Minnesota State Patrol officers threaten cameraman for German outlet

May 31, 2020

A Deutsche Welle news team was threatened and aimed at with weapons by Minnesota State Patrol troopers while documenting protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after curfew went into effect on May 31, 2020.

The protests were held in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.

At 8:08 p.m., eight minutes after curfew — from which members of the media were specifically exemptedDW correspondent Stefan Simons and cameraman Maximilian Förg were standing near a fence running alongside Interstate 35W in Minneapolis. State police officers stood in a line on the highway, where two hours earlier a truck had plowed into a crowd of protesters.

As Simons began his live shot, several members of the Minnesota State Patrol, clad in tan riot gear, bounded up the hillside towards the journalists. “Hey, we’re press, guys, from D.C.,” Simons shouted. “We’re all press here.” Despite this, at least one officer in riot gear pointed his gun at him through the fence.

"Come on guys we have permission to be out here! Stop it!” Simons continued, as the officer continued to train his weapon at him. “Sir, the governor of Minnesota exempts press,” he said, referencing the curfew.

Simons and Förg cut their live shot short, got into their car, and drove away. Video of the encounter aired live on DW, and was later posted on the website.

Simons told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that just prior to the live shot, officers had fired off canisters of tear gas in their direction, followed by several rounds of projectiles. “We all took cover behind my car,” he said. Other members of the media were present in the vicinity, Simons said, but he did not know their names or outlets. When Simons and Förg drove away, the officers fired some sort of projectile at their vehicle, which pinged the door but did not damage it, Simons said.

A day prior, on May 30, police fired projectiles at Simons and his crew and threatened them with arrest. That incident was captured separately by the Tracker.

The attacks garnered the attention of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who told reporters at a press conference in Berlin on June 2 he would be reaching out to the U.S. government about the matter. Deutsche Welle is an international English-language news station funded by the German government.

"With regard to the incidents involving Deutsche Welle, of which we have also been made aware, we will contact U.S. authorities to find out more about the circumstances," Maas said. "We remain firmly committed: Journalists must be able to carry out their task, which is independent coverage of events, without endangering their safety."

"Democratic states under the rule of law have to meet the highest standards when it comes to protecting freedom of press," Maas said.

Simons, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Germany, characterized the treatment of the media in Minneapolis as “shocking.” “I have not actually ever seen the foreign minister of Germany having to take that kind of stance with an ally,” Simons said. “There is nobody who expects this from the United States.”

A request for comment emailed to the Minnesota State Patrol was not immediately returned.

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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