Photojournalist for New York Times thrown to ground, detained while covering Brooklyn Center protest

April 16, 2021

At least 15 journalists were detained by police while covering protests in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on the night of April 16, 2021, according to reports given to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, noted on social media or published in other news outlets.

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. Minnesota Public Radio reported that police moved swiftly to corral the protesters and members of the press, deploying flash-bang grenades and pepper spray. According to state officials, a coalition of law enforcement agencies, including the Minnesota State Patrol, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the Brooklyn Center Police Department, was involved in enforcement that night.

Aaron Nesheim, a Minneapolis-based freelance photojournalist on assignment for The New York Times, was one of the journalists detained.

Nesheim told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was documenting the protest in the center of the intersection of Humboldt and 67th Avenues just after 9 p.m. when officers advanced on the crowd and ordered everyone to lie down on their stomachs.

“I did not get down. I kept photographing until finally an officer pepper sprayed me,” Nesheim said. “I was wearing a bulletproof vest, and eventually a State Patrol officer grabbed me by the front of the vest and used that to throw me on the ground.”

Nesheim said in addition to his body armor vest, which was labeled with “PRESS” on the front and back, he was wearing a helmet similarly labeled and press credentials issued by the Times and the National Press Photographers Association.

“The [trooper] definitely understood I was a member of the press and was — I guess I would use the word ‘exasperated,’ with the fact I hadn’t just complied and gotten on the ground immediately before he threw me,” Nesheim said.

The force of his fall damaged the 70-200mm lens on one of his cameras, Nesheim said, causing the autofocus not to work properly and requiring repair. The officer ordered Nesheim to stay on his stomach, he said, which he did while continuing to take photos from that vantage point.

“I did stay on the ground, kind of on my side. I didn’t make any moves after that until another officer came in and got me up and started escorting me back to where they were processing the journalists,” Nesheim said.

Law enforcement had established a “media checkpoint” at a nearby Pump n’ Munch gas station, where members of the press had their faces, press credentials and IDs photographed before they were permitted to leave the area. Nesheim confirmed to the Tracker that he had to pass through the checkpoint before he could leave the area.

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.

“Journalists must be allowed to safely cover protests and civil unrest. I’ve directed our law enforcement partners to make changes that will help ensure journalists do not face barriers to doing their jobs,” the governor posted on Twitter after meeting with representatives of the media.

When reached for comment, 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.

The agency’s statement said 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.

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

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