Journalists say police mistreated them during Minnesota protests

By: AFP      Published: 02:04 AM, 18 Apr, 2021
Journalists say police mistreated them during Minnesota protests
–File photo

Several journalists said Saturday that police  wrongly impeded their work while covering a protest in a Minneapolis suburb over the death of Daunte Wright, a young Black man killed by a white policewoman.

The protest came only hours after a federal judge issued a restraining order against police making clear the journalists' right to report without interference.  

Tensions, meanwhile, remain high in Minneapolis, with closing arguments expected Monday in the closely watched trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former police officer accused of killing George Floyd, a Black man, last year.

Nearly 500 people had gathered late Friday before a chain-link fence surrounding the police station in Brooklyn Center, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of Minneapolis, for the sixth consecutive night of protests since Wright was killed during what should have been a routine traffic stop.

Police with loudspeakers ordered the crowd of protesters to disperse shortly before a 10:00 pm Friday (0300 GMT Saturday) curfew. They then deployed dozens of officers in riot gear.  

- Restraining order -    

The officers surrounded the demonstrators, then used pepper spray against several members of the media who had clearly identified themselves as such, reporters said.

The journalists were forbidden to remain in a holding pen set up by police to document what eventually were at least 100 arrests. But they were first obliged to let officers photograph them and their identity documents. 

Earlier in the day, following a complaint filed by several journalists and a union representing them, a judge had issued a temporary restraining order against Minnesota police.

That order, signed by US District Judge Wilhelmina Wright, enjoined police against "arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force... against any person whom they know or reasonably should know is a Journalist," unless they believe the person has committed a crime.

"Such persons shall not be required to disperse following the issuance of an order to disperse, and such persons shall not be subject to arrest for not dispersing," it said. 

The order banned targeting journalists with flash-bang grenades, nonlethal projectiles, riot batons and chemical agents including pepper spray.

Police were also banned from seizing journalists' equipment.

"The potential harm arising from suppressing press coverage of the protests is great and the public interest favors protecting these First Amendment principles," the judge wrote.

The advocacy group US Press Freedom Tracker said at least seven journalists had reported being attacked or otherwise targeted by law enforcement, and three arrested or detained while covering earlier Brooklyn Center demonstrations. 

Kim Potter, a 26-year police veteran, was arrested Wednesday on manslaughter charges in the shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. She said she mistakenly fired her Glock 9mm handgun, thinking it was a Taser. 

Potter has resigned and faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.