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CNN reporter and crew arrested live on air while covering Minneapolis protest

May 29. 2020
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By The Washington Post · Kim Bellware, Elahe Izadi · NATIONAL, ENTERTAINMENT, COURTSLAW, TV 

Police arrested CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his camera crew on live television just after 5 a.m. Friday morning as the team reported on the Minneapolis protests.

The journalists were released hours later, but not before an outcry from other journalists and viewers, with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) apologizing for the incident and calling it "totally unacceptable."

"They clearly had a right to be there," Walz said, per a statement read on CNN. "We want the media there to cover this. It is never acceptable for that to happen."

The scene unfolded in a city rocked by protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody. Jimenez had been reporting from an intersection that had experienced destruction during the protests.

CNN viewers witnessed police officers surrounding the journalists as Jimenez repeatedly said they would go where ordered. "Wherever you'd want us, we will go," he said. "We were just getting out of your way when you were advancing through the intersection, so just let us know and we got you."

Jimenez then turned to narrate the scene when an officer told him he was under arrest. Jimenez was zip-tied by his wrists and led away as troopers.

The arrest, which happened during CNN's "New Day" program, shocked hosts Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

"That is an American television reporter, Omar Jimenez, being led away by police officers," Berman said. "He clearly identified himself as a reporter, he was respectfully explaining to the state police that our CNN team was there and moving away... I've never seen anything like this."

Police then arrested the other CNN crew members and took the network's camera, which continued to roll.

Minnesota State Patrol later said in a statement that "in the course of clearing the streets and restoring order" at the intersection, police arrested four people, including three CNN crew members who "were released once they were confirmed to be members of the media."

Josh Campbell, another CNN reporter who had been reporting from the Minneapolis streets cleared by police, later said on air "my experience has been the opposite of what Omar just experienced there," and that he was told he was "permitted to be in this area."

"You, Josh Campbell, are white, Omar Jimenez is not," Berman said. "I do not know if that played into this."

"What you just said crossed my mind as well about appearances here," Campbell responded. "I can tell you I was treated much differently than he was."

CNN said in a statement that the arrest was a First Amendment violation.

"A CNN reporter & his production team were arrested this morning in Minneapolis for doing their jobs, despite identifying themselves - a clear violation of their First Amendment rights," the company said. 

The network then reported that CNN President Jeff Zucker had spoken to Gov. Walz, who apologized for the reporters' arrests.

In recent years, other reporters have been arrested in the course of reporting on the unrest sparked by the deaths of unarmed black civilians. In 2014, Police in Ferguson, Missouri, arrested Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly, who had been covering the unrest in the city following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown. The reporters, who were arrested while inside of a local McDonald's where journalists had been working from, were charged with trespassing and interfering with a police officer, but the charges were eventually dropped.

"Newsgathering on public streets and documenting police and protesters serve an important function of the first amendment," said Tully Center for Free Speech director Roy Gutterman. "Unfortunately, arresting a TV reporter in the aftermath of a riot or protest is nothing new, but is certainly another unnecessary development in an already sad and disturbing situation."

The ACLU also released a statement: "Journalists should never be arrested in this country for doing their job. People are in the streets of Minneapolis demanding racial justice, and the public has a right to see it. Public transparency is absolutely necessary for police accountability."


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