Photojournalist detained, ‘tackled’ by law enforcement in Brooklyn Center

April 16, 2021

Freelance photojournalist Joshua Rashaad McFadden, on assignment for The New York Times, said he was detained and hit by law enforcement officers while covering a protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on April 16, 2021.

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

McFadden told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he and other journalists stuck together as a group as police rushed the crowd.

“We're all literally huddled together in one area, and the police rushed in,” McFadden said. “They rushed the crowd and they detained us.”

The group included other photographers, TV news staff and reporters, McFadden said. He said the journalists were repeating “we’re press, we’re press!” Officers told the journalists “we don’t care” and ordered them to lie on the ground, he said.

McFadden said he was on the ground when one officer came over to him and ordered him to get up, then another officer came over and told him to get back down.

At that point, McFadden said, he was on his knees. He identified himself as a member of the press, he said, and asked the officers, “what do you want me to do?”

Then, McFadden said, another group of officers rushed and trampled over him, knocking him to the ground “like a football tackle.”

He said the officers started hitting him and hitting his camera. He said he was holding his phone in one hand, and felt an officer try to yank the device from him. McFadden said he didn’t want to appear to be confrontational, but he was concerned about losing his phone so he held onto it.

McFadden, who is Black, said a white photographer acquaintance came over and told the officers that McFadden was a journalist and that he worked with the Times.

After the other photographer identified him, he said, the officers allowed him to stand up. He showed them his press pass, which is issued by the National Press Photographers Association. McFadden said the officer told him, “anybody could have made that,” and asked to see his driver’s license, which he had left in his car.

McFadden said it was clear that the officers weren’t going to allow him to go, but they were going to let the other photographer go. He said officers only allowed him to leave when the other photographer volunteered to escort him to his car.

He said he previously had similar experiences, including three days earlier in Brooklyn Center.

“I do know it's because Black members of the press are treated differently,” he said. “And I have to acknowledge that.”

McFadden said the other photographer walked with him so she could help him navigate interaction with law enforcement.

“It's because she knew that at every kind of checkpoint they set up, they were going to either try to hold me or arrest or detain me, or I'll get a million questions if my credentials are real,” McFadden said. He said there was also a risk he could be shot at with rubber bullets while approaching officers from a distance. “If I'm with her I'm able to walk up to the group.”

As they were trying to leave the area, McFadden said, they came upon a checkpoint at a gas station where police had stopped a large number of journalists and were taking photographs of their credentials, IDs and faces. He said officers told the journalists the photographs would be entered into a database.

McFadden said law enforcement again asked him to see his license, and he told them it was in his car. He said that they were stopped at the gas station for about an hour.

McFadden said his shoulder was injured when he was tackled and hit. He also had bruises on his legs, adding to bruises he had gotten earlier in the week when he was hit with crowd-control munitions, and hit with sticks by law enforcement officers while in a car. McFadden said he sought medical attention for the injuries he accumulated through the week. He said he was told to take ibuprofen after he declined other medication, he said.

McFadden’s camera was damaged when he was tackled, he said. The body of the camera was scratched up and he said he needed to get some parts replaced. As a result of the two assaults, he also needed to get the lens repaired.

McFadden told the Tracker he believed he was targeted because he was a journalist.

He said Minnesota State Patrol troopers were involved in the incident. MSP didn’t respond requests for comment by email and phone

McFadden was detained the same evening a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring MSP from arresting or using force against journalists, in response to a motion filed earlier in the week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

The next day, April 17, more than two dozen media and advocacy organizations, including the New York Times, sent a letter to Gov. Tim Walz expressing concern about the detainments and other police treatment of journalists since the protests began.

In response to the court order, MSP released a statement on April 17 that acknowledged troopers had photographed journalists, their media credentials and their identification “during recent enforcement actions in Brooklyn Center.” MSP said no journalists were arrested, though some had been detained and released during the protests. The Tracker documents detainments in the arrest category, but notes that the journalists were released without being processed.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents incidents of journalists being 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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