Journalist detained during downtown Los Angeles protest

May 31, 2020

Kandist Mallett, a freelance journalist and columnist for Teen Vogue, was detained alongside her reporting partner while attempting to document protests against police violence in Los Angeles on May 31, 2020.

Protests that began in Minneapolis on May 26 have spread across the country, sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, during an arrest the day before. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Mallett told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she and freelance journalist Aaron Cantú were walking in downtown L.A. around 6:30 p.m., looking for protesters, when they turned onto Figueroa Street from Olympic Boulevard.

“We were just trying to figure out where the crowd was,” Mallett said. “All of a sudden we see all of these cops come from behind them, the cops start running out from their cars and then, as we turn to look, we already see that there are cops behind us and that we’ve been kettled,” she said, referring to a police maneuver used to hem in protesters. Approximately 30 to 40 demonstrators were trapped in the kettle as well.

In a video of the incident Mallett shared with the Tracker, at least 50 police officers can be seen in lines approaching from up the street. Cantú can be heard calling out, “We’re press! We just came around the corner; we got sandwiched in between.”

Mallett told the Tracker, “I have my press pass, so I just hold it up and shout, ‘Press! We’re press!’ And they just ignore us.” Police then ordered everyone in the so-called kettle to sit.

“My partner is worried that I’m going to get shot and tells me to sit down, so I sit,” Mallett said. “And then the supervisor at the scene walks by so I tell him that we’re press, and he says, ‘You’re the least of my priorities right now.’”

The Los Angeles Police Department didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.

Mallett said that when officers began making arrests, Cantú was the first one they took because the two of them were the closest to the line of officers.

Cantú told the Tracker that two or three officers lifted him up from the curb, pushed him against a chain link fence and zip-tied him, but that Mallett was able to dissuade them from similarly zip-tying her hands.

Mallett said that she tried to convince the officers that they were journalists, and Googled examples of their published work when asked for evidence.

“I started filming, and as soon as I did the supervisor changed his tone,” Mallett said. “It was like, ‘We’re not going to hold you guys, we’re not going to arrest you,’ and to me, ‘I’m not going to put you in zip-ties.’ But we were detained and not able to leave.”

After about 20 minutes, officers took down both Cantú and Mallett’s information and removed the zip ties from Cantú’s wrists.

“They asked us if we wanted to stay, but both of us were pretty shaken up and we just wanted to get out of there,” Mallett said. In total, she said they were gone from the apartment they share for only an hour.

The U.S. Press Freedom 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 related to the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Find all of these cases here.

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

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