We condemn in the strongest terms the actions of law enforcement officers in Minneapolis and Louisville to inhibit working journalists covering the unrest in those cities on Friday.

Omar Jimenez and a CNN crew were documenting the early-morning aftermath of Thursday night protests of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Jimenez, field producer Bill Kirkos and photojournalist Leonel Mendez were arrested by the Minnesota State Patrol as Jimenez reported live on what otherwise appeared to be the calm after the storm. A nearby Minneapolis Police Department precinct had been set on fire during rioting the night before, along with surrounding businesses. 

Jimenez on air identified himself and the crew as working media and asked the troopers for direction. He also asked an arresting officer why he was being detained. He did not receive an answer to either question on air. 

CNN’s crew was released shortly thereafter and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz apologized. What remains troubling, however, is that the arrests happened at all, and that the troopers, in front of a live international audience, totally ignored Jimenez’s efforts to comply with their wishes while doing his job in a legal and cooperative manner.

Nearly 16 hours later, WAVE-TV reporter Kaitlin Rust and photojournalist James Dobson were in Louisville covering increasingly destructive protests of the March 13 death of Breonna Taylor when they were struck by apparent pepper balls fired by a Louisville Metro Police Department officer. 

The live footage showed an officer firing directly at Dobson’s camera. Rust also confirmed live that the officer was shooting the pepper balls — nonlethal but nonetheless designed to harm their target — directly at her and Dobson. 

The duo should have been easily identifiable as working media. Rust wore a fluorescent green vest typical of journalists in such situations and held a microphone. 

We aren’t in the business of reading minds, so we cannot say that the officers involved in these incidents intentionally set out to silence the media. 

We can say, though, the working journalists in both situations were easily identifiable as such, and thus as long as they were complying with officers’ directives or peacefully attempting to, should have been left alone to do their job.

The First Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1791, protects the rights of a free press — which is rarely if ever more important than while covering what we must hope is the closest thing we will ever see to active war zones in modern-day America. 

Law enforcement in Minneapolis and Louisville — which surely had enough problems with their public perception before being broadcast live interfering with the pursuit of journalism — and their bosses must remember that and act accordingly. 

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