The RTDNA Voice of the First Amendment Task Force today objected to the arrests of two journalists who were covering a protest in St. Paul, Minn., that followed a not guilty verdict in the trial of a police officer who shot and killed a man last year in an incident that gained national attention when the dead man’s girlfriend livestreamed the aftermath on Facebook.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that among 18 people arrested by state troopers during the final moments of the protest were David Clarey, campus editor of Minnesota Daily, which covers the University of Minnesota, and Susan Du, a reporter for the Minneapolis-St. Paul alternative newspaper City Pages.
Clarey and Du were released several hours later after being charged with unlawful assembly and being a public nuisance. However, The Minnesota State Patrol did not immediately release Du’s equipment – including a laptop, camera, recorder, phone, notes and car keys – which troopers confiscated at the time of her arrest.
According to the Star Tribune, Du says both she and Clarey were just doing their jobs when they were swept up by troopers at the end of the protest, which erupted after St. Anthony, Minn., Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted on all charges in the shooting death of Philando Castile, who was African-American, which occurred during a 2016 traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“Arrests of journalists who are merely trying to gather facts lawfully in order to report them to the public are becoming nearly daily occurrences in today’s highly charged anti-news media climate,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Incoming Executive Director, who spearheads the task force. “Law enforcement officers have a responsibility – no, a duty – to allow reporters to work free of interference, let alone arrest.”
The Star-Tribune reports that several other members of the news media scrambled up a hill and climbed over a fence to avoid the possibility of being arrested. Du says she followed closely behind them but a police officer prevented her from leaving. Shortly after that, she and Clarey were arrested along with the remaining protesters.
“RTDNA will continue to alert the public to any effort to obstruct journalists so that our society does not allow such efforts to become the new normal,” Shelley said. “Any time a reporter is harassed, threatened, arrested, or assaulted, it’s not the reporter who’s the victim. The real victim is the public that reporter is attempting to serve.”
RTDNA formed the Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. People wishing to support RTDNA’s efforts may reach out to the task force by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.