Lexis-Olivier Ray, a reporter with the digital news site L.A. Taco, was repeatedly shoved by police officers while documenting reproductive rights protests in Los Angeles, California, on June 24, 2022.
Protests broke out across the country following the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial ruling overturning Roe v. Wade that morning, which established that the right to abortion is guaranteed under the right to privacy.
The first protests in LA began outside a federal courthouse around noon, the Los Angeles Times reported, and continued into the night. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented the assaults of at least six journalists in the city that night.
Ray told the Tracker that he arrived downtown at Pershing Square that afternoon to report on the protests planned to begin at 5 p.m. After a series of speeches, Ray said the crowd of approximately 1,000 people marched less than a mile to City Hall.
“Eventually that part of the protest kind of ended,” Ray said. “A splinter group broke off and started heading toward the freeway. That’s when things started to escalate.”
Ray said he followed the group as they made their way to an on ramp, where they were met by both Los Angeles Police Department and U.S. Department of Homeland Security officers, who prevented the demonstrators from getting onto the highway. Part of the group split away and ultimately did end up marching onto the interstate and blocking traffic, Ray said. He said it was after the demonstrators exited the highway that he had his first physical altercation with law enforcement.
“A group of LAPD Metro division officers were trying to clear the area and I ended up getting shoved with a baton and an officer shoved me with his hands,” Ray said. In a tweet posted shortly before 8 p.m., Ray can be heard identifying himself as a member of the press as lines of officers advance toward him.
Multiple officers can be heard shouting, “Leave the area! Leave the area!” Both Ray and a second journalist — documentary photographer Joey Scott — can be heard identifying themselves as press in response.
At approximately 0:06 in the clip, an officer steps forward and shoves Ray backward. “Woah, woah, woah! What are you doing man?” Ray can be heard asking.
After taking a few steps back, Ray appears to walk back toward the officer and says, “I’m press, I have a legal right to be here.”
Moments later, an officer pushed Scott to the ground with a baton, causing damage to his helmet as he fell into a vehicle. The Tracker has documented that incident here.
“That really changed the whole tone [of the evening],” Ray said. “That was really upsetting and frustrating.”
Over the course of the evening, Ray told the Tracker, he was shoved by LAPD officers on multiple occasions. During one of the encounters, an officer told Ray and Scott that where they were standing was the media staging ground and to wait there for a public information officer to arrive to answer their questions. Within moments, a line of officers advanced on them and aggressively cornered him until he was pinned against a police car.
Ray said that he was clearly identifiable as a member of the press, wearing an L.A. Taco shirt with “press” printed on the back and was wearing his press pass.
“In terms of press freedom rights, it was probably one of the worst protests I’ve been at,” Ray said.
In October 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 98, which was written in order to ensure the rights of journalists while covering protests or other civic actions, according to Spectrum News 1. The law states that “law enforcement shall not intentionally assault, interfere with, or obstruct journalists” and explicitly exempts members of the press from dispersal orders.
The Los Angeles Police Department did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.
Find press freedom violations documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker at reproductive rights demonstrations across the U.S. here.