Three CNN crew members covering ongoing protests in Minneapolis were arrested by state patrol during a live broadcast early this morning, even while identifying themselves as journalists and agreeing to comply with officers’ requests to relocate. The press freedom group PEN America has released a statement sharply condemning the arrests, which occurred “for no fathomable reason.”
Omar Jimenez, an Afro-Latinx correspondent for CNN, and his team were reporting live from a street nearby a police precinct that had been set ablaze by protesters. A video of the arrest captured on national television shows officers approaching the crew and Jimenez respectfully agreeing to step back.
“Wherever you want us, we will go,” Jimenez tells the officers in the video. “We were just getting out of your way when you were advancing through the intersection.” Shortly thereafter, the crew was handcuffed and carried away by officers. They were not given an explanation for the arrest, despite repeatedly asking the police for answers.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said CNN New Day co-anchor John Berman, narrating the uncanny reality in real time. “This is the police carrying our camera right now, frankly not aware that it is still rolling.”
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, did not mince words in her statement about the incident published this morning.
“With all the perversions of American democracy that we have witnessed, few rival the dystopian spectacle of a US journalist calmly reporting the news and repeatedly offering to reposition his crew at the police’s request, only to be arrested, cuffed, and hauled away alongside his crew,” said Nossel.
“For us at PEN America, where we routinely document the arrest and imprisonment of writers and journalists worldwide, the action was eerily familiar, but something we expect to see in authoritarian states: Turkey, Hong Kong, Egypt,” she added. “To see it in the United States of America is appalling.”
For the last three days, the Midwestern city has been at the epicenter of protests and riots now quickly spreading across the nation following the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was choked to death by a white police officer. A widely-shared video of the scene depicts the officer asphyxiating Floyd by pressing his knee on his neck for several minutes, even as the victim pleaded for help.
The nation is still reeling from shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a young and unarmed Black man killed while jogging in a South Georgia neighborhood in February. The two white men responsible for his death, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael, were not charged until a video of the confrontation was leaked online, prompting outrage.
“What’s happening in Minneapolis is a targeted effort to criminalize Black-led protest,” Nora Benavidez, director of the US Free Expression Programs at PEN America, told Hyperallergic.
In a newly-released report, the organization analyzed more than 116 legislative proposals introduced between 2015-2019 that target protest rights, many introduced in the wake of resurgences of mass demonstrations in the US.
“In states such as Minnesota, we found legislators have introduced ten proposals over the last four years to increase penalties for protesters, namely targeting tactics used by protesters challenging systemic racism and police violence. These proposals pose a grave threat to protesters and to the First Amendment, as civilians must weigh expressing themselves against the potential of being arrested for engaging in protected activity,” said Benavidez.
The crew was reportedly released earlier today shortly after Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued an apology to CNN, calling the arrests “unacceptable.”