Ellison opposes motion to exempt journalists from arrest during protests

    Police spray mace as demonstrators shield themselves behind several umbrellas at Brooklyn Center Police Department for the fourth night of protests Wednesday, April 14, 2021 after former officer Kimberly Potter shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop earlier in the week. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

    The office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is opposing a motion that seeks to exempt journalists from arrest or use of force during protests. 

    In June, the ACLU sued law enforcement and the City of Minneapolis for allegedly targeting journalists trying to cover protests after the death of George Floyd, seeking damages for injured journalists and a temporary restraining order to ban law enforcement from using force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, against media. They said that police actions violated the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. 

    Now, Ellison’s office is arguing that the court should deny similar motion from a group of journalists for a temporary restraining order against law enforcement in the wake of protests over the police killing of Daunte Wright. They say there is no precedent for First Amendment protection against a dispersal order. 

    “The media is not (and cannot be) exempt from dispersal orders,” according to a brief filed by Ellison’s office in its role as legal counsel for the Department of Public Safety. Law enforcement uses dispersal orders to force people to leave an area.

    The Minneapolis Police Department and State Patrol are trying to deny the motion, saying that the protests both last year and this week created “unprecedented, chaotic, and at times destructive civil unrest,” which required dispersal orders. 

    MPD and State Patrol say that they would never intentionally impede journalists and that the agencies benefit from “honest and transparent reporting.” They also argue that dispersal orders apply to everyone in an area being cleared during a protest, including the media. 

    Journalists reacted with dismay. 

    In the motion for a temporary restraining order, six journalists and the Communications Workers of America union say they and other media were targeted by police during the summer George Floyd protests. MPD and State Patrol said that journalists put themselves in danger by remaining in the dispersal area as protestors got violent. 

    During a protest in Brooklyn Center on Monday, police and National Guard issued dispersal orders of the media, herding them to a new coverage location near the police station. But some didn’t comply. 

    The Governor’s Executive Order issued Monday, which created nightly curfews, exempted media from the curfew but didn’t exempt them from orders by law enforcement. 

    Ellison’s office argues “No one, including curfew-exempted members of the media, is entitled to remain in an area subject to a lawful dispersal order.” 

    Gracie Stockton
    Gracie Stockton is a senior at the University of Minnesota. She was awarded the 2021 Kaufman scholarship from the Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communication and joined the Reformer as an intern. Gracie also studies theatre and Russian, and is an artist in her free time.