Separately, more than 100 news organizations sent a letter on Tuesday asking Minnesota officials to stop arresting or targeting journalists as they cover protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck to pin him to the ground. The signatories include The Washington Post, New York Times, NPR, Fox News, CNN and state and local press organizations. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press led the coalition of media organizations that sent the letter.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a database of press violations, has counted dozens of “violations” by law enforcement against reporters nationwide since protests erupted in all 50 states following Floyd’s death. These include arrests, assaults by police and protesters, and equipment damage caused by officials.
The ACLU lawsuit follows the arrests of several reporters as they were covering the protests and riots in Minneapolis. It cites numerous examples of police using rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas against journalists, despite reporters clearly identifying themselves as members of the press.
“This pattern and practice of conduct by law enforcement tramples on the Constitution,” the ACLU’s complaint says. “It violates the sacrosanct right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press that form the linchpin of a free society.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) has acknowledged that the arrests of reporters was improper. He apologized to CNN President Jeff Zucker last week after police arrested one of the network’s correspondents, Omar Jimenez, as he was reporting live on Friday. Jimenez and his colleagues were released without charge after being detained for about an hour.
A spokesperson for the Minneapolis Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
The ACLU suit, filed on behalf of a freelance journalist, Jared Goyette, names the city of Minneapolis, its police chief, Medaria Arradondo, the state’s commissioner of public safety, John Harrington, and the commander of the Minnesota State Patrol, Matthew Langer, as defendants, among others. Goyette says he was shot in the face with a rubber bullet while covering one of the protests.
“We are facing a full-scale assault on the First Amendment freedom of the press,” said ACLU attorney Brian Hauss in a statement. “We will not let these official abuses go unanswered.”
The organization said it intended to file lawsuits in other states and jurisdictions where it believes reporters have been targeted by authorities.