‘We stayed. The citizens are why we stay’: CNN reporter goes viral after police threaten to arrest journalists

Police have threatened to arrest journalists and reporters alike (Getty Images)
Police have threatened to arrest journalists and reporters alike (Getty Images)

Name it, and she’s likely been there on assignment.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya. Gaza, Sri Lanka and Egypt.

Yet, it was while working in a Minneapolis suburb, that a CNN correspondent went viral after she tweeted her exasperation and disbelief when police threatened to arrest journalists covering protests over the killing of Daunte Wright.

“In my 25 years as a reporter I have NEVER heard police in America actually say “journalists will be arrested” during a protest,” wrote Sara Sidner.

“But that happened in #BrooklynCenter last night.”

Adding an image from the scene of the protests, she added: “We stayed. The citizens are why we stay. I took this moments after the announcement.”

The comments from Sidner, who is 48, have highlighted an aspect of the story of the fatal shooting of the young man that has threatened to get lost in the flurry of breaking news - the harsh way police have responded to protesters, and to reporters covering the protesters.

As hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets every night since 20-year-old Wright was shot by an officer from the Brooklyn Center Police Department, police have responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. They have also threatened - on loud speakers - to arrest reporters. There are reports - unconfirmed at this point - that some reporters have already been arrested.

DJ Hooker, of the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, an organisation seeking to highlight police abuse to push for greater civilian control by the public, says the logic of the police was very simple.

“They want to brutalise Black and brown bodies,” he says. “But if the media is there, it is more difficult.”

He adds: “If the media is not there, they can do stuff without being held accountable. I think the threats to the media are very intentional.”

Press freedom campaigners have noted that the arrests of journalists in the US leaped after last year’s killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis. In the wave of protests by groups such as Black Lives Matter, and other organisations, police departments across the country often appeared to make little distinction between peaceful protesters, the media or the small number of demonstrators damaging property.

The US Press Freedom Tracker, which is led by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists, has reported that at least 134 journalists were arrested or detained in 2020. This year, the figure is already at 20.

Last year, it noted 413 incidents of reporters being hurt of assaulted. This year the number is 23.

Campaigners say that while even journalists from major networks can get arrested - CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez was detained live on air while covering the protests over the death of Floyd - the most vulnerable are individuals from smaller news organisations, and freelancers. Lots of journalists of colour have been among those arrested.

Last summer, The Independent launched an initiative to push for press freedom in the US, Journalism is Not a Crime, after one of its reporters was arrested while covering racial justice protests in Seattle.

The reporter was held for up to eight hours after being accused of failing to disperse, a law that did not apply to journalists. Charges were never brought.

Nekima Levy Armstrong, a lawyer, activist former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, told a press conference on Thursday, she had received reports of one photographer being injured, and another journalist being shot in the hand.

Meanwhile, a reporter with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Andy Mannix, said he was hit in the foot with non-lethal round while covering the protests on Tuesday event. He said the munition bounced off his boot.

“We have heard from journalists that they have never experienced anything like what has happened outside of the Brooklyn center Police Department,” Armstrong said.

“They were being kettled along with protesters, being told that they had to leave or they would also be arrested, and some of them who showed their press credentials were still detained and arrested.”

The threat of arrest was not the only challenge for Sanders this week in the Twin Cities, where she has been covering the trial of Derek Chauvin, who is charged with second and third degree murder, and second degree manslaughter.

(A Brooklyn Center police officer, Kim Potter, has been charged with manslaughter over the shooting of Wright. Video footage showed Potter apparently drawing a handgun rather than a Taser, during the traffic stop.)

On Monday might, a day after Wright was shot dead, Sidner was covering the protests in Brooklyn Center, when a man walked up to her CNN crew while she was broadcasting and accused the media of “twisting” the stories.

“All the press and all the extra sh*t you do makes this worse,” he said.

Sidner, who has worked with CNN since 2008, tried to engage the man and interview him.

When he claimed they would edit out his comments, Sidner pointed out that they were broadcasting live. She even tried to give him her phone number so that they could remain in touch.

“You don’t know me, but we’re gonna get to know each other,” said Sidner, who is based in Los Angeles, but spent a lot of time in the Twin Cities on different assignments over the last few years.

The exchange - which very quickly went viral - ended with the man saying that the CNN team should leave.

Sanders also tweeted about that.

“I’m not going anywhere. I love Minneapolis, it’s surrounding suburbs including #BrooklynCenter , and it’s people,” she wrote.

“I get that people are mad. It’s normal. I take no offense. Emotions are understandably high after the killing of #DanteWright.”