Police will no longer be able to order journalists away from protests, nor will they be allowed to seize their cameras and other equipment.
The American Civil Liberties Union has secured an $825,000 settlement for journalists who claim they were mistreated by Minnesota law enforcement while covering Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and 2021.
According to The Duluth News-Tribune, a federal judge has granted a permanent injunction against the Minnesota State Patrol, barring troopers from using force against journalists unless they have cause to believe they committed a crime.
“The Court’s ground-breaking injunction will hold state law enforcement accountable and require them to respect the First Amendment, rather than use violence and threats that deter the media from covering protests and police conduct,” said ACLU of Minnesota Legal Director Teresa Nelson. “We need a free press to help us hold the police and government accountable. Without a free press, we don’t have a free society, and we can’t have justice.”
The same order will also exempt journalists from certain law enforcement commands, including police orders to disperse from the site of a protest, rally, or riot.
Responding to complaints that, in some cases, Minnesota State Patrol officers seized or otherwise tampered with journalists’ equipment, the court clarified that law enforcement cannot seize news media equipment including video cameras, press passes, and microphones.
The News-Tribune notes that the lawsuit was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union and several pro-bono private law firms, including Fredrikson & Bryon, the Law Office of Kevin Riach, and Apollo Law LLC.
The plaintiffs included several individual journalists as well as the Communications Workers of America organization.
“During the protests, law enforcement engaged in an extraordinary escalation of unlawful force deliberately targeting journalists,” the ACLU said in a press release announcing the agreement. “Officers fired hard projectiles and tear gas at journalists, ordered them to disperse even though curfews exempted the press from leaving, arrested them, and interfered with the media’s ability to observe and document the protests and the law enforcement response during the George Floyd and Daunte Wright protests.”
Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington issued his own statement, saying the settlement should effect positive change.
“The ability of journalists to cover civil unrest in our communities must be protected and encouraged,” Harrington said. “The hallmarks of this agreement are transparency, accountability and excellence in policing. Our agency is committed to those principles as we work with members of the media to implement the terms of this agreement.”
Ed Ou, one of the plaintiff journalists who says he was wrongfully attacked by Minnesota State Patrol officers, said the settlement serves as an example of press freedom to people and governments around the world.
“When authoritarian governments in other parts of the world see U.S. law enforcement targeting the press, it empowers them to act with impunity,” Ou said. “This injunction sends a message that freedom of the press is an ideal the United States continues to hold as one of its core values, and while the legal system is imperfect, I am glad there is still some semblance of accountability to address attacks like this. I hope this case sets the precedent that any assault of a journalist is one too many.”