“We can move back to where you’d like here. We are live on the air at the moment. … We are one team,” Jimenez told police, asking them to specify where they wanted the crew to position itself. “Just let us know and we got you.”
The crew captured an apparent protester being corralled by the police. The context, Jimenez explained, was a police operation to bring order to the area. “This is part of the advance police presence that we saw come over the course of, really, minutes when local police showed up with the fire department … on that building we showed you that was burning,” he said. “This is among the state patrol unit that was advancing up the street seeing and scattering the protesters at that point for people to clear the area and so we walked away.”
An officer interrupted the broadcast to say, “You’re under arrest.”
“Do you mind telling me why I am under arrest, sir?” asked Jimenez.
Crew members working with Jimenez spoke up to notify the police that they were with CNN, that they were taping at that moment and that they’d mentioned this affiliation beforehand.
No matter — the police secured Jimenez’s hands behind his back and walked him away from the scene, all captured on camera. “I believe they’re about to — we’re all about to be arrested … I’m probably going to be taken in a minute.” A CNN camera that was laid on the ground by the arrestee captured the last arrest. “The camera is on the ground because the cameraman has been handcuffed,” said CNN anchorwoman Alisyn Camerota.
“New Day” co-hosts John Berman and Camerota struggled to interpret the goings-on. “If you’re just tuning in, you are watching our correspondent, Omar Jimenez, being arrested by state police in Minnesota,” said Camerota. “We’re not sure why our correspondent is being arrested.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Berman, who reported that the stated reason for the arrests was that the crew had been told to move and did not do so — though the footage made clear that the crew were more than willing to comply with police orders.
Three CNN staffers were hauled away. Jimenez later said on air that his mother worried because she couldn’t track him down and that he hadn’t been booked into the system. “In her mind, I had disappeared,” said Jimenez. As for the challenges of getting arrested on the job: “You get in this reporting mode, obviously, where you’re talking about what’s happening all around you but you don’t want it to be the case where you actually become the story and you get involved in it. But then when things begin to shift you have to turn off that reporter mode at least a little bit and become a literal human who is being arrested by the police in the midst of a story where the police are under criticism for how they are dealing with the public,” said Jimenez.
Police released Jimenez and crew members Leonel Mendez and Bill Kirkos, later Friday. And they issued this weak explanation:
Clever language there, Minnesota State Patrol. Why was it necessary to cuff and transport three working journalists who were equipped with a camera, accessories and credentials, just to “confirm” that they were media? What elaborate fact-checking of their media bona fides occurred during the detention process?
We’ve asked state patrol to comment on that dynamic and will update this post with any response.
The idea that the arrest of journalists at a protest was unprecedented doesn’t align with the numbers: Since 2017, 40 journalists have been arrested while covering protests, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Yet this was a remarkable cable-news moment. Though the 24/7 medium has its many, many drawbacks — including overplaying the most minor “BREAKING NEWS” increments in every story — the wall-to-wall live-coverage ethic notched a historic moment in Minneapolis. Against a backdrop of civil strife over the brutal treatment of a black man by police, here was Jimenez, a black and Latino correspondent, being summarily arrested by police after demonstrating industry-standard deference, respect and professionalism. It was a breakfast-time illustration of the whim and power of the cops. (Kirkos and Mendez are white and Hispanic, respectively.)
Support for the arrested journalists flowed from others in the media:
Fox News issued this statement: “Fox News Channel has always supported the First Amendment and this instance is no different. We denounce the detainment of the CNN crew and stand with them in protecting the right to report without fear or favor.”
Then something wonderful happened. In a press briefing Friday regarding the protests, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz stepped up, took responsibility for the incident and apologized. He called the episode “unacceptable”; oh heck, the entire thing was so refreshing that the Erik Wemple Blog wants everyone to check it out:
I also want to address an issue and this one is on me and I will own it. Earlier this morning, when this mission was carried out under my direction to re-secure the Third Precinct — to do so in a manner which I am proud of how it was executed by this team, no injuries and no loss of life — a reestablishment to put the fires out for those businesses, a CNN reporter, a crew, was arrested by the state patrol. A few minutes after hearing that, I was on a call with CNN President Jeff Zucker, who demanded to know what happened. I take full responsibility, there is absolutely no reason something like this should happen. Calls were made immediately. This is a very public apology to that team; it should not happen. And I want to be clear for those who are listening — I think our Minnesota reporters know this — I am a teacher by trade and I have spent my time as governor highlighting the need to be as transparent as possible and have the press here. I failed you last night in that. And it does not escape me that we are here on the catalyst that lit this spark by what happened with a police detainment of George Floyd and the idea that a reporter would have been taken while another police action was in play is inexcusable. So to CNN, to the CNN team, to the journalists here, this is about having a plan, and that’s what these folks are going to talk about. This is about having an aggressive approach to understanding what the community needs, to not coming in heavy-handed with them but to create space where the story can be told. In a situation like this, even if you’re clearing an area, we have got to ensure that there is a safe spot for journalism to tell the story. The issue here is trust. The community that’s down there that’s terrorized by this, if they see a reporter being arrested, their assumption is it’s because something’s going to happen that they don’t want to be seen. And so that is unacceptable. We will continue to strive to make sure that that accessibility is maintained. Not only that, the protection and security and safety of the journalists covering this is a top priority, not because it is a nice thing to do, because it is a key component of how we fix this. Sunshine, disinfectant and seeing what’s happening has to be done.
And with that, the governor of Minnesota has left this media critic with very little to add.