Student journalist arrested while covering protest at LA’s Echo Park Lake

March 25, 2021

At least 20 journalists were arrested, detained or assaulted 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.”

Keliyah “Gigi” Williams, a student journalist for the Los Angeles Collegian, a news site aimed at students throughout Los Angeles County, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she was among the journalists trapped in the kettle that night.

“For nearly 2 hours I was kept there until they corralled us into a corner,” she said.

Williams said that when police eventually asked journalists to identify themselves, “I immediately went up and let them know I was affiliated with LACC’s [Los Angeles City College] Collegian.” Williams said she began to pull up her press identification on her phone, but “before it even loaded they let me know they would not be accepting it,” she told the Tracker. They “did not even take the time to check,” she said.

According to Williams, as soon as she moved back to join the crowd, a police officer pointed her out and she was arrested. “Ultimately, I was handcuffed for 2 more hours, transported to the station,” and charged with a 409 violation misdemeanor, for failure to disperse from the place of an unlawful assembly.

Williams said according to her charge ticket, she is scheduled to appear in court on July 22.

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 respond to a request for further comment.

The Tracker documents all arrests separately. Find all documented press freedom violations from the Echo Park Lake protests here.

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

April 7, 2021 Update

Keliyah “Gigi” Williams, a student journalist for the Los Angeles Collegian, was one of at least 19 journalists detained by police using a technique known as “kettling” while documenting protests near Echo Park Lake on March 25, 2021. After police surrounded the crowd and announced everyone was under arrest, they began restraining people one by one and leading them out of the kettle.

Williams told the Tracker that though Los Angeles Police officers allowed other members of the press to present their credentials and be let out of the kettle, they refused to accept the identification she had on her phone. She was placed under arrest and transported to the 77th Street Community Police Station in South Central Los Angeles, where she was processed and charged with failure to disperse.

On April 7, Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, told the Committee to Protect Journalists — a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker — that the office had not received cases concerning Williams or the seven other journalists who received citations on March 25.

Similarly, when reached for comment over the phone, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson told the Tracker that department policy is not to discuss arrests once paperwork has been filed. The spokesperson did not respond to requests to confirm details about this arrest, including if any paperwork had been filed.

Williams told the Tracker via email on April 27 that while her adviser couldn’t find her in the court system, she received no notification that the charges against her were dropped.

“I am still under the impression that I have court on July 22 at 8:30 a.m.,” Williams said.

Despite the lack of communication to the journalists involved, and barring further information, the Tracker is listing the charges against Williams as “dropped” based on the lack of paperwork filed.

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