Police officers stand guard as they clear the streets during a protest in Los Angeles on November 4, 2020. Los Angeles police arrested and charged 2 reporters documenting the protests that night. (AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Los Angeles police arrest, charge 2 reporters documenting social justice protest

Washington, D.C., November 5, 2020—The Los Angeles Police Department should drop all charges against reporters Vishal Singh and Sean Beckner-Carmitchel, and refrain from arresting members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, around 7:30 p.m., the LAPD announced a dispersal order in response to Black Lives Matter protests near the intersection of West 5th and Hill streets in downtown Los Angeles and then proceeded to arrest Singh and Beckner-Carmitchel, according to the Los Angeles Times, a video of the arrests that Singh posted to Twitter, and the two journalists, who spoke with CPJ via phone.

“Los Angeles officials should immediately drop all charges against Vishal Singh and Sean Beckner-Carmitchel and refrain from arresting members of the media,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York. “The Los Angeles Police Department should revise its policies to avoid detaining journalists who are simply doing their jobs and documenting matters of public interest.” 

Singh, who described himself to CPJ as a “citizen journalist” and self-publishes on social media, said he was attempting to leave the area when police detained him. Singh told CPJ that he was wearing a bullet-proof vest and a helmet, both with the word “Press.”

Beckner-Carmitchel, a freelance videographer, told CPJ that he was on the sidewalk in an area he said police had designated for media when police started “kettling,” or corralling, people near the intersection and then arrested him.

Both Beckner-Carmitchel and Singh said that they told the police that they were members of the press before they were handcuffed.  

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

Police held the two reporters for approximately two hours at the LAPD Metropolitan Detention Center and charged them both with unlawful assembly following a failure to disperse order, according to the journalists. CPJ also reviewed a copy of Singh’s charge sheet. 

Under California law, the charge is a misdemeanor; both journalists could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, according to the state’s penal code.

Singh and Beckner-Carmitchel told CPJ they are both ordered to appear in court on March 9, 2021, at 8:30 a.m.

In response to CPJ’s emailed request for comment, LAPD officer Drake Madison said they “do not have information regarding the circumstances that lead [sic] up to the arrests” of Beckner-Carmitchel and Singh.