Journalist among those detained in police ‘kettle’ while covering Echo Lake Park protest in L.A.

March 25, 2021

At least 20 journalists were arrested, detained or assaulted in Los Angeles, California, while documenting demonstrations near Echo Park Lake on March 25, 2021, as reported to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, on social media and in other news outlets.

As crowds demonstrated against the city’s plan to clear a large homeless encampment, Los Angeles Police Department officers declared the gathering at the park’s northern entrance unlawful shortly after 8 p.m., The Washington Post reported.

According to The Post, before anyone could exit, a supervising officer announced that everyone was under arrest and officers surrounded the group using a police tactic called “kettling.”

An independent journalist, who asked to be identified only by the anonymized Twitter handle of @desertborder, told the Tracker he was among those detained in the kettle for approximately two hours.

The journalist said that moments before police trapped the crowd in a kettle, the protesters had begun marching backward in unison, in apparent compliance with a police dispersal order given at around 7:30 p.m.

“The crowd was actively retreating when all of a sudden the crowd broke and people started running,” @desertborder said. “I turned around and looked, and another line of riot cops had come up and blocked us in from behind. There was another side street that they were blocking too, so there was no exit at that point,” he said.

@desertborder said that he stood on a sidewalk, to the side of the main body of protesters, as police began making individual arrests. He and other journalists stayed on the sidelines of the kettle, he said, “to avoid getting arrested.”

“I showed an officer my press badge and I said, ‘Hey, I’m press, can I leave?’ And he told me, ‘No. Press was told to leave and you didn’t. You were given a lawful order and you didn’t comply. Now you’re under arrest too,’” the journalist said. “And I thought, ‘Ah hell, alright. I guess I’m going to jail tonight.’”

@desertborder said that while he continued filming the arrests, an officer pointed a crowd-control weapon directly at him and other members of the press. Lexis-Olivier Ray, a reporter for digital news site L.A. Taco, captured the incident on video.

“They came in to make an arrest over by the sidewalk,” the journalist said. “[The officer] was pointing a less-lethal shotgun [used to fire crowd control munitions] a few inches from our faces and was just really angry and really aggressive, screaming ‘Get back!’ But there was nowhere for us to go, because there was a line of riot cops behind us.”

“I really thought he was going to blast us,” @desertborder said.

About an hour later, he said, journalists standing on one edge of the kettle were told to join those on the opposite edge. @desertborder said he took that as a sign that police might be preparing to let them go without arrest.

“An officer told us, ‘If you don’t have press credentials, just get off the sidewalk and get back with the rest of them,’” the journalist said, “obviously implying that you were going to be arrested if you didn’t have credentials.”

Shortly after 10 p.m., @desertborder said, the LAPD began allowing members of the press who had press passes to leave the kettle; he said he was able to show the officers his credentials, issued by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and was permitted to leave.

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 individual arrests were made of those inside the kettle, 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.

The Tracker documents all arrests separately. Find all documented press freedom violations from the Echo Park Lake protests here.

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

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