LA police arrest reporters at protests over homeless encampment

‘We were looking at each other, asking, ‘Is it gonna happen again?’ and of course, it did’

Teo Armus
Friday 26 March 2021 13:57
Comments
<p>During multiple demonstrations that have erupted since last spring, police have arrested several journalists </p>

During multiple demonstrations that have erupted since last spring, police have arrested several journalists

Earlier this month, Los Angeles Times reporter James Queally wrote about an unusual case of police action against a journalist. As he noted, authorities in LA had charged a freelance reporter - but no one else - for failing to disperse from a protest scene last fall.

Late on Thursday night, Mr Queally found himself in an eerily similar situation: he was briefly detained for the same offence, video at the scene shows, his hands zip-tied while covering unrest over the city’s efforts to clear a large homeless encampment.

Mr Queally said he and Kate Cagle, a TV reporter for Spectrum News 1 SoCal, were among at least 5 reporters arrested amid demonstrations Thursday near Echo Park Lake, a central Los Angeles landmark that has become a literal and ideological battleground over the city’s homelessness crisis. Mr Queally said multiple legal observers, lawyers who typically identify themselves with bright green hats, were also arrested.

Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on those arrests, and have not released any information about total arrests at the protests.

As protesters by the park faced off with police for the second night in a row, Mr Queally found himself standing next to Lexis Olivier-Ray, the freelancer whose case he had just covered last week.

Read more:

“We were looking at each other, asking, ‘Is it gonna happen again?’ and of course, it did,” Mr Queally told The Washington Post after his release from police custody. “The fact that it that has to enter people’s minds is concerning.”

Indeed, during the many demonstrations that have erupted since last spring, police have repeatedly arrested the journalists on the scene - in many cases, after they have identified themselves as members of the press.

In September, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies violently tackled and arrested a reporter for the local NPR affiliate. A reporter for the Des Moines Register recently was taken to trial and acquitted following her arrest at a racial justice protest in Iowa last summer.

And on Thursday, Mr Queally was the one put into zip-ties, even as he had a police-issued credential hanging around his neck.

As Mr Queally and his Times colleagues have reported, hundreds have demonstrated for two consecutive nights against the city’s plan to remove the Echo Park Lake homeless encampment and fence off the entire park for repairs. Although many living in tents there had agreed to move to hotel rooms rented by the city, according to the newspaper, a handful continued resisting on Thursday night.

Shortly after 8pm local time, LAPD officers declared an unlawful assembly at the park’s northern entrance after some protesters flashed “high-intensity lights in an attempt to blind officers,” the agency said in a statement.

A line of police officers repeatedly gave the crowd several warnings to disperse. Mr Queally, who was standing with other reporters between protesters and the initial line of police, said some protesters started to step away.

But before they could exit a short side street, a supervising officer told the crowd they were all under arrest. About a dozen officers appeared from an alley and suddenly trapped them on both sides, Mr Queally said, as officers began arresting people one by one.

Given that he covers policing and criminal justice, “I’m probably more deferential to police than your typical reporter,” Mr Queally said. “I have no problem writing critical stories about them, but I’m going to follow instructions.”

According to Mr Olivier-Rey’s video, that is precisely what Mr Queally did.

Mr Queally announced himself as a member of the media several times to the arresting officers, showing off his press credential, and they called a supervisor over. The sergeant didn’t budge.

“This is the policy tonight,” he told Mr Queally.

Just two minutes later, LAPD put out a statement on its Twitter account: “As a reminder, members of the media are also to obey the dispersal orders. Members of the media are to use the designated media viewing area.”

Lawyers and a managing editor for the Times contacted the LAPD, and Mr Queally was released after about half an hour, he said, just as he was about to board a transport bus. While Mr Queally said he was not in the media pen, he said that area was so far from the standoff that it would have been impossible to cover the protest.

During the melee, Ms Cagle was arrested while conducting a live-shot on camera. Other reporters, including two for Knock LA, a nonprofit community journalism outlet, were also taken into custody, the news site said on Twitter.

The whole ordeal, Mr Queally said, demonstrates the dangers of police failing to distinguish between demonstrators and members of the media who are merely trying to do their jobs.

“It’s a risk when you’re covering a crowd control situation that you’re going to be among the people police are going after,” he said, but arrests and police violence toward journalists could make some reporters think twice about covering future unrest. 

“If there are less of us willing to put our eyes on these situations,” he said, “what does that open the door to?”

The Washington Post

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in