Freelance photojournalist Julianna Lacoste was detained in a kettle alongside other journalists 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 eight journalists in the city that night.
Lacoste told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she arrived in downtown LA at around 6 p.m., after the protests had already gotten underway. She said she saw a crowd gathered near City Hall and walked with others and they made their way to a highway entrance nearby. When officers with the Los Angeles Police Department and U.S. Department of Homeland Security barred individuals from entering, Lacoste said she thought the protest had more or less ended.
“I walked around downtown with some other press people that I knew trying to find the protesters for about an hour,” Lacoste said.
She had gotten in a car with a couple of other journalists to head home when she spotted lines of police cars driving by and got out to document what was happening.
“I just put myself in front of the protest line in between the protesters and the police, so I was just filming the police at that point,” Lacoste said. “There were at least 100 protesters at that point, it was a big group, and there were just not enough officers.”
Lacoste told the Tracker the situation became increasingly tense as officers tried to give the crowd orders and after someone launched a firework that landed behind the police line.
In a matter of moments, Lacoste said she saw a second firework explode, and officers aggressively shove a legal observer, arrest an individual who had made a makeshift incendiary device and assault independent journalist Tina-Desiree Berg.
Lacoste said she moved along the police skirmish line until she was detained alongside protesters and other journalists using a technique known as kettling, in which police box in a crowd before typically conducting mass arrests. When she identified herself as press and asked if she could leave, Lacoste said the officer told her she’d have to wait as they cleared the area in waves.
Independent videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel, who was also detained that night, told the Tracker they were released at 9:30 p.m. after being held for 30 minutes to an hour. The Tracker has documented all of the journalists detained in the kettle that night here.
“I just didn’t think that the protests would escalate to that magnitude,” Lacoste said. “It was worse than I have seen in a long time.”
Lacoste told the Tracker she tried to play it safe that night in order to avoid injuries like those she sustained while covering protests in the city in 2020, which caused her to be hospitalized. After the night’s events, she decided not to cover any of the other protests that weekend.
In October 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 98, which was written in order to ensure the rights of journalists while covering protests or other civic actions, according to NPR. 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.
LAPD did not respond to a request for comment.
Find press freedom violations documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker at reproductive rights demonstrations across the U.S. here.