Journalist detained by LAPD during Echo Park Lake protest
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.
Before anyone could exit, according to The Post, a supervising officer announced that everyone was under arrest and officers surrounded the group using a police tactic called “kettling.”
Freelance journalist Austin Baffa, who said his videos have been used by CNN, Fox News and the Los Angeles Times, told the Tracker that he was covering the protest that night when police declared the assembly unlawful and gave orders to the protesters and the press to disperse and leave.
“With about a minute left before they started making arrests, the protesters began to move back and leave the area,” he said. “That’s when LAPD kettled them from an alley and declared that everyone was under arrest including press.”
Baffa told the Tracker that over the next hour, the police arrested a number of individuals in the kettle, including some members of the press.
“We all thought that we were going to get arrested and sent to jail,” he said. But eventually police told the media and remaining protesters to move to one side of the street, and members of the press were asked to show their press credentials in order to leave, according to Baffa.
Baffa said that he was released after he showed his press credentials, issued by the National Press Photographers Association, to the police.
The journalist also said that he experienced multiple moments of excessive force by law enforcement, including having less-lethal weapons pointed at his chest and head.
Around the time it was making arrests, LAPD issued a statement on Twitter that reads, 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 reads. According to the statement, police declared the gathering unlawful in part because protesters were shining strobe lights at police, which can “cause significant injury to the eyes.”
The statement says 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 notes 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 only accepts requests for comment via email, did not respond to a request for further comment.
The Tracker documents all arrests separately. Find all documented press freedom violations from the Echo Park Lake protests here.