Sunday, November 27, 2022

Heavy police response to media in LA comes after new law

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Focused on filming a police car, Vishal Singh was shocked to look up from his camera and find himself “staring into the barrel” of a weapon.

“[I] was just kind of upset and I just asked, ‘Are you serious?’ “Singh told VOA.

The freelance journalist’s peach sign was on display, but the police officer was wearing equipment that fired less lethal rounds such as beanbags or rubber bullets, and told Singh he should leave.

“Not even ‘out of the way’, just ‘you have to go home’,” Singh said.

The incident was one of several interactions between police and the media during June 24 protests in Los Angeles and other U.S. cities in response to the Supreme Court’s decision that the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion access destroyed.

According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, a coalition of news sites and media rights groups documenting media violations, at least eight journalists were assaulted, detained or damaged equipment covering the protests in Los Angeles that day.

The incidents occurred despite the fact that California passed SB-98 in 2021 – a bill designed to prevent police from obstructing journalists, including in cordoned-off areas.

The Los Angeles Police Department did not respond to a request for comment from VOA.

But city police chief Michel Moore said the Los Angeles Times his department would investigate the media complaints and act where necessary.

“If the officer is found to have ignored the law, ignored the policy, disciplinary action will be taken,” Moore said.

However, Tom Saggau, whose media communications firm represents the LA Police Protective League, told VOA it could be difficult for police at rallies to determine who a journalist is, saying officers at rallies are increasingly being met with violence.

Media relations

Tensions between the media and Los Angeles police are not new.

In 2020 and 2021, the LA Press Club documented 40 incidents of apparent misconduct toward journalists, including assaults, injuries, equipment or seizure damage, and arrests. At least 26 incidents involved journalists of color.

Cases often involved freelancers or journalists involved in less established or smaller media outlets.

The Press Club, the Association of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and other organizations have therefore sought to enshrine rights and protection in the law.

When the SB-98 bill was debated, several California police associations objected on the grounds of security, the increased physical danger that officers face, and concerns about provisions that allow media to gain access to restricted areas.

One of those who opposes the bill is the California Police Chiefs Association. Chris Catren, the association’s president, told VOA in an email: “The new law has the potential to prevent security personnel from doing our job safely to protect the public during potentially dangerous situations.”

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Catren said the association had serious concerns about the legislation, including that “it allows unidentified media to deliberately interfere with emergency personnel – police, firefighters and medics – during major protests.”

Despite the objections, the law succeeded. A coalition of media groups and legal experts then worked with the police on how to implement the legislation.

But journalists say the incidents last month indicate that the law is not being applied correctly.

“What we saw [that] evening of law enforcement was against what the law is on the books, ”said Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins.

The Emmy-winning journalist and president of the SPJ Greater Los Angeles division has participated in efforts to enforce the law and promote better press-police relations.

Media hinders

Singh and other journalists interviewed by VOA said police had bumped or obstructed them, pointed less deadly weapons in their direction and apparently did not know the media’s rights or were willing to acknowledge them.

“I filmed officers aiming and firing their less deadly weapons at protesters at a very close range,” Singh said. “An officer grabbed me [by] the shoulder and just threw me. I weigh about 90 pounds. “If it had not been for protesters catching me, I would have fallen to the ground.”

At another point, several journalists kept themselves in a cauldron, a term for when a crowd is trapped on a street by queues of police officers blocking exits.

When Singh and the others asked police if an illegal meeting had been declared and where the distribution route was, officials did not respond, he said.

“The police were incredibly hyper-aggressive,” said Jake Green, an independent photojournalist who covered the protest for agencies, including Sipa USA. “They broke the line a few times to kind of get their stab.”

Green says he usually maintains a distance of about 10 feet (about 3 meters) from the police line when covering protests, but when he looked away to frame a shot, he felt officers pushing him.

Jonathan Peltz, a regular contributor to the nonprofit news store Knock LA, said he aimed less deadly weapons at him as he slowly drove his hands away from police.

“I understand that they are in a situation where they are trying to control crowd movements, but in my mind, if I flash a pass, I believe they need to understand that I am legally entitled to news gathering,” Peltz said. said .

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The journalist is currently suing the Los Angeles Police Department over an arrest in 2021 for failing to break up while covering a protest over the dismantling of a homeless camp. Peltz was one of about a dozen journalists detained at the event.

Police across the U.S. have previously stressed the difficulty of dealing with media during protests, saying it is difficult to check credentials, and that journalists are sometimes caught in arrests when officers clear an area or impose a curfew.

Saggau, whose company represents the LA Police Protective League, also acknowledged the difficulty for officers in determining who a journalist is and who “is there to hurt others.”

“The officers’ frustration is not with people exercising their First Amendment rights legally, legally and peacefully,” Saggau told VOA. “The frustration is with those who take advantage of every situation under the sun to target police officers.”

Another problem, according to Adam Rose, chairman of the press rights committee at the LA Press Club, is that current training may not be adequate.

“We have seen over and over again that they have requested more training for their officers within the department, and they have been given a mandate to have more training, whether it is [by] rulings or settlements, ”Rose said. “And inevitably, within a few years, they cut off that training.”

Los Angeles police did not respond to a request for comment from VOA.

Despite SB-98’s limited effect, Kirstin McCudden, managing editor of US Press Freedom Tracker, believes the law was an important step.

“I think LA has done a very important and great job of saying, ‘If we look at what’s happening here, how can we work to rectify it? [it]? ‘”McCudden said.

By implementing legislation, she said, it’s easier to review incidents like the June protests and say, ‘Well, here’s where that new legislation really protected journalists, and here’s where we still have places to go. improve.”

Blaize-Hopkins of the SPJ / LA said it was difficult to say why the law had not yet improved interactions. The press unions plan to meet with the LAPD in the coming weeks.

“If it’s a matter of training, if it’s a matter of making sure there is broad knowledge among the officials and also the officers who are on the ground, then our coalition is more than happy to help,” Blaize- Hopkins said.

This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

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