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Knock LA reporter arrested while covering Echo Park protest, charged with failure to disperse

March 25, 2021

At least 13 journalists, and likely more, were arrested or detained 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.”

Jonathan Peltz, a reporter for nonprofit community journalism outlet Knock LA, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was covering the protest with his colleague Kate Gallagher. Police made an announcement to disperse at around 7:45 p.m, but the message was inaudible to him and most of those present, Peltz said.

About 15 minutes later, an officer ordered members of the media and legal observers to disperse. The police designated a pen for media that was several blocks away, according to Peltz, but he said he wasn’t concerned because there were other journalists around him.

“From my perspective, you know, I was doing my job,” he said. “This was where the protest was happening.”

Peltz said that protesters began to move up the street away from the police line when law enforcement moved in to “kettle” the group and began arresting people.

Peltz told the Tracker that he repeated to police that he and his colleague were journalists. He said he heard other people nearby say that they were press, too.

Peltz said he continued to record video of the confrontation until 8:35 p.m.; he said he noted the time on his camera just before officers restrained his wrists in zip-tie cuffs. He asked the officer who was recording his personal information what he was being charged with, but the officer did not know.

A tweet from the Knock LA Twitter account posted at 9:45 p.m. said that Peltz and Gallagher were arrested by the LAPD while they were covering the protest.

Knock LA called for police to release its journalists immediately, and demanded that any charges be dropped.

“Law enforcement cannot be allowed to jail journalists for doing their job,” the statement reads.

Peltz told the Tracker he again identified himself as a journalist to police as he was loaded onto a bus with other people who had been arrested. They were transported to the LAPD Metropolitan Detention Center, where he was processed. Peltz said his wrists were zip tied so tightly that his hands went numb.

He said he was released at around 12:30 a.m. on March 26 but was ordered to appear in court on July 30 on a charge of failure to disperse.

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 immediately respond to a request for further comment.

The Tracker documents all arrests separately. Find all arrests and detainments from the Echo Park Lake protest here.

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

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