As reports of journalists covering the George Floyd protests being targeted by the police continue to increase, the American Civil Liberties Union is taking action.
The Minnesota arm of the nonprofit organization is suing the city of Minneapolis, the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minneapolis police on behalf of the journalists who were targeted and attacked by police while covering the demonstrations in the days following the police killing of Floyd.
As well as seeking damages for injuries sustained, the class-action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota is asking for a temporary restraining order and for law enforcement to be prohibited from targeting and attacking journalists again.
“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 Police are using violence and threats to undermine that power, and we cannot let that happen,” said ACLU Minnesota legal director Teresa Nelson.
The suit alleges that Minneapolis Police and the Minnesota State Patrol have tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, shot in the face with rubber bullets, arrested without cause and threatened journalists at gunpoint, all after these journalists identified themselves and were otherwise clearly engaged in their reporting duties.
In a statement sent to WWD, Minneapolis City Attorney Erik Nilsson said: “We will review the allegations and take them seriously. We continue to support the First Amendment rights of everyone in Minneapolis.”
A rep. for the Minnesota State Patrol added: “While not all of the incidents involve the Minnesota State Patrol, we are reviewing the incidents involving our troopers in an effort to prevent similar incidents in the future. The State Patrol is unable to discuss specifics of the litigation.”
The lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, Jared Goyette, a freelance journalist covering the demonstrations, was shot in the face with a rubber bullet despite repeatedly stating that he was a member of the media, according to the suit.
Goyette said actions like this make protesters and people trying to advocate for change “more vulnerable because journalists provide a witness and police are aware of that.”
Police have also arrested numerous journalists, including CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew. They were arrested live on camera despite Jimenez politely and calmly offering to move several times. Jimenez was only released after a personal phone call from CNN president Jeff Zucker to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, the suit added.
“The ostensible leaders of our law enforcement agencies have been unable to curb this unlawful violence. Governor Walz and others have repeatedly issued statements apologizing for the violence against reporters and the unlawful arrests,” the suit said. “But these statements, and whatever behind-the-scenes actions have accompanied them, have proven toothless.”
Similar attacks have been reported across the country over the past few days, from New York to Atlanta to Los Angeles.
“We are facing a full-scale assault on the First Amendment freedom of the press,” said Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
Spokespeople for the Minneapolis police department and the Minnesota department for public safety did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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