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Minnesota State Patrol officers threaten reporters for German outlet, push Canadian journalist

May 31, 2020

Shortly after curfew went into effect on May 31, 2020, in Minneapolis, troopers from the Minnesota State Patrol threatened reporters for a German outlet with weapons and pushed a Canadian reporter who was covering protests in Minneapolis.

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 exempted — Deutsche Welle 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.

State police had already cleared protesters off the highway when they turned their attention to the press, Simons said.

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 covered 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 continued.

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.”

In a separate incident that same evening, Philippe Leblanc, a radio correspondent for Radio-Canada and television correspondent for French CBC, was standing behind the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fifth Precinct in a group of other Canadian journalists and their security details. Several of the reporters had flak jackets labeled “PRESS” and most were holding cameras and or other equipment, Leblanc told the Tracker.

Several Metro Transit buses with “not in service” lights on pulled up alongside the group and Minnesota State Patrol troopers disembarked, weapons drawn, and immediately began shouting at the assembled journalists to “Get back!” and “Move!” according to a video posted by Leblanc on Twitter.

The journalists complied, moving back, but the officers wielding batons kept coming toward them, Leblanc told the Tracker. “They started shoving us out of the way even though we had clearly retreated,” Leblanc said. “I was pushed three or four times on the chest.”

Leblanc, who was holding a microphone and his press pass in one hand and his iPhone in the other, said it was clear they were members of the media, but the situation unfolded so quickly he said he did not even have the chance to yell that he was press, though others in the group did.

Leblanc said he was not injured and that he did not file a complaint with state police. “Had there been an injury it would have been dealt with differently,” he said.

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

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred total incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

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

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