At least 13 or more journalists 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.”
Los Angeles Times reporter James Queally tweeted that he and Lexis-Olivier Ray, a reporter for the digital site L.A. Taco, were standing next to each other inside the “kettle” as police faced off with protesters. Queally noted that just a week earlier, he had written a story for the Times about the “failure to disperse” charges brought against Ray by the LAPD, months after Ray was covering another incident in downtown LA.
“We [Queally and Ray] were looking at each other, asking, ‘Is it going to happen again?’ and of course, it did,” Queally told The Post of the detainment.
Ray captured the moment around 8:30 p.m. when LAPD officers led Queally out of the kettle and placed him in zip-tie cuffs.
“I announced myself as press several times, and credit to the arresting officers, they checked my credential pretty quickly and got a supervisor,” Queally tweeted.
Queally could not immediately be reached by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker for comment, but according to The Post, he was wearing an LAPD-issued press pass around his neck when he was arrested.
In his tweet thread, Queally wrote that the supervisor who was called in by the arresting officers “didn’t care I was press,” and told him, “this is the policy tonight.”
The Post reported that attorneys and a managing editor for the Times contacted Queally and secured his release after approximately 30 minutes, just as he was about to board a transport bus.
Shortly after Queally’s arrest, the LAPD put out 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 detainment 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 to police and then move off to a designated media area about 350 feet away from the crowd.
About the media area, Queally tweeted, “Media pens are deliberately setup to keep reporters AWAY from news. Tonight was no different. It was nowhere near the protests or action in the park.”
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 an emailed request from the Tracker for further comment.
The Tracker documents all arrests separately. Find all arrests from the protest and subsequent kettle in Echo Park here.