The ACLU of Minnesota filed a class-action lawsuit overnight Tuesday against the city of Minneapolis and local and state law enforcement for "targeting and attacking journalists" covering ongoing protests over police violence toward people of color sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd.
"This is the first of many lawsuits the ACLU intends to file across the country. Law enforcement officers who target journalists will be held accountable."
—Brian Hauss, ACLU
"The power of the people is rooted in the ability of the free press to investigate and report news, especially at a time like this when police have brutally murdered one of our community members," ACLU-MN legal director Teresa Nelson said in a statement announcing the suit Wednesday.
"Police are using violence and threats to undermine that power, and we cannot let that happen," she added. "Public transparency is absolutely necessary for police accountability."
The lawsuit's lead plaintiff is Jared Goyette, a freelance journalist and Minneapolis resident who was shot was shot in the face with a rubber bullet on May 27 while covering local protests for a national publication. The complaint (pdf) says that Goyette "suffered immediate physical injury to his nose and eye and, as a result, had to leave the scene and cease journalistic activities for the evening."
Jared is one of many journalists who were threatened and attacked by police during protests in Minneapolis.
Journalists have been gassed, shot, pepper sprayed, arrested and otherwise targeted and prevented from reporting on police behavior at the protests.
— ACLU of Minnesota (@ACLUMN) June 3, 2020
"Journalists aren't the only victims," Goyette said Wednesday. "Actions like this make protesters, people trying to advocate for change, more vulnerable because journalists provide a witness and police are aware of that. Without journalists there, police or other people in power can feel a sense of impunity that no one will see what's happening anyway. Everyone needs to know people are watching."
Minneapolis Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo, Minneapolis Police Lieutenant Robert Kroll, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matthew Langer, and two John Does are named as plaintiffs in the complaint in both their individual and official capacities.
The suit—filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota by ACLU-MN, Fredrikson & Byron P.A., and Apollo Law LLC—seeks damages for injuries sustained by journalists as well as an order declaring that law enforcement's actions against reporters covering the Minnesota protests violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and prohibiting them from continuing the behavior.
"We are facing a full-scale assault on the First Amendment freedom of the press," warned Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. "We will not let these official abuses go unanswered."
"This is the first of many lawsuits the ACLU intends to file across the country," Hauss added. "Law enforcement officers who target journalists will be held accountable."
To the journalists risking their lives to keep the public informed: Thank you, and we’ve got your back.
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To the police confronting, assaulting and targeting journalists: We’ll see you in court. https://t.co/IDThJwnpAb
— ACLU of Minnesota (@ACLUMN) June 3, 2020
Hauss and Nelson detailed in a blog post Wednesday some of the issues that journalists have faced in Minnesota while covering the current protests:
A Minnesota State Patrol officer arrested CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his crew during a live broadcast, despite the journalists repeatedly having offered to comply with police and asking where they could move. Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske and photographer Carolyn Cole were chased by Minnesota State Patrol officers, tear-gassed, and shot at with rubber bullets, even though both were wearing their press credentials and they identified themselves as journalists. And police officers pepper-sprayed a group of visibly credentialed journalists, including KTSP reporter Ryan Raiche and his producer, as they were pinned against a wall.
And these are examples from Minnesota alone. The Reporters Committee for the Freedom the Press and the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker have identified numerous other instances of official abuse against journalists in cities across the country.
The ACLU also released a video featuring some police attacks of journalists:
Personal accounts and well as other photos and videos of incidents involving reporters have spread on social media:
— Ali Watkins (@AliWatkins) June 3, 2020
After cops tackled & arrested me, & after I identified myself as a journalist, they refused to give me my phone, leaving it on the street.
Later that night another journalist found my phone. Turned out it was recording while cops pressed my head into the concrete & cursed at me https://t.co/Qs185nMXyh
— Christopher Mathias (@letsgomathias) June 3, 2020
As Common Dreams reported, leading journalism groups released an open letter on Monday which said that during protests, "police have opened fire with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, pepper balls and have used nightsticks and shields to attack the working press as never before in this nation. This must stop."
The letter came as the Committee to Protect Journalists, one of the signatories, said in a separate statement Monday that at least 125 incidents involving violations of press freedom had occurred since May 29 across the United States. As of press time Wednesday, that figure was updated to 233, with 47 in Minneapolis alone.