Photojournalist for New York Times targeted with pepper spray at Brooklyn Center protest

April 12, 2021

Aaron Nesheim, a Minneapolis-based freelance photojournalist on assignment for The New York Times, said he was deliberately pepper-sprayed by Minnesota State Patrol troopers while documenting protests in Brooklyn Center on April 12, 2021.

Demonstrators gathered outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department one day after Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer during a traffic stop in the city, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Wright’s death 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.

After a 7 p.m. curfew took effect, tensions escalated between protesters and law enforcement, and law enforcement later issued dispersal orders and began using rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and tear gas to disperse the crowd, according to the Star Tribune.

Nesheim told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the protests had been peaceful, and that there was no provocation in the moments before a trooper doused him in pepper spray.

“As they were trying to get people to move back, one officer reached forward and started pepper-spraying people,” Nesheim said. “He stopped and then saw me with the camera and lunged forward and peppered me right in the face. Thankfully I was wearing a full-face gas mask, which kept it out of my eyes, but it proceeded to burn a pretty good red ring around my face for the rest of the evening.”

Nesheim said he was wearing both a helmet and a body armor vest, which were labeled with “PRESS” on multiple sides, as well as press credentials issued by the Times and the National Press Photographers Association.

In a post to Instagram accompanying some of his photos, Nesheim wrote, “Tonight I was pepper sprayed and tear gassed worse than I’ve ever experienced. Between a burning face and puking out of my gas mask a few times, here's what I managed to capture.

“I would love to say I am surprised by this violation of my rights, but sadly I find it to be par for the course,” he wrote.

The Minnesota State Patrol did not respond to a request for comment.

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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