USA Today photojournalist detained during 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.

Jasper Colt, a photojournalist with the USA Today Network, was one of the journalists detained.

Colt told USA Today that when police issued a dispersal order around 9:30 p.m., he and other journalists did not immediately leave. “We didn’t think we needed to, and we wanted to cover what was happening,” he said.

Then, he told the paper, police rounded up protesters and members of the press in one group and told everyone to lie down on their stomachs. Officers identified people who were members of the media and then brought them to another area, where they took photographs of journalists’ credentials, IDs and their faces.

“They were the ones with the guns, so we were like, ‘OK, well, we have to do this,’” Colt told USA Today.

Colt also detailed the experience in a tweet posted at 12:07 a.m. on April 17. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Tracker.

Video published by USA Today shows Minnesota State Patrol troopers checking journalists’ credentials. Colt told USA Today that the sheriff’s office made the dispersal announcement over the loudspeaker, and state and local police were involved in the detainment.

The journalists were detained hours after a federal judge had issued a temporary restraining order barring police from arresting or using force against journalists, in response to a motion filed earlier in the week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

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 said that troopers will no longer photograph journalists and their credentials, but will continue to check media credentials.

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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