Tim Walz, Governor of Minnesota, responded on Sunday to reports that state police had assaulted reporters covering unrest in a suburb of Minneapolis, saying, “Apologies are not enough; it just can’t happen.
Protests erupted in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota over the death of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man who was killed by a veteran police officer during a traffic stop. The police fired tear gas or pepper spray at the crowd and made dozens of arrests.
“I think we all have to recognize the attacks on media around the world and even in our country over the past few years is frightening,” Mr. Walz said in an interview with a local CBS station. “We cannot function as a democracy if they are not there.”
On Saturday, an attorney representing more than 20 news outlets sent a letter to Mr. Walz and law enforcement officials in Minnesota detailing a series of alleged assaults on journalists by police over the past week. Journalists have been sprayed with chemical irritants, arrested, thrown to the ground and beaten by police while covering protests, lawyer Leita Walker wrote.
The letter provides details of some of the alleged incidents, including those involving reporters working for CNN and the New York Times.
Joshua Rashaad McFadden, a freelance photographer who covered the protests for The Times, said in an interview on Sunday that police surrounded the car he was in on Tuesday as he tried to leave the protests. They hit the windows with batons, then entered the car to force him out, beating his legs and hitting the lens of his camera, he said.
“It was really scary – I’ve never been in a situation like this with so many cops hitting me, hitting my gear,” said McFadden, 30.
Mr McFadden, who is black, said police did not believe his press credentials were real until another photographer vouched for him – a situation that has happened to him on several occasions, as well as ‘to other black journalists, he said.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” he said, to know that “if a situation like this happens, they won’t believe or care about everything I say.
Later that week, he said, he was forced to the ground with other reporters and photographed by police.
A spokeswoman for The New York Times Company confirmed on Sunday that Ms Walker’s letter represented the company’s response.
On Friday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting police from using physical force or chemical agents against journalists. But Ms Walker wrote that the officers still engaged in “acts of intimidation, violence and other widespread misconduct against journalists”.
Mr Walz said in a tweet on Saturday that he had “ordered our law enforcement partners to make changes that will help ensure journalists do not encounter obstacles in doing their jobs.”
“These are unstable situations and that is no excuse,” he said in Sunday’s television interview. “It’s an understanding that we need to keep improving.”