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On-air arrest of CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, formerly of WBAL, a snapshot of First Amendment and racial tensions today | COMMENTARY

In a dramatic and troubling TV moment, viewers watching CNN early Friday saw correspondent Omar Jimenez, a former WBAL-TV reporter, taken into custody while he was filing a live report from the streets of Minneapolis.

Jimenez and his two-person crew were covering protests in the wake of the death Monday of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died on the pavement, gasping for breath as a Minneapolis police office knelt on his neck for almost eight minutes.

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“What we saw this morning is a black reporter and his team be arrested, and he did his job prior to [the arrest], and he’s doing his job now," said Bakari Sellers, a CNN political commentator, after Jimenez was released, about an hour after the arrest. Sellers urged viewers to think about, discuss and place the arrest within the context of the larger “systemic issues” of race and injustice involved in the death of Floyd and the protests now taking place.

CNN cameras captured the arrest of Jimenez, who was a model of journalistic professionalism as he was placed in handcuffs and led away shortly after 6 a.m. (ET). Jimenez showed his credentials, told officers he was with CNN and live on air and offered to move his crew back if police thought they were in an area they were not supposed to be.

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Journalists do not have the right to go anywhere and everywhere in covering disturbances like the ones taking place in Minneapolis. But they do have the First Amendment right to be anywhere the public is allowed to go.

In an interview with CNN anchors after he was released, Jimenez said he and the two members of his crew and one security officer hired by CNN were all handcuffed and placed in a police van. They were later released from the van, but forced to sit on the ground still handcuffed for a time. Finally, the handcuffs were removed, and they were given back the gear taken from them in the arrest. There were no apologies from the police, according to Jimenez.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz did subsequently apologize to CNN President Jeff Zucker.

Jimenez said that as he was being led away from the street by police, he tried to have a “cordial” conversation with one of the officers.

“I said, ‘Hey man, if you don’t want us to be that close, where should we be?'" Jimenez said. "We were under the impression that where we were was OK. He said, ‘Look, I don’t know, man. I’m just following orders.'”

Jimenez said he did not know who was giving those orders. But, he added, “As far as the people who were leading me away, there was no animosity, there was no violence. We were having a conversation about just how crazy this week has been for every single part of the city.”

CNN anchors pointed out that a white correspondent who was reporting one street away from Jimenez had not been arrested.

CNN legal analyst Laura Coates highlighted the First Amendment issues also involved in the arrest of Jimenez.

“To have the First Amendment rights curtailed in any way, let alone on camera, is what I would expect people to be also equally enraged over,” she said on-air after Jimenez and his crew were released at about 7:30 a.m.

Jimenez was a reporter at WBAL-TV, Baltimore’s NBC affiliate, from 2015 to 2017, according to the station’s website.

David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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