About that church photo

By: - April 22, 2021 6:00 am

This photo by independent Minnesota photographer Scott Streble became the source of misinformation.

The photo shows a church in Brooklyn Center that appears to be surrounded by a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Minnesota State Patrol stormtrooper operation.

Dozens of officers wearing helmets, fluorescent yellow shirts, protective vests, maroon pants and knee pads, lined up in formation, batons in hand and zip ties at the ready, with a church in the background.

The Twitter post featuring the photo that went viral — over 13,000 retweets and counting — said the church was harboring people “hurt by police violence” during an April 12 protest over the police killing of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop the previous day.

“This was how the cops responded,” Mischa Coldwater wrote.

Except the troopers weren’t guarding the church, they were guarding the police station next door — although it isn’t pictured in the photo.

Maj. Melanie Nelson, spokeswoman for Operation Safety Net, said the State Patrol troopers in the photo were staged there to respond to any potential unrest. 

“There just happened to be a church in the background,” she said. 

Simeon Momanyi, pastor of the Kenyan Community Seventh-Day Adventist Church, said they opened their doors to volunteers to distribute food and supplies, but closed at curfew time. It wasn’t open when the photo was taken. 

He said police were pushing protesters back from the police station — not the church — because it would be easy to break into the police station from the church parking lot, since the fencing on the church side is weak.

“They were preventing people from going into the parking lot,” Momanyi said. 

The photo was taken by Scott Streble, an independent Minneapolis photographer, who said the photo “got loose.”

“I didn’t know what to make of it,” he said. “I’m bummed that there was so much misinformation about it. I felt like I was powerless after it got out.”

He tried responding to some people to set the record straight, but it was impossible. “It was too overwhelming. I quit.”

Asked about it, Coldwater said she wasn’t there when the photo was taken, and mistook the photo for a Lutheran church that she says was targeted by police. She said a journalist reached out to tell her of the mistake, and she linked to his thread in her thread.

Streble, the photographer, said it’s hard to figure out what’s going on in the photo, but he felt the troopers were using the space to stage and “look intimidating” before dispersing protesters. He saw some people claim the troopers were guarding a white supremacist church.  

“I’m not sure how it happened but everyone used the photo to… further their agenda,” he said. “It seemed to work for all sides.”

Streble won’t be reluctant to post such photos in the future though.

“It’s a strong image,” he said. “I’ll post anything that’s a strong image. That’s the nature of the medium these days.”

Momanyi said the church is a “neutral place” and doesn’t take sides — it condemns violence, believes in the sanctity of life and supports lawful protests.

“We do not condone, accept what the police did, but we do not side with people who are causing riots,” he said. 

But there are members of the community — including protesters — who are hurting and need basic support, he said. And since the church is a “place where healing happens,” its members decided to open their doors to volunteers to distribute food and supplies, as well as to people who needed a place to pray, meditate or cry. 

Church members sang to those who came in, he said. 

“In our thinking, in our understanding, this is what Jesus would have done,” he said.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.