Photojournalist hit by officers with batons during Brooklyn Center protest

April 13, 2021

Joshua Rashaad McFadden, a freelance photojournalist on assignment for the New York Times, said law-enforcement officers hit him with batons as he covered a protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 13, 2021.

The fatal police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center on April 11, 2021 rekindled a wave of racial-justice protests that began almost a year earlier. Wright’s death, on April 11, 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 police got more aggressive with the crowd as the protest continued into the night, and that he heard law enforcement order press to leave the area. McFadden, who had been hit with projectiles the previous night, said he decided to leave.

He said he wasn’t able to go directly to his car because the street was blocked, so he walked in the opposite direction to a gas station up the street. He said he hesitated to walk to his car alone, and while he was at the gas station, he saw another photographer he recognized — freelance photojournalist Chris Tuite.

The two photographers saw someone with a car heading in their direction, McFadden said, and the driver offered to give them a ride to where McFadden’s car was parked.

Right after they got in the car, he said, a large number of law-enforcement officers started up the street. Police and National Guard vehicles also pulled into the area, he said.

Officers surrounded the car McFadden was in and beat on the windows with batons, he said.

“It almost seemed like the windows were going to break,” he told the Tracker.

He said the officers pointed their weapons at them. McFadden said he assumed they were loaded with rubber bullets, but that they looked like guns. McFadden, who was in the back seat with Tuite, said the officers were shouting at them to get out of the car, but it wasn’t possible because the vehicle was surrounded.

Officers dragged the driver of the car out, he said, and Tuite was pulled from the car. The Tracker has documented Tuite's assault here.

Then, McFadden said, two officers got into the vehicle — one into the driver’s seat and the other in the back next to him. He said the officers started hitting him with their clubs, striking him on his legs and hitting his camera, like they were trying to break it.

McFadden, who is Black, said he identified himself as a member of the press multiple times, but the officers didn’t stop.

When Tuite, who is white, then outside of the car, saw the officers in the car hitting McFadden, he told another officer that McFadden was a member of the press and a photographer for the New York Times.

McFadden said the officers then stopped and got out of the car. He said they tried to have him get out of the car on the opposite side from the other photographer, but McFadden objected because he saw police were making arrests on that side of the vehicle. He was able to exit the car next to Tuite.

McFadden said the officers checked his press credential, issued by the National Press Photographers Association. He said the troopers were skeptical, and said, “anybody could have made this.”

Officers told him they needed to see his driver’s license, which he had left in his car because he didn’t want to lose it. He said the officers allowed him to leave when Tuite said he would walk McFadden to his car.

“I saw them hitting Josh with their batons, including his camera,” Tuite said. “He’s a Black male, and they trusted me more than him. It took me saying 10 times that he was media before they got off of him.”

In total, McFadden said, it was about 45 minutes from when officers began beating on the car windows until when he was let go.

McFadden said he believes he was targeted because he is a journalist. “It just seemed there was a certain amount of disdain for the journalists there.”

McFadden also said that in this April 13 incident, and when he was detained and hit again by law enforcement three days later, officers released him only after a white journalist vouched for him.

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

McFadden said Minnesota State Patrol troopers were involved in the incident. He said officers from other law enforcement agencies were also present, though he wasn’t sure which ones. A coalition of law enforcement agencies, including the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota National Guard, were involved in the response to protests in Brooklyn Center.

The Minnesota State Patrol didn’t respond to the Tracker’s requests for comment by email and phone.

McFadden said he had bruises on his legs from being hit. After he was tackled and hit by law enforcement again on Friday the 16th, he went to the hospital for treatment. He said he was given a tetanus shot because he had a cut on his hand.

The officers damaged his camera lens, which was “wiggly” and no longer fit correctly on the mount, McFadden said. He was able to continue using it through the week, but as a result of the damage sustained in the two incidents, he needed to get it fixed. He said he hadn’t decided whether he would file a complaint or take any other action related to the incident.

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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