NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · CALIFORNIA · Newsgathering · May 3, 2007
Reporters injured during immigration rally
May 3, 2007 · At least seven news reporters sustained injuries during a melee at an immigration rally Tuesday in Los Angeles, according to local news organizations and news accounts.
The injured included journalists from two local television stations and a radio station.
Bob Long, vice president and news director of KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, said the protest enveloped almost all the local TV and radio stations covering the rally.
“Just about every news organization had someone roughed up that night,” Long said.
The pro-immigration rally, which drew about 250,000 people throughout the day, was peaceful until a group of about 50 to 100 individuals, some masked with bandanas, began throwing rocks and plastic bottles at police, according to the Los Angeles Times. Eight officers suffered minor injuries trying to disperse them, Police Chief William J. Bratton told reporters.
Police then began dispersing demonstrators at a park near downtown by firing 240 rounds of nondeadly rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd, according to police.
Footage of the events shot by local Fox News affiliate KTTV and by KVEA, a local affiliate for the Spanish-language station Telemundo, was posted on the stations’ Web sites.
The footage shows police pushing members of the press and protestors with their batons in hand and pointing weapons directly at them.
In the Fox footage, police were shown pushing reporter Christina Gonzalez out of the way as she crouched over camerawoman Patti Ballaz, who had been struck by a police baton.
“Move her back away from the skirmish line or you’re under arrest,” an officer says. As Gonzalez tried to stand up, an officer pushed her in the shoulders, causing her to spin around.
Gonzalez is then heard yelling: “You can’t do that. You cannot do that and you know it.”
Gonzalez suffered a separated shoulder and Ballaz a broken wrist, according to Erica Keane, vice president of media relations for Fox Television Stations.
Four Telemundo employees were injured, station representatives said, including reporter Pedro Sevcec.
Soon after Sevcec went on the air at 6:30 p.m., a police officer took a camera and threw it about 15 to 20 feet, he told the Times. Police then began hitting reporters and cameramen with their batons. Svcec said an officer pointed his weapon in Svcec’s face and then hit him three times on his neck and back.
Radio reporter Patricia Nazario of KPCC-FM (89.3) said she was walking away from riot police when she was hit in the back, according the Times.
Nazario was wearing her press pass and holding a microphone when she turned around and told the officer: “Why did you hit me? I’m moving. I’m a reporter.”
The officer then hit her left leg, which knocked her to the ground and sent her cellphone flying, she told the Times.
Bratton acknowledged Wednesday there may have been significant problems with the way police handled the incident. Three investigations are currently ongoing, Bratton told reporters.
Several media organizations denounced the police actions.
“Under no circumstance should police interfere with newsgathering when there is no jeopardy to reporters or demonstrators,” Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said in a statement. “As a national organization, we fully support our colleagues in Los Angeles as they pursue a remedy to yesterday’s events.”
Long, the KNBC director, said the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California, planned to meet soon to discuss its legal options.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said the protest harkened back to the clashes between demonstrators and police at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, where some protestors and reporters were injured.
Seven journalists filed suit in that incident, alleging the police officers violated their constitutional rights when they broke up a crowd of protesters outside the convention. Police shot several of the journalists with rubber bullets and beat others with sticks.
The City Council agreed in 2001 to pay the journalists $60,000. As part of the settlement, the police department was required to institute a policy recognizing that the media has the right to cover public assemblies, even if they are unlawful.
“The ACLU is concerned that the police department is replaying its history of responding to protestors with bad choices and flawed policies,” said Ramona Ripston, the group’s executive director, in a written statement.