Despite ongoing attacks by law enforcement against journalists covering protests, Los Angeles’ mayoral candidates, both running on the Democratic Party ticket, have not weighed in on the accounts of police attacks against journalists during protests against the anti-abortion Supreme Court on June 24 2022.
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, police attacked at least eight journalists that night amid demonstrations against the high court’s ruling striking down Roe v. Wade and reproductive health rights in the country.
We contacted both real estate mogul Rick Caruso’s campaign and Rep. Karen Bass’ office seeking comment on the attacks, which could violate state legislation designed to protect journalists. Neither campaign responded.
Both campaigns also have not responded to our request for comment on a letter sent to LAPD management by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California; the group says that footage of various incidents points to a pattern for the police’s behavior:
LAPD’s aggression towards journalists appears focused primarily on journalists of color, journalists working independently or for smaller news outlets, and journalists who have previously written negatively about LAPD and other law enforcement agencies.
In one instance, journalist Tina Desiree Berg confirmed that she was attacked by an officer while filming an arrest:
She also confirmed a report in the Los Angeles Times saying that the officer told her, “We’re trying to protect you” after shoving her.
The Tracker also cited an incident involving photographer Lexis-Olivier Ray of L.A. Taco and a colleague:
According to the group’s report:
Multiple officers can be heard shouting, “Leave the area! Leave the area!” Both Ray and a second journalist — documentary photographer Joey Scott — can be heard identifying themselves as press in response.
At approximately 0:06 in the clip, an officer steps forward and shoves Ray backward. “Woah, woah, woah! What are you doing man?” Ray can be heard asking.
After taking a few steps back, Ray appears to walk back toward the officer and says, “I’m press, I have a legal right to be here.”
Moments later, an officer pushed Scott to the ground with a baton, causing damage to his helmet as he fell into a vehicle.
The attack was also captured on video by another photographer, Josh Pacheco:
Scott also posted footage of officers telling him “it doesn’t matter” when he identifies himself as a member of the press:
“I’ve been [on the ground] and haven’t seen LAPD this violent in awhile,” Scott later wrote. “I thought with the various injunctions, lawsuits, and new laws that it would lead to greater safety for everyone on the ground. But it feels like we’re back to square one.”
Ray also said he was harassed several times throughout the evening:
During one of the encounters, an officer told Ray and Scott that where they were standing was the media staging ground and to wait there for a public information officer to arrive to answer their questions. Within moments, a line of officers advanced on them and aggressively cornered him until he was pinned against a police car.
Ray said that he was clearly identifiable as a member of the press, wearing an L.A. Taco shirt with “press” printed on the back and was wearing his press pass.
“In terms of press freedom rights, it was probably one of the worst protests I’ve been at,” Ray said.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department’s website, a press card is not mandatory for covering stories:
It is important to note a LAPD News Media Identification Card (also referred to as ‘media card’ or ‘press pass’) is not required to obtain or have access to information distributed to the media by the Department. Not having a LAPD press pass would not prevent persons identifying as media from attending Department sponsored news conferences or events to which the media is invited.
Police chief Michel Moore has claimed that the department would investigate what he called “allegations” of misconduct.
“If the officer is found to have ignored the law, ignored the policy, then disciplinary action will follow,” Moore told reporters.
The attacks came less than a year after the passage of Senate Bill 98, which mandates that law enforcement operatives “shall not intentionally assault, interfere with, or obstruct journalists” covering political protests nor cite journalists with “failure to disperse” while they are gathering information.
“After all of the legwork that’s been done to try and prevent this with LAPD over the last couple of years, it’s heartbreaking to see this repeat in the field over and over,” Los Angeles Press Club President Adam Rose told the Times.
In its letter, the ACLU also says that police have not met with journalist groups regarding “implementation or training” for officers on SB 98.
Neither police nor the press club have responded to requests for comment.
Update 7/1/2022, 1:59 p.m. PST: Updated to reflect a letter sent to police leadership by the American Civil Liberties Union and attempts to contact both mayoral campaigns as well as police. — ag