This morning, Minnesota State Police arrested CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his camera crew as they were reporting live on the air on the protests in Minneapolis.
The event is confounding and unforgivable because there is no reasonable alternative explanation for the events. Jimenez is clearly heard on national television to be cooperating and deferential to the police officers. He is holding up his CNN identification badge clearly for the officers and the camera to see. He repeatedly identifies himself as a CNN journalist to officers, even when they arrest him.
It is highly likely that race is a factor when we consider that Jimenez, who is Black, was arrested while a white CNN journalist was not.
Media organizations, including CNN itself, have responded quickly and correctly that this arrest is a violation of the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of speech and of the press.
For the police to arrest a member of the press for doing his job by reporting the happenings is a violation of those protected rights.
Most importantly, though, this is not just a violation against the media as a sector of society; it is a violation of the people’s rights and of the fundamental principles of accountable democracy.
Arresting a media staffer is to deprive the public of the ability to know what is going on and to understand what is happening in our country. It is an infringement of the public’s right to know what is going on, and to inspect and oversee its elected officials and government actors to hold them accountable for their actions and wrongdoings.
A people’s government acts in the light; it is tyrants, authoritarians and oligarch who operate in the dark, casting shadows over the consent of the people with fear, misinformation, arrests and state violence.
The news media’s supposed role of “impartiality” stems from the necessity for journalists to remain observers as much as possible, precisely for conflict-heavy events like this. As the state’s police and anti-police violence protestors are clashing in Minneapolis, members of the professional news media try to stay out of all of the parties’ way as much as possible to share the news with the country and document the events of history without being accused of or mistaken for being involved.
It is a lesson that the people of Hong Kong — my people — have learned as they clash with their own government over repressive, anti-freedom policies being pushed upon them by Beijing officials.
In Minneapolis, it was not the people nor the news media who got a CNN correspondent involved with the protests. It was the state police who stripped Jimenez of the protections of the First Amendment; it was the police who broke the bargain between the news media and every participant in a news event: The journalists will respect your involvement if you respect their disinvolvement.
Members of the professional press must now reckon with how much deference we give to police officers and the veracity of their statements, as journalists of color and those who have suffered from police violence have insisted for ages.
At the moment that Jimenez was arrested, accountable democracy got a bit weaker. An apology by the state governor is not sufficient. We must see and demand that our government officials understand the role of the news media in a democratic, politically accountable society.
A good start might be the governor issuing an order to state police forces reminding them to observe the protections for the news as they attempt to deescalate the unrests in Minneapolis.