Independent journalist Jeff Weiss was arrested while covering protests in Los Angeles on June 1, 2020.
Weiss was covering the protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement for Los Angeles Magazine. He declined an interview with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, but referred to his written first-person account and answered follow up questions via email.
According to his article, Weiss was heading home from other local protests shortly after the citywide 6 p.m. curfew when he encountered a group protesting in the middle of Sunset Boulevard near the Palladium.
Weiss wrote that the police moved in on the protesters without ordering them to disperse or giving a warning.
“Consider it white privilege or journalistic entitlement, but a part of me dumbly believed that the cops wouldn’t actually arrest me,” Weiss wrote. “In theory, that whole enshrined in the Constitution combo of ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of the press’ should have had me covered.”
When an officer approached him and zip-tied his wrists, Weiss said he told the officer that he was a journalist. Weiss and others who had been arrested were held on the street for about an hour. The arresting officer asked Weiss for his press pass, and Weiss explained that he didn’t have one.
Press passes are a “particularly antiquated bastion of a bygone era,” Weiss told the Tracker in an email. Many journalists will never be on staff at a publication, and therefore not receive one, he said. Some publications don’t issue press passes to journalists on their staffs, Weiss said.
“It's a farcical conceit that police can use every form of surveillance technology — whether it's facial recognition or getting warrants to search social media accounts — but can't do a two second Google [search] to verify a journalist's information before arresting them,” Weiss said.
The officer who arrested Weiss told him that he believed that Weiss is a journalist, according to Weiss’s magazine account. But the officer told Weiss, “it’s out of my hands. Nothing I can do.”
Weiss also spoke to a police lieutenant to explain that he was a journalist, according to the article. “I tell him that I’m a journalist and a writer and besides, really, this is really a first amendment freedom of speech thing anyway, and none of these violations will actually hold up in a court,” Weiss wrote.
The lieutenant responded, “Well, what are you? A writer or a journalist?” Weiss wrote that he did not continue to argue with the lieutenant.
Weiss was transported with others who had been arrested to a processing facility set up by the Los Angeles Police Department. After waiting several hours, Weiss received a citation for violating curfew. He was required to sign a document promising to appear in court before March 2021. He was released shortly before 11 p.m.
Police confiscated Weiss’s phone, which he had been using to take notes, during his arrest, Weiss told the Tracker. He wrote that his phone was returned with the rest of his belongings after he was processed and released.
On June 8, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced that she would not prosecute citations for violating curfew or failing to disperse. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said he would resolve cases involving peaceful protesters in a “restorative approach” outside of the court system.
Weiss told the Tracker he received communication from the city that the charges against him were dropped.
The Los Angeles Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.