CALIFORNIA — Although they said they clearly identified themselves as members of the media, student reporters from the University of California at Los Angeles’ Daily Bruin said they were hit with batons by city police officers who were trying to clear a small riot near campus on Dec. 3.
Editors say an all-night celebration of the UCLA football team’s Dec. 2 victory over the University of Southern California got out of hand as a crowd burned couches and newspapers in the streets. Four Daily Bruin student reporters were at the scene, interviewing people and taking notes, said Daily Bruin Assistant News Editor Anthony Pesce.
Pesce said Los Angeles police officers wearing riot gear formed a line and began to move through the street in order to clear the area. Pesce said he and the other reporters held out their press passes and shouted that they were reporters. The police ignored the reporters’ shouts and they were hit with batons and shoved, he said.
“They didn’t seem to notice and they kept coming forward,” Pesce said. “They struck me several times on the chest.”
One reporter fell to the ground, another was shoved into a car and one was forced into an apartment building and could not leave for about an hour, Pesce said.
The student reporters eventually moved to another street where another police line formed. Pesce said they again identified themselves as members of the press and one reporter held out a press pass. They were again ignored and one officer told a reporter that the pass did not “mean shit,” Pesce said. Pesce said the reporters had a video recording of the police’s treatment and comments.
“Obviously [the police] have their job to do, which is to keep people safe,” Pesce said. “But the press has a job to do too, which is to observe impartially what’s going on and report to the general public.”
Daily Bruin adviser Amy Emmert said she was “shocked and concerned” when she heard about the incident.
“Student [press] rights especially need to be protected,” Emmert said. “I’ve seen cases of police and others taking advantage of student reporters and treating them differently from professional reporters.”
Pesce said the student reporters have filed a complaint with the police department.
“I honestly do not think they would have treated a Los Angeles Times reporter or TV crew the same way,” Pesce said.
Sgt. Lee Sands, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department, said any complaints filed are taken “very seriously” and will be investigated. Sands also said the department recognizes “any legitimate media.”
Pesce said the Los Angeles police have interviewed him and the other students involved. He also said they have consulted a lawyer and are looking into their legal options.