fired over the city’s response to the protest.
The Brooklyn Center Police Department did not respond to a voicemail requesting comment as of press time.