The harsh treatment of journalists by police at Los Angeles' Echo Park Lake last year drew outrage, but it did not occur in a vacuum. The melee served as a bookend to months of protest and tumult — much of it directed at law enforcement agencies — after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. Police across the U.S. found themselves charged with containing the protests for social justice — many of them focused on police violence — and suppressing the associated rioting and destruction that periodically ensued. The year 2020 set records for detentions of journalists in the U.S.. In 2021, that figure dropped but was still high. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker project, 59 journalists were arrested or detained across the nation, NPR reports.
More than a quarter of those incidents occurred on a single night last March in Echo Park, where protests against plans to sweep an encampment of homeless people picked up steam. Reporters ran into a buzz saw, caught between angry protesters and indifferent or vindictive police officers. The Los Angeles Police Department says it has worked to improve relations with the news media. It says it was caught up in waves of change outside its control: changes in technology, in the nature of the news media, and in society more generally. As the protests flared from 2020 through 2021, the LAPD lost control of its image and its cool, its critics charge.