Credentialed members of the press can no longer be subject to Minnesota State Patrol dispersal orders, and troopers will halt the practice of photographing them before letting them go while covering protests and have been prohibited from taking other actions against the media.
“A free press is foundational to our democracy, and the ability of journalists to cover civil unrest in our communities must be protected and encouraged,” the MSP said in a statement Saturday.
The MSP began photographing journalists, their driver’s licenses and their press credentials amid widespread protests over police brutality and racial injustice. It was purportedly intended as a means to identify members of the press amid chaotic demonstrations that sometimes devolved into riots, but some members of the media reported authoritarian-like treatment.
Critics alleged that police were using retaliatory measures against journalists who covered the anti-police demonstrations, and the American Civil Liberties Union took the issue to court, resulting in a temporary restraining order.
“Any law ‘abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press’ is prohibited under the First Amendment.” U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright wrote in the order.
In addition to detaining and photographing reporters, police were accused of shooting them with rubber bullets, spraying them with chemical irritants and placing them under arrest, all in the past week during protests over the death of Daunte Wright in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center.
The MSP said in a statement that it had briefly detained and released a number of journalists under the now-nixed policy but hadn’t arrested any.
And members of the press have also been attacked by the protesters themselves.
“Following feedback from media, and in light of a recent temporary restraining order filed in federal court, MSP will not photograph journalists or their credentials,” the statement said. “However, troopers will continue to check credentials so media will not be detained any longer than is necessary.”
Under the new policy, members of the force are banned from arresting or threatening to arrest members of the media unless they are suspected of a crime. They cannot use or threaten to use force on journalists who are not suspected of a crime.
The MSP will also no longer use chemical spray on members of the media and is prohibited from seizing their equipment or ordering a journalist to stop recording.
“The MSP has not and will not target media for doing the important work of showing those who are exercising their First Amendment rights to express themselves, or those who are engaged in the violent, illegal activity law enforcement is trying to prevent” the statement concluded. “Any journalist or member of the public is encouraged to contact the DPS Internal Affairs/Affirmative Action division to file a complaint of they believe a trooper has engaged in misconduct.”
The state patrol said it was advising partner law enforcement agencies of its new policy.