U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist cited for blocking the road while covering LA homeless camp cleanup

Incident Details

May 7, 2020

Photojournalist Glenna Gordon was detained and issued a ticket for blocking the road while documenting a homeless camp cleanup operation in Los Angeles, California, on May 7, 2020.

Gordon told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she was on assignment for The New York Times Magazine to document the housing crisis in LA, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic; LA Sanitation & Environment clean operations aim to remove trash and encourage unhoused populations to seek out shelters.

Upon arriving at the site alongside an activist, Gordon said, a LASAN employee approached her and ordered her to move back; as she continued to take pictures of the workers removing tents Gordon said the workers became very angry. When Gordon and the activist turned the corner to go to the next street for the sweep, Los Angeles Police Department officers were waiting for them.

“The cops were immediately very aggressive with me,” Gordon said. “The sanitation workers are along the sidewalk and I’m standing close to them in the road and the cops yell at me to get back. And then I back up into the middle of the road — and keep in mind that this was during deep COVID and there are no cars on the road. And then the cops are yelling at me that I’m blocking the road.”

Gordon told the Tracker she tried to back up further to get out of the road but the officers detained her anyway.

“They pulled me over to the sidewalk and I asked them if I was arrested and they said no, I was detained. I asked if I was free to go and they said no,” Gordon said. The officers allowed her to sit on the sidewalk without being cuffed as they asked her questions and contacted a supervisory officer.

The activist who arrived with her captured an image of Gordon being detained. Gordon told the Tracker that while she was not wearing a press badge at the time, she had credentials from the National Press Photographers Association in her bag and repeatedly identified herself as a member of the press.

Gordon told the Tracker that she was detained for one to two hours before she was released with a ticket ordering her to appear for a hearing on Aug. 5. Before that date arrived, however, Gordon said the charges against her were suddenly dropped without explanation. She believes that hers were among the charges dropped by LA City Attorney Mike Feuer in early June, following mass arrests at Black Lives Matter protests spurred by the death of George Floyd.

“I understand ultimately that the situation was not that bad for me because I am a white woman who was on assignment for the Times,” Gordon said. “It could have played out very differently, for example, for someone who’s a freelancer and not on assignment or someone who is young and brown or just doesn’t have the level of security that I had in that moment.”

The Los Angeles Police Department did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

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