For nearly two minutes of extraordinary live television, the man berated Sidner and accused the swarm of videographers and reporters on the scene of misrepresenting the protests against the fatal shooting of Wright, an unarmed 20-year-old Black man, by an officer who claimed to mistake her gun for a Taser.
“Tell me what you think about all that’s going on here,” Sidner asked the man, as protesters and police clashed in the background.
“What I think about this? It’s all the press and all the extra s— y’all do, makes this worse,” he said, later accusing the press of trying to “make people look crazier than what they are.”
The video, which has more than 600,000 views as of early Tuesday, underscores the high emotion in Minneapolis as the city watches the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin and the aftermath of Wright’s death. It also points to lingering accusations that the media overplays property destruction in the clashes between racial justice protesters and police.
Sidner said she understood the man’s feelings and was happy to engage with him on air.
“This isn’t new,” Sidner said in an interview with The Washington Post. “If somebody is upset, it’s a part of the story … and sometimes they go after the media and they have their opinion. It’s just my job to reflect that.”
Covering protests over the past year has become a risky assignment, with police injuring and arresting dozens of credentialed journalists, while some protesters have also turned on the media, as when a crowd vandalized CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta last May.
Sidner, who has been with CNN since 2008, is a veteran of protest coverage and has also worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, where she covered wars and terrorism. She’s gone viral before for an on-air report: In January she made national headlines when she broke down in tears after reporting on the devastating covid death toll In South Los Angeles. “Not my proudest moment as a reporter. But I could not hold this back,” she tweeted in response to that video.
On Monday night, Sidner was covering the second night of protests in Brooklyn Center, Minn., following Sunday’s fatal shooting of Wright by Officer Kim Potter after a traffic stop. Her live shot was interrupted by the man, who has not been identified, at about 8:40 p.m. local time. As he heatedly demanded that her crew leave, Sidner encouraged him to remain safe as he walked toward the protests outside a Brooklyn Center police precinct.
“Do I look like I’m scared?” the man said. “Y’all need to get up out of here with all that twisting up the media.”
Sidner then pulled out her phone and offered to exchange numbers with him. “You don’t know me, but we’re going to get to know each other,” she said.
The man didn’t accept the offer, instead accusing Sidner and her crew of not being “real” and suggesting they would edit his comments out.
“We are live,” Sidner responded.
“You are not f—– live,” he said.
Later he added, “I don’t care if you’re live or not. Get away from here.”
Soon after, Sidner and her crew began walking away from the man and closer to the action outside the precinct, where they ran into a cloud of tear gas. By the end of the night, law enforcement arrested 40 demonstrators, according to KSTP.
Sidner said she is prepared for tense exchanges with protesters while doing live shots. But she tries to avoid escalating the interactions, viewing her job as documenting what’s happening, not trying to “intensify a situation when someone is angry and emotional.”
She said she also understands why a resident might react defensively when a reporter parachutes into town to cover a painful story like Wright’s death.
“People have valid concerns about that, especially if you’re just showing up to show the negative side of something, or not making an effort to get to know people in the community,” she said, adding that it’s something reporters “have to live with and have to work on.”
But Sidner took aim with the man’s accusations that she was a stranger to the Minneapolis area. She’s spent time in the community for years, she said, and covered several protests. In 2015, she reported on the aftermath of the death of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old unarmed Black man who shot by police. When Prince died, she stayed for several weeks.
“I’m not just coming in here and dropping in,” she said. “I love this community. People have made me feel part of this community and I see it as a second home.”
As the video of Sidner’s interaction with the man continued to circulate on Twitter, she responded with a defense of her work.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she tweeted. “I love Minneapolis, it’s surrounding suburbs including #BrooklynCenter, and its people. I get that people are mad. It’s normal. I take no offense. Emotions are understandably high.”