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SPJ demands answers on CNN crew’s on-air arrest


5/29/2020


CONTACT:
Patricia Gallagher Newberry, SPJ National President, 513-702-4065, pattinewberryspj@gmail.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists demands answers from the Minnesota State Patrol regarding the arrests this morning of CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, CNN Producer Bill Kirkos and CNN photojournalist Leonel Mendez.

The three were released about an hour later.

“Mr. Jimenez and his team were clearly doing nothing but their job – even politely offering to move to wherever police wanted them to go – but were handcuffed and taken into custody anyway,” said SPJ National President Patricia Gallagher Newberry. “This is clearly a violation of the First Amendment and the Minnesota State Patrol owes them and the American people an explanation of why this occurred. This happened on live TV where we could all see. Sadly, it happens much more often than we know in this country and is not documented on live TV.”

Chris Snowbeck, president of the SPJ Minnesota Chapter, said in a statement, “Police, State Patrol and other law enforcement officers should be well aware of the importance of the media whose job it is to document and report on breaking news for the benefit of the general public. We implore the responding parties to alert their officers on the rights of the press and the necessity of their presence as they continue to report on the current unrest.”

SPJ is offering its expertise and resources to the Minnesota State Patrol, and any other Minnesota law enforcement, to educate them on the First Amendment rights of journalists to report the news without interference or threats.

“We’re relieved that Jimenez and his colleagues were released quickly. But the fact is they were working ethically – and in harm’s way – to bring important news to the public. This unwarranted arrest is inexcusable,” Newberry said. “Journalists should be able to cover and shed light on any protest, pandemic or any other dangerous circumstance without the fear of arrest.”

The episode took place shortly after 5 a.m. CDT, as Jimenez, a correspondent based in Chicago, was reporting on the third night of protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being handcuffed and pinned by a police officer who pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck.

In the moments before the arrest, Jimenez could be heard clearly identifying himself as a reporter and offering to move wherever he and his crew were directed. “Put us back where you want us, we are getting out of your way, just let us know” he was recorded telling the police, who wore riot gear labeled “State Patrol.” Jimenez added, “Wherever you’d want us, we will go.”

Instead, he was placed in custody. As his hands were bound behind his back, a man’s voice can be heard saying, “We told you before that we are with CNN.”

We appreciate Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz apologizing on-air. However, no explanation has been given regarding the arrest of the three journalists.

SPJ Diversity Committee Chair Rebecca Aguilar noted the reports of Jimenez being treated differently than CNN's Josh Campbell, who is white.

"Let us not ignore the fact that ... Jimenez, an Afro-Latino reporter, was treated differently than ... Campbell, who is white. CNN says they were both covering the same story in the same area. ...I believe it is important Minnesota State police also explain why the white reporter was allowed to do his job, and the journalist of color was handcuffed and taken away. It appears there are different standards on how minority reporters are treated compared to those who are white," Aguilar said.

The situation is reminiscent of journalists being arrested in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, and other journalist arrests since. SPJ then-President David Cuillier said, “When law enforcement, military or government agencies prevent journalists from doing their jobs, through force, intimidation or other unwarranted unethical practices, it creates a slippery slope in which democracy is compromised. Part of SPJ’s mission is to not only educate and support journalists in their efforts to do their jobs ethically and credibly, but to help others understand the rights of journalists as outlined in the U.S. Constitution and ways these groups can co-exist and work together in a peaceful, mutually respectable manner.”

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.

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