National Press Club, SPJ Condemn Arrest of CNN Crew, Live, On Air in Minneapolis

May 29, 2020 by Dan McCue
A CNN reporter and his crew were arrested in Minneapolis this morning, despite clearaly identifying themselves to police. (Screen grab from CNN live broadcast)

WASHINGTON – The National Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists strongly condemned the early morning arrests on Friday of a CNN correspondent and his production team, as they were covering ongoing protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota, over the death in police custody of George Floyd.

Correspondent Omar Jimenez and his crew were arrested while doing a live television report from a street south of downtown, near where a police precinct was earlier set ablaze.

In a remarkable scene broadcast shortly after 6 a.m. eastern time, Jimenez could be seen holding his CNN badge while reporting, and is heard identifying himself to the approaching officers as a news reporter.

Jimenez is also heard telling the officers he and his crew would move anywhere the officers told them to move.

“We can move back to where you like. We are live on the air here. … Put us back where you want us. We are getting out of your way — wherever you want us, we’ll get out of your way,” he said.

Instead, an officer took the correspondent by the arm and led him away in handcuffs.

“We were just getting out of your way when you were advancing through the intersection,” Jimenez continued just as he was being led away.

“Every American should watch this video and put herself/himself in the position of the correspondent,” said National Press Club President Michael Freedman. “It speaks volumes about our rights, our responsibilities, the challenges reporters face in seeking the truth, and why journalism matters.”

Angela Greiling Keane, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, was equally alarmed.

“This is the United States, where a free press is enshrined in our Constitution. Journalism is not a crime,” she said. “The CNN team was doing its job, protected by the First Amendment, when it was wrongfully taken into custody.”

Also adding its voice to the condemnation over the arrests was the Society of Professional Journalists, which said in a tweet “the arrest of Omar Jimenez and [his] CNN crew by Minneapolis police is a clear abridgment of press freedoms. These journalists work ethically — and often in harm’s way — to bring important news to the public. The reporters’ unwarranted arrest is inexcusable.”

CNN issued a statement immediately after the televised incident, saying its journalists had been “arrested … for doing their jobs, despite identifying themselves – a clear violation of their First Amendment rights. The authorities in Minnesota, including the governor, must release the three CNN employees immediately.”

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz apologized to CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker for the arrest a short time later, and said he would immediately have them released.

By then, Jimenez, producer Bill Kirkos and photojournalist Leonel Mendez had been taken to the city’s downtown public safety building, from which they were released about an hour after their arrests.

“We’re doing OK, now. There were a few uneasy moments there,” Jimenez said when he returned to the air.

In a statement, the Minneapolis State Patrol said, “In the course of clearing the streets and restoring order at Lake Street and Snelling Avenue, four people were arrested by State Patrol troopers, including three members of a CNN crew. The three were released once they were confirmed to be members of the media.”

CNN disputed the state police characterization in a statement on Twitter.

“This is not accurate – our CNN crew identified themselves, on live television, immediately as journalists. We thank Minnesota @GovTimWalz for his swift action this morning to aid in the release of our crew.”

CNN also reported that another of its correspondents, Josh Campell, was reporting nearby and was approached by police, but was allowed to remain.

“I identified myself … they said, ‘OK, you’re permitted to be in the area’ … I was treated much differently than (Jimenez) was,” said Campbell, who is white. Jimenez is black and Latino.

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