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.
Independent journalist Stephen Oduntan, whose work has been published by Reel Urban News and Dig Mag, said he was on assignment for LA Focus Newspaper the night of the protest when he was detained in the kettle with protesters and other journalists.
In a video posted by Oduntan on Instagram, police officers can be heard announcing, “You are all under arrest, you are no longer free to leave.”
In the description accompanying the video post Oduntan wrote, “Shortly after LAPD’s announcement, they began rounding up peaceful demonstrators as well as multiple reporters.”
Oduntan told the Tracker over email, “At one point, a journalist — I believe with Spectrum — who was standing a few feet from me was arrested. I was sure it was only a matter of time before they'd slash the cuffs on me too.”
“But after standing on a crowded sidewalk for over an hour, LAPD all of a sudden announced that members of the press should raise their hands and credentials,” Oduntan said.
Oduntan said that he and a few other journalists were released, one at a time, after the police verified their press credentials.
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.