On October 28, 2020 LAPD officers attacked journalist Lexis-Olivier Ray while he was covering a spirited informal celebration of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ recent World Series victory. The next day, October 29, local news publication L.A. Taco sent a letter to LAPD Chief Michel Moore demanding an apology, an investigation, and a report on LAPD’s plans “to ensure the press is protected while they are working.”
I don’t know what’s up with all that, but I do know that also on October 29, whether or not related to the police attack on Ray, LAPD Public Information Officer Josh Rubenstein sent an email to LAPD’s most senior leaders listing “the many communications initiatives” that Rubenstein and his office would be working on over the next week.
And this email has an awful lot to say about the press at protests, but none of it sounds like it’s meant to protect them. To intimidate, corral, silence, yes, to work with the Radio, Television, and Digital News Association to describe “acceptable behavior of the press during protests,” and so on, but not to protect. But that’s not the worst thing in Rubenstein’s email.
For instance, says Rubenstein, LAPD public information officers will be tasked with recording violence at protests and putting clips on LAPD’s social media in order to shape the public narrative of their actions:
In an effort to ensure context is being shared during high profile incidents our PIOs will be capturing crowd behavior that is violent in nature and push that out on social media in real time when possible.
This is really upsetting given that LAPD will not release any footage of anything in response to requests from the public. Ask them for it and they’ll insist that it’s exempt from release. But CPRA exemptions are discretionary and LAPD has the right to release such material if they choose. But, as Rubenstein makes clear in the email, they choose to release it when it serves their purposes and certainly not otherwise.
It’s not said but clearly implied that these LAPD documentarians won’t try to capture behavior that doesn’t suit the police narrative. And surely, if they do record something like that, it’s not going to be “pushed out on social media in real time … [i]n an effort to ensure context is being shared.” Rubenstein also admits that his office monitors social media and “… search[es] for videos on social media of violent and criminal behavior for the purpose of identifying and publicizing the acts and looking for these suspects.
It’s well-known, of course, that police do use social media to identify and arrest protesters but this is the first I’ve heard them admit to actively seeking out posts for the purpose of “publicizing the acts” in order to shape a pro-police narrative on social media. And finally Rubenstein mentions that his office “[has] created a video for roll call regarding how to identify press at protests.”
I imagine if asked LAPD would tell us that this isn’t nearly as ominous as it might sound. That they need officers to be able to identify press so they won’t beat them up rather than so that they can be sure to beat them thoroughly enough. But that makes no sense. Presumably police aren’t supposed to beat people viciously no matter what kind of jobs the victims have unless they meet the legal criteria for receiving vicious police beatings.
If either journalists or non-journalists are wandering around protests without meeting the legal standard for receiving a vicious beating then the cops ought not to beat them viciously,or at all,for that matter. So what will the police do with the knowledge that someone’s a journalist?
Not beat them up illegally? To avoid bad press? Normal people wonder why they won’t just commit to not beating anyone viciously, but they don’t seem to be inclined to go that far. In any case, the email is the story and now you have it!