Early Friday morning, state police officers arrested a CNN reporter and several crew members as they reported live on television from Minneapolis. The cable news network called the arrests a “violation of First Amendment rights.”
With tensions already sky-high over the use of lethal force against George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on Monday, the televised arrest of journalist Omar Jimenez has only fanned the flames of public outrage.
The televised arrest
Just hours after the incident, a chilling six and a half-minute video depicting the encounter between officers and the CNN reporter had already been viewed millions of times. In video, Jimenez is describing the scene behind him, a chaotic background after days of protests resulting from the murder of George Floyd.
Wearing a surgical mask over his face, Jimenez speaks directly into the camera to two anchors at CNN headquarters, when four officers approach and attempt to move him and his crew. With press credentials in one hand and a microphone in the other, Jimenez respectfully offers to move, even asking the officers where he ought to set up.
The police remain silent for a moment, seemingly unsure of an answer. A minute passes before two officers place Jimenez in handcuffs and tell him that he is under arrest, all while the camera continues to roll, broadcasting the episode live to CNN.
Jimenez asks why he is being arrested, but receives no answer as officers guide him out of the camera’s view. His producer is then handcuffed, leaving only the cameraman to explain to CNN headquarters what is happening.
The cameraman asks the police a final time for an explanation: “Why are you arresting us?” He pleads. “We’re just passing along the message—your message…you know we’re just out here doing our job as well as you all.” The police again refuse to respond, but allow him to place the camera on the pavement before cuffing him as well. The camera continues to record unbeknownst to an officer who picks it up and places it down a few yards away.
A CNN photographer in the area who was not arrested soon relayed information to the CNN anchors, telling them that police accused Jimenez and crew of refusing to move when asked. But the anchors are quick to point out the falsehood, as the entire exchange had just aired live to millions of viewers.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz was quick to comment on the incident, and ensured the public that the entire CNN crew had been released. Walz said he “deeply apologizes” and that the arrests were “unacceptable.”
But public outrage was not sated by the revelation that a second CNN crew, headed by the white journalist Josh Campbell, was filming, unperturbed, just a block away.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said of the incident, “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.”
These sentiments were echoed in a statement by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: “We strongly condemn the Minnesota State Patrol’s arrest of a CNN news crew covering the protests in Minneapolis, who responded professionally and appropriately to the situation. The First Amendment protects news-gathering, and prohibits the government from using police power as a pretext for interfering with press freedoms.”
The statement continued, “News coverage of protests like the one in Minneapolis is essential to informing the public and understanding the concerns of our communities.”
The murder of George Floyd has sparked nationwide protests, in cities spanning from New York, to St. Louis, to Los Angeles. 70 demonstrators were arrested in New York’s Union Square Thursday night, as hundreds of protestors flooded the streets demanding justice for Floyd, and calling for an end to police brutality.