Independent photojournalist Alex Kent told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was detained while covering a protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on April 16, 2021.
Several hundred protesters marched to the Brooklyn Center Police Department in response to the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, by a white police officer during a traffic stop. Wright’s death, on April 11, 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.
According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the protest had been peaceful until around 9 p.m., when, authorities told the outlet, some in the crowd began to throw objects and attempt to break through a barrier around the police station, prompting the declaration of an unlawful assembly and orders for dispersal. At around 10 p.m., Minnesota Public Radio reported that police moved swiftly to corral the protesters and members of the press, deploying flash-bang grenades and pepper spray.
Amid the unrest, a group of journalists was detained by law enforcement officers in Brooklyn Center and ordered to lie on the ground, according to reports given to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, noted on social media or published on other news outlets. Find reports on the detainments from the night of April 16 in Brooklyn Center here.
Kent told the Tracker in an email that as law enforcement closed in around protesters, he was near an apartment building across from the Brooklyn Center Police Department. Kent said he files images for Shutterstock’s editorial branch.
As he was about to leave the area, he said, he noticed a cloud of pepper spray and saw an officer, who state officials determined was with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, spraying the chemical irritant on three Agence France-Press journalists, Eléonore Sens, Chandan Khanna, and Robin Legrand.
Kent said the deputy threatened another couple, then turned toward Kent. He held out his National Press Photographers Association credentials and told the officer he was press, he said, and the officer told him to leave.
Kent said he moved about a half block away when he came upon a line of law enforcement officers blocking the street and “just over a dozen” journalists lying on the ground.
Kent said he held up his hands, holding out his press credential, and told the officers he was a member of the press as he approached. He said they directed him to lie down.
On Twitter, Kent shared photographs posted by USA Today photojournalist Jasper Colt and identified himself in the second photo. The image shows a person lying on the ground, a camera with a long lens visible at their side, a few yards away from a line of Minnesota State Patrol troopers holding sticks.
After about 10 minutes, Kent told the Tracker, an officer came to check the journalists’ credentials and they were directed to walk to the end of the block.
There, a state trooper asked each journalist to remove their masks and took photographs of their faces, press credentials and IDs.
“I was uncomfortable with the situation, but I didn't dare refuse for the fear of being arrested,” Kent told the Tracker.
Kent posted an image on Instagram, taken by photojournalist Christian Monterrosa, showing an officer in a Minnesota State Patrol uniform taking Kent’s photograph with a cellphone.
The next day, April 17, more than two dozen media and advocacy organizations sent a letter to Gov. Tim Walz expressing concern about the detainments and other police treatment of journalists since the protests began.
A spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety referred the Tracker to a statement from the Minnesota State Patrol, which acknowledged that troopers had photographed journalists, their media credentials and their identification “during recent enforcement actions in Brooklyn Center.” MSP said that though journalists had been detained and released during the protests, no journalists were arrested. The Tracker documents detainments in the arrest category but notes that the journalists were released without being processed. MSP didn’t respond to a request for comment specifically about the detainment of Kent.
The agency said in the statement troopers will no longer photograph journalists and their credentials, but will continue to check media credentials.
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.