USC Student Journalists Say LAPD, School Kept Them From Covering Clearing of Pro-Palestine Camp

The University of Southern California closed its main campus and allowed the Los Angeles Police Department to tear down a student encampment at Alumni Park early Sunday. USC student journalism outlet Annenberg Media reported on the events as they unfolded, until police closed the campus to everyone other than students and faculty, including forcing the media out. However, local CBS affiliate KCAL was somehow allowed on-campus to report, Annenberg Media’s Mohammed Zain Shafi Khan told TheWrap.

One officer told the student reporters that, because they “act like the media, and we’re going to treat you like the media,” and threatened to take their press badges, Annenberg Media reported.

“At 4 a.m. we saw Suburbans loaded with dozens of police officers in each of them, LAPD officers, at least 30 at the minimum,” Khan explained. The police set up a perimeter, he added, and began to escort members of the encampment away.

“We tried to set up, we tried to ask them multiple times, but they kept pushing media towards the back, towards the end, where we really couldn’t see anything — but we really had to sort of put ourselves at risk, actually, to sort of go towards the front so we could document,” he continued.

The campus had already been closed to everyone other than students and faculty by then, requiring anyone who approached to show a school ID. “For a very, very long time, the only media that was on campus was the student media,” Khan said, “So we tried our way to make it up to the front and document what was going on.”

Despite the closed campus, KCAL was somehow on campus and reported the events as they unfolded, Khan noted. “I’m not sure how they got on campus,” Khan said. He theorized that perhaps KCAL was allowed on campus by the LAPD when police arrived. KCAL did not immediately reply to requests for comment from TheWrap.

Things had taken a turn on Saturday afternoon after the assistant director of the USC Village Residential Colleges, Nancy Alonzo, approached the student encampment. Alonzo read aloud from a letter and told the student group, which operated under the name Divest From Death, “The encampment has to go down. As we have mentioned before, your encampment and acts of vandalism and the theft of university property violate policies and the law.”

“These policies actually exist to protect the safety and security of every member of our community and we must enforce these policies consistently as we have always done,” Alonzo continued. “And then we also set up an alternative free speech area that’s available to you all and you can move the encampment there.”

The encampment continued as usual until Department of Public Safety officers arrived that evening and announced parts of the campus would close. The LAPD arrived at 4 a.m. The school announced the closure and subsequent reopening of campus on social media.

Student Corinne Smith reported that USC Director of Media Relations Emily Gersema allowed L.A. media on campus after it was closed overnight. Smith tweeted, “USC Director of Media Relations Emily Gersema and her office let LA press into campus and into the LAPD police line & provided statements on the eviction, while USC student media was kettled and pushed out of view and denied any comment.”

Gersema did not immediately reply to requests for comment from TheWrap.

The closure of campus and dismissal of student media has drawn condemnation online. Journalist Jeremy Lindenfeld retweeted Smith’s words and added, “The treatment of Annenberg Media and Daily Trojan journalists last night was absolutely unacceptable. Their hard work was and is crucial to informing the public on the happenings at USC, especially since the administration has prevented outside media from campus for over a week.”

William Gude, who also runs the social media account Film the Police L.A., tweeted, “The LAPD broke the law (PC 409.7) as well as their own stated media policy. They do this all the time.”

The portion of the law Gude referenced states, “A peace officer or other law enforcement officer shall not intentionally assault, interfere with, or obstruct the duly authorized representative of any news service, online news service, newspaper, or radio or television station or network who is gathering, receiving, or processing information for communication to the public.”

Video shared on social media showed the police pushing members of media away from the encampment as it was cleared.

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