Social media journalists detained while covering Brooklyn Center protest

April 14, 2021

Independent journalist Naasir Akailvi, of the Minnesota-based social media news outlet the Neighborhood Reporter, said he was detained while covering a protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on April 14, 2021.

Akailvi told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was detained by Minnesota State Patrol troopers at the same time as his Neighborhood Reporter colleague, journalist Tracy Gunapalan. The Neighborhood Reporter covers social justice movements in Minnesota’s Twin Cities region and publishes on social media platforms, Akailvi said.

Demonstrations were held several days in a row outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department in response to the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop on April 11. 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.

Akailvi and Gunapalan were returning to their car late on the night of April 14 as the protest was winding down, they told the Tracker. As they were moving away from the police department, close to a nearby church, a group of people were tapping on the windows of law enforcement vehicles and going up to officers, so Gunapalan said the pair stopped to film the interaction.

Suddenly, she said, a line of MSP troopers started running up the street toward them. Gunapalan said the journalists held up their camera and microphone and yelled to identify themselves as press, but the troopers shouted at them to move, so they turned and started running.

Akailvi told the Tracker that as he was running, troopers grabbed him and pushed him to the ground. As he was taken down, he said, a trooper pulled his microphone out of his hand. As his backpack was taken off of him, a battery pack fell out, he said.

Akailvi said he was restrained on the ground with a trooper on top of him, and his hands were restrained in cuffs.

He said he told the troopers that he was press and had a press pass around his neck. Akailvi said a trooper got in front of him and said, “That doesn’t always work, does it?” When he asked another trooper to speak with a supervisor, he said the trooper responded, “You can get the fuck out of here.”

Akailvi said troopers brought him over to where Gunapalan and another independent journalist, Niko Georgiades of Unicorn Riot, were also detained.

Troopers had the journalists pull their face masks down, and they took photographs of the journalists’ faces and press passes, he said. Akailvi said he and Gunapalan wear self-made press cards that have their photographs, identify them as press and say “The Neighborhood Reporter.” Gunapalan said the troopers told the journalists they wanted to keep a record of their faces so they wouldn’t be detained again. The journalists, who were released after their photographs were taken, said they were detained for between 10 and 15 minutes.

After they were released, Akailvi said they went back to find the microphone and battery pack he lost when he was detained. He said the microphone was more than 15 feet away from where he had been pulled to the ground and was broken into multiple pieces. He said that he wasn’t able to find his battery pack.

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

On April 16, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Minnesota State Patrol from arresting or threatening to arrest journalists. In a statement in response to the court order, MSP acknowledged that the agency is prohibited from enforcing dispersal orders against journalists.

“While journalists have been detained and released during enforcement actions after providing credentials, no journalists have been arrested,” the MSP statement said.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists 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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