Reporter Josie Huang was arrested Saturday evening with the charge of obstructing a peace officer while covering the shooting of two active police officers in Compton, LA.
The KPCC journalist was approaching and filming an arrest happening in front of her when the police began to shout at her to back up. In the video recording that she took, it is evident that the officers gave her little to no time to do so before forcing her to the ground. Also clearly heard in the video is Huang saying, “you’re hurting me.”
Like any reporter should when covering an event, Huang was wearing an I.D. badge around her neck, and even after being shoved to the ground by the police continued to identify herself as a journalist — all of which is easily proven by the video footage.
The L.A. County Sheriff's Department, however, tweeted: “The female adult, who was later identified as a member of the press, did not identify herself as press and later admitted she did not have proper press credentials on her person. Both individuals have been arrested for 148 P.C.,” at 3:20 a.m.
(3/3) The female adult, who was later identified as a member of the press, did not identify herself as press and later admitted she did not have proper press credentials on her person. Both individuals have been arrested for 148 P.C.— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) September 13, 2020
Huang also shared her side of the experience on Twitter the morning after her arrest. Within the thread, Huang accounts—with video footage—her experience.
After my phone drops, it keeps recording and it captures two deputies damaging my phone by kicking and stepping on it. I can hear myself in the background shouting: “You guys are hurting me” and “Stop it.” It feels very out-of-body to play this back. pic.twitter.com/8o1kdjqlA9— Josie Huang (@josie_huang) September 13, 2020
“I was put in the back of a patrol car -- the start of some 5 hours in LASD custody that began with the deputy refusing to uncuff me so I could put my face covering back on, telling me I just had a ‘scrape’ when I was bleeding from my foot and not giving me back a shoe,” tweeted Huang the following afternoon.
Huang posted videos taken both from her phone (which documented what seemed to be multiple officers stomping on it to stop the recording) and from other witnesses like OnScene.TV. “I’m grateful to the crew at @ABC7 @abc7leanne for filming what happened to me last night, and for Leanne and @OSV227Hex getting my phone back to me which let me share my videos. I know it is important to document what happened,” tweeted Huang on Sept. 13.
Unfortunately, this is now not a unique situation for reporters. A CNN reporter was arrested while covering the unrest in Minneapolis live on television. A group of reporters were stopped at a “militia style checkpoint” while trying to cover the fires devastating southern Oregon. Two public radio reporters based in Atlanta were arrested while serving as legal observers and reporters of the protest. And that is just from this summer.
When the police detain reporters who are just doing their jobs, they are sending a dangerous and troubling message. Journalists are not on the side of the protesters or the police. The reason they are allowed certain privileges is because they serve as the only perspective attempting to be objective.
The police should not be using excessive force against anyone at a protest — journalists and protesters alike. When the police attack protesters, they are not enforcing law, but are essentially breaking it. They are sending a message that anyone who dares to defy the police are subject to (unlawful) punishment.
And when journalists try to report on this? When police target a reporter, especially when said reporter is clearly identifying themselves as such, they are enforcing the dangerous idea that journalists are the enemy. They are preventing journalists from exposing the truth of the situation, which can often put officers in a bad light.
As explained in Elements of Journalism, a foundational text for the study of journalism, “the primary purpose [of journalism] is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self governing.” Journalists exist as watchdogs, witnesses, contextualizers and authenticators. For the police to target journalists, specifically at a time when their own institution is dealing with immense turmoil, indicates a larger goal of hiding the truth.
Understandably, this may seem small to those who are not as deeply invested in journalistic ethics as us. We would be remiss to ignore the bias and on-air personalities that have marred the prestigious ideals of traditional journalism. The news has stopped being a source of unification in this country and has instead caused greater polarization.
“[Huang’s] own video puts her literally right next to the deputies making the arrest. You’re way too close ... If she was taking that video from across the street, or at a proper distance like you and me, that’s alright,” said Alex Villanueva, a Los Angeles County Sheriff said at a press conference addressing the incident.
“She rushed right up to where the deputies were making the arrest, and that’s where she crossed the line from journalism to activism,” said Villanueva.
Huang was doing her job: serving her community and attempting to gather true information to bring to the public. For the police to violently attempt to stop her and then blatantly lie about doing so is frightening.
This moment is a peek into a scary future. Journalists play an essential role in maintaining the freedoms that we all take pride in our country for having. The current attack on journalism, which has now turned to systemic, physical violence against journalists, is straight from a fascist nightmare. The press needs to be respected, especially by the structures they are interrogating.