Two videographers filming a Wednesday night protest in downtown Los Angeles were detained and given “failure to disperse” citations after police declared the gathering unlawful.
Vishal Singh, who works on Netflix documentaries and frequently attends and films local protests, and Sean Beckner-Carmitchel, an activist and videographer who also routinely attends protests, were both taken into custody near West 5th and South Hill streets downtown.
Singh said they were filming the relatively small protest — which he said was coming to an end — when the police arrived on motorcycles and declared the gathering unlawful. Singh said some protesters fled into a hotel, while others were told by officers to sit down.
He said he and Beckner-Carmitchel were then targeted for serving as press at the event and recording the officers’ actions.
“They very clearly just looked for the people with the cameras who are there the most and just grabbed me,” he said. “As I was livestreaming, I saw multiple officers pointing me out.”
Beckner-Carmitchel wrote on Twitter that he and other members of the press had been “kettled,” or boxed in and surrounded, by police.
Both men were cited and then released about an hour later, Singh said. He said he was given a court date in March.
Capt. Stacy Spell, an LAPD spokesman, confirmed that two people had been cited and released on charges of failing to disperse. He said one other man at the scene was arrested on suspicion of battery on a police officer.
Asked about the two people who were detained saying they were press, Spell said that he could not comment on specific detainees, but that LAPD officers have been dealing with large numbers of people at recent protests claiming to be members of the media.
“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,” he said. “Literally the entire crowd claimed to be media.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the LAPD tweeted what it said was guidance for journalists at protests.
“We’re committed to facilitating everyone’s 1st Amendment Rights,” the department wrote — before warning reporters that they would be subject to arrest if they were at a gathering that had been declared unlawful and they didn’t follow directions as to where to stand to observe.
“We will make every effort to provide a safe space for the media to work, when feasible. However, if members of the media leave that designated space, they are subject to all dispersal orders,” the LAPD wrote.
Journalists have the right to cover public protests and demonstrations under the 1st Amendment, which typically includes access to areas restricted to unauthorized people. However, journalists in recent months have been subjected to arrests at protests in the L.A. area and elsewhere in the country.
After major protests this summer, lawmakers passed a new law that would have enhanced protections for journalists covering protests, but Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the measure.
Singh said Wednesday night that he did not hear any protesters claiming to be members of the media, as Spell had suggested.
“I know a lot of the protesters personally. I’ve never known them to claim to be press. They don’t even all get along with the press.”
In fact, Singh said, the only people at the protest to be cited for failing to disperse were the only only two people saying they were press.
“It was just us,” he said.