Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Daily Email Edition

Get MN Daily NEWS delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday!


Police abuse stresses need for journalists

On the front page of last Monday’s Daily, a photograph taken by Daily photographer Isaac Brekken captures an important moment in time.

In the photo, a Minneapolis police officer is spraying a chemical irritant directly to the side of the camera lens, moving his wrist toward the photographer. The officer is also holding a long wooden baton and wearing a helmet with a face shield. Students can be seen in the background of the photo, with a perimeter of police officers on the scene. A fire burns in the upper left-hand corner of the image.

Brekken’s photo was taken during the confrontation between the police and students on the University campus area April 6.

As working journalists on the scene of an event, Daily reporters were confronted by the actions of a police force using, as of yet, unexplained methods of crowd control. Brekken was one of those journalists just doing his job; he took an important photo – and received a face full of pepper spray in the same moment.

Photojournalism at its best captures those situations otherwise lost to history as institutional authorities begin rationalizing and obscuring the political dynamics of, for example, police confrontations with the public.

Besides Brekken, a group of other Daily journalists, identified by press credentials, (Diane Cebula, a Daily photographer, and Maggie Hessel-Mial, a Daily associate editor) were sprayed and assaulted for attempting to document the events of that night.

I do not believe an internship of indeterminate length could ever match the learning curve on that night for those Daily journalists.

In an article in Tuesday’s Daily, “U considers penalties for riot participants,” Robert Jones, University vice president for campus life, described the events of that night as an “embarrassment.”

I could not agree more. It is embarrassing to see that adults, who attend a University in order to receive an education in a selected field (journalism for instance), cannot attempt to practice their selected discipline without being physically beaten by the Minneapolis Police Department.

It is also embarrassing how the University administration has given little attention to differentiating the events of that Saturday night. The hockey team victory is being used as a smokescreen for the larger issues involved.

I remain largely ambivalent over the hockey team championship and would rather see large groups of students convening to address issues of civil liberties. I remain, however, entirely aware college athletics will almost always be regarded as more important than the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The problems attributed to intoxicated hockey fans (which apparently legitimates excessive drinking somehow) are an example of hooliganism at its best. More to the point, University police Chief George Aylward stated in an Associated Press story last Tuesday, “We safeguarded property and people. If the question is, ‘Did we do what we should have done?’ We did.”

While I agree the protection of property and safety of people is important, I still want to know at what point the need to assault individuals – who happened to be walking lawfully in the area or who were journalists covering the story – became part of the safeguarding procedures.

Alyward even states in the same story that the events on April 6 were “not a riot,” which begs the question: Why were the police wearing riot gear, and how does the physical presence of tactical gear contribute to tensions causing outbreaks of violence?

The insistent refusal of University President Mark Yudof’s administration to comment on the use of force by the police (or even if the use of those particular safeguarding measures alluded to by Alyward have ever been discussed as potentially dangerous) produces some serious questions about student safety on campus.

Now, the University and the Minneapolis Police Department have an even larger problem, which is far from over and is only getting worse.

The reputation of the Minneapolis police has been in decline since at least July of 2000, when the International Society for Animal Genetics met downtown. The Minneapolis Police Department blocked off two full blocks of Nicollet Mall with concrete barriers, chain-link fence and officers in full riot gear marching through the streets beating their batons on shields.

In that series of confrontations with the public, a television cameraman recording the events was knocked down (with the camera rolling) by police officers apparently also “safeguarding” property and people. I wait for the day when police departments begin to realize how self-defeating physically threatening and beating reporters is for any kind of public relations image – let alone the law.

Let me also be clear: I support many of the routine services and workings of police officers. In August of 1999, I was jumped by two men at night near my apartment in Uptown; I was blindsided by a bottle to the back of my head and hit in the face. In the ensuing fight, I began yelling for help and a woman standing outside her apartment building called 911. The police, fire department and ambulance were all on the scene in three minutes. The police were extremely helpful and, in an ironic twist, one of the officers turned out to be a woman I attended high school with in Wisconsin.

I mention the story because I do believe and want to believe police officers genuinely help people most of the time. Perhaps I am being overly naive, since I know members of various local communities often complain about police harassment and surveillance. Yet it seems the complaints keep compiling and nothing ever changes – deepening my resolve regarding the need for journalists (as well as everyday citizens) documenting the abuses of state-sanctioned authority.

In the oversimplified ABC (AshcroftBushCheney) America we the people find ourselves in, I would love nothing more than to see a state-funded group causing physical harm and damage to the American citizenry prosecuted under the auspices of the Patriot Act. Maybe that is the Minneapolis police; maybe it’s not.

The limits involved in safeguarding property and people seem rather ambiguous, a situation making abuses of power all the more dangerous. As well, journalists and citizens must persist in photographing, videotaping and documenting – by any and all means necessary – the misdeeds of the police. As an American citizen who adamantly believes in the importance of civil liberties, I assert that holding accountable the authorities supposedly defending those freedoms must never cease.

Finally, I do not think anything good will emerge from the events of that Saturday night, since violence – when uncritically examined – is rarely, if ever, an effective tool. I imagine University officials will produce some text explaining how the entire campus community has learned some important lessons about acting responsibly.

In sad truth, the sooner the entire situation fades from campus memory the better for the administration. I also foresee proclamations from the Minneapolis police and the Mayor’s office, saying we all need to work closer together, maintaining open channels of communication to keep our streets safe. Indeed.

Intoxicated hooligans celebrating sporting events and overzealous Minneapolis police officers deserve each other inasmuch as neither group is inherently noble, heroic or worthy of romanticizing. My hope lies instead with the work of everyday journalists who, despite being maced, shoved to the ground or beaten by uniformed Minneapolis police officers, managed to record a moment in time.

These journalists should not be applauded for bravery, but instead for their tenacity in making the erasure of these violent events from the public record not so simple.


John Troyer’s column usually appears alternate Fridays. He welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]

Leave a Comment

Accessibility Toolbar

Comments (0)

All The Minnesota Daily Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *