Student journalist Abel Reyes was confronted and harassed by a group of individuals who demanded that he delete all the photos he had taken while documenting protesters in Long Beach, California, on Sept. 14, 2021.
Reyes told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker a counterprotest was organized in opposition to a rally with President Joe Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom at Long Beach City College. He said he was leaving an area with a lot of people he identified as supporters of former President Donald Trump when the harassment began.
“It started with a lady who noticed my camera and the press badge around my neck, and she started asking me a bunch of questions, whether I was part of the ‘fake news,’ where I was from,” Reyes said.
The student journalist said he tried to walk away, but the woman followed him and continued yelling at him, telling him to take off his “China mask,” in reference to the face mask he was wearing as a coronavirus safety measure.
Suddenly, Reyes said, a group of men surrounded him. One of the men demanded that Reyes show him the photos he had taken. Reyes said he explained that he had taken close to 400 photos and that he couldn’t show the man all of them. The man then told Reyes to delete all of his images.
“I didn’t argue, I didn’t want to argue, I didn’t say anything. At that point I just wanted to leave because it was not a good situation,” Reyes said, adding that he felt they wouldn’t let him leave until he complied with their demands.
According to Reyes’ Instagram post that night, once the group was convinced he had deleted all of the images one of them told him, “You’re lucky we’re nice.”
Reyes left the protest shortly after without attempting to take any additional photos, and told the Tracker that he has avoided any demonstrations with counterprotesters since the incident.
As a young journalist himself, he is particularly upset by the impact of harassment on student journalists.
“I worry about what ripple effects this is having on journalism as a whole,” Reyes said. “How do you expect someone to go into journalism if they can’t even get through student journalism without something like this happening?”