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Reporter for Knock LA arrested with colleague while covering Echo Park protest in L.A.

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.”

Kate Gallagher, who was reporting on the protest for the nonprofit community journalism outlet Knock LA, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she was covering the protest with her colleague Jonathan Peltz.

She said police made an announcement directing journalists and legal observers to disperse around 8 p.m., but she said the announcement was difficult to hear and she only learned about it on Twitter.

Gallagher said she was concerned about what police planned next for the protesters, so she decided to stay and continue reporting. Meanwhile, police had set up a pen for media several blocks away, but a number of other journalists also decided to stay at the scene of the protest, according to Peltz, the other Knock LA reporter.

About 20 minutes later, Gallagher said, police started to form a kettle to detain the group. Gallagher and Peltz were standing with about a dozen other journalists at the time, she said.

“No one really seemed very alarmed at first,” she said. According to Gallagher, journalists did not expect that police would arrest them because they were there covering the scene, not as part of the protest.

She said that it became clear that journalists were also going to be arrested when one member of the press tried to leave the police kettle and was not allowed to go.

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.

The publication called for police to release the journalists immediately and demanded that any charges be dropped.

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

Gallagher said that she identified herself as a journalist several times during her interactions with the police, including when police were forming the kettle, again when she was patted down during her arrest, and as she was loaded onto a bus to be transported to the LAPD Metropolitan Detention Center.

Gallagher and Peltz were released from the detention center at around 12:30 a.m. March 26, she said, and she 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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