Videographer arrested during election protest in Los Angeles

November 4, 2020

Vishal Singh, a videographer who works on Netflix documentaries and has been covering demonstrations in Los Angeles, was arrested in the city on Nov. 4, 2020, while filming election-related protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Singh told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he and fellow videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel were covering a relatively small demonstration that was winding down near the intersection of West 5th and South Hill streets along Pershing Square after marching from City Hall. CPJ is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

At approximately 7:30 p.m., Los Angeles Police officers arrived on motorcycles and declared the gathering an unlawful assembly, according to Twitter posts by Singh and other journalists present.

According to a tweet posted by Singh, officers then hemmed in the crowd and the two videographers using a police maneuver called kettling.

At the beginning of the video in Singh’s tweet, officers can be seen placing Beckner-Carmitchel in zip-tie cuffs and leading him behind the police line. Multiple officers then point at Singh moments before they move in to arrest him.

Singh told the Los Angeles Times that he believes he and Beckner-Carmitchel were targeted for arrest because they were recording and acting as press.

“They very clearly just looked for the people with the cameras who are there the most and just grabbed me,” Singh said. “As I was livestreaming, I saw multiple officers pointing me out.”

The Tracker has documented Beckner-Carmitchel’s arrest here. At least two other journalists were detained in the kettle but released without being processed.

Singh described himself to CPJ as a “citizen journalist,” and noted that both the bullet-proof vest and helmet he was wearing were labeled “PRESS.” These markings are visible in another video of his arrest posted by an observer. Singh also said he identified himself to police as a member of the news media before he was handcuffed.

Singh told the Tracker that both he and Beckner-Carmitchel were cited with failure to disperse — a misdemeanor — and released approximately two hours later with orders to appear in court on March 9, 2021.

If convicted, Singh could face up to six months imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000, according to California’s penal code.

When asked for comment about the arrests, Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson Capt. Stacy Spell confirmed to the Times that two individuals had been arrested and cited for failure to disperse. She also claimed that LAPD officers have been dealing with large, disruptive crowds that all subsequently claim to be members of the press.

“We are having an ongoing challenge with individuals who are participating in disruptive activities, taking over the street and failing to disperse but subsequently claiming to be media,” Spell said. “Literally the entire crowd claimed to be media.”

Singh told the Times that during his months of covering protests in L.A., he had not heard any protesters claiming to be members of the press.

The LAPD did not respond to an emailed request for further comment.

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

January 12, 2021 Update

Charges against Vishal Singh, a videographer who works on Netflix documentaries, were dropped on Jan. 12, 2021, according to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Director of Community Engagement and Outreach.

Singh was arrested on Nov. 4, 2020, while filming election-related protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Los Angeles officers also arrested videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel and detained at least three other members of the press that night.

Director Rob Wilcox told the Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, via email on March 3, 2021, that the D.A.’s office made a determination to reject the cases against Singh and Beckner-Carmitchel in January. When reached for comment, both journalists told CPJ they were unaware that the charges against them had been dropped, and that they were confirming with the city and their attorneys.

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