Independent photojournalist hit with rubber bullets while covering Echo Park protest

March 25, 2021

Independent photojournalist Christian Monterrosa told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was hit with rubber bullets fired by Los Angeles law enforcement while documenting demonstrations near Echo Park Lake on March, 25, 2021.

Crowds had gathered at Echo Park Lake to demonstrate against the city’s plan to clear a large homeless encampment, the Washington Post reported. According to the Post, Los Angeles Police Department officers declared the gathering at the park’s northern entrance unlawful shortly after 8 p.m., but before anyone could exit, a supervising officer announced that everyone was under arrest, and officers surrounded the group using a police tactic called “kettling.”

Monterrosa told the Tracker he got caught in the police kettle. “I thought it was weird [that we were asked to leave] because press and National Lawyers Guild are the ones that stay until the end once the crowd has been dispersed and it’s how we’re able to report on these arrests,” he said. He said police cut off the alleyway where protesters were exiting and created a line of officers to rush the crowd. He said officers shoved demonstrators who were standing in front of him, pushing them into him.

“I was able to get out, from luck,” Monterrosa said. He showed his LAPD-issued and National Press Photographers Association credentials to an officer, who let him and two other journalists leave the area after the commanding officer looked at the press badges.

He told the Tracker he then moved one block north of the area to cover another skirmish between police and protesters. “There was a huge, huge presence of incoming police,” Monterrosa added. “I’ve never seen so many cops at any of the demonstrations I’ve been to in LA.”

He said the protesters started retreating after they saw the police coming, but the officers “heavily enforced dispersal [with] less than lethal weapons” and fired indiscriminately into the crowd.

That was when he was hit by rubber bullets in the abdomen and right forearm, according to Monterrosa. “I was well aware of my rights and where I can and cannot be in these situations. I wasn’t engaging verbally,” Monterrosa, who also chair’s the NPPA’s west region, said. “All I had were my camera and helmet [and] was walking backwards.” He said he retreated to a safe area to apply bandages from his first aid kit.

Around the time it was making arrests, LAPD issued a statement on Twitter that read, in part, “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.”

At around 1 a.m. on March 26, the LAPD posted another statement, specifically addressing the detainments of members of the press.

“An unlawful assembly was declared by the Incident Commander after the unlawful activity of individuals threatened the safety of the officers and all those present,” the statement read. According to the statement, police declared the gathering unlawful in part because protesters were shining strobe lights at police, which could “cause significant injury to the eyes.”

The statement said members of the press were directed to identify themselves and relocate to a media area about 350 feet away from the crowd.

The LAPD statement noted that as individuals inside the kettle were detained, police officers “learned that several credentialed and non-credentialed members of the media were part of the group. Members from the Department’s Media Relations Division were summoned to assist in identifying these individuals and they were released at scene without being arrested.”

The Los Angeles Police Department, which accepts requests for comment only via email, did not respond to the Tracker’s request for further comment.

At least 17 journalists were arrested or detained and several assaulted while covering the protest, as reported to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, on social media and in other news outlets. Find all documented press freedom violations from the Echo Park Lake protest here.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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