How I Got Kicked Off Public Property for Filming

Olvera Street is a tiny, historic street in downtown Los Angeles.

Olvera Street is a tiny, historic street in downtown Los Angeles.

On my first work day of journalism school, I was sent to Olvera Street, a tiny pedestrian street lined with vendors which celebrates the Spanish and Mexican history in downtown Los Angeles. My job was to find some visitors who felt passionate about the site and could share their experience with me. When I arrived at the public street, which is owned by the City of Los Angeles (and therefore owned by the taxpayers), I set up my tripod and camera in the plaza in front of the street. In less 20 minutes, I was approached by a security guard asking if I had a permit.

I had two choices: get a permit or go home. I went home, discouraged.

National Press Photographers Association’s General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher explained, “If you’re out in public, in a public place where the public is, then you have a First Amendment right to photograph and record anything that you can see in that place.”

The groundbreaking case that addressed the First Amendment right to record in public is called Glik v. Cunniffe. In 2007, Simon Glik observed Boston police officers arresting someone on the street and decided to record it because of the police officers’ forcefulness. Glik pulled out his cellphone to record the incident and was later arrested for violating the wiretapping law because of the recorded audio. The court ruled that Glik was wrongly arrested and that the city of Boston had to pay him $170,000 for damages and legal fees.

The United States First Court of Appeals also ruled that anyone can record in public. The decision states :

“The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.”

Even though this case led the way in granting First Amendment rights, citizens’ inherent rights are still violated all the time.

Both student journalists and full-time journalists often face these problems while working in Los Angeles. Being a famous city, it is not difficult to find people filming all over the city for a variety of purposes.

“We’re in L.A., Hollywood, and we get tons of people here because of our beautiful site, our authentic, beautiful buildings,” said El Pueblo General Manager Christopher Espinosa. “Everyone wants to shoot their videos here, whether they’re commercial or just their own YouTube videos.”

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution gives journalists a clear and generous privilege. It reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the
free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the
right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress
of grievances.”

Now, the question is: what is freedom of the press? According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the First Amendment:

“Shield[s] the press from government interference serv[ing] two key goals in a
representative democracy like ours. It gives the media a free hand to investigate and
report on government waste, abuse, fraud, and, especially, illegal activity. And it
prevents the government from capturing the media and using it to further its own ends.”

But in reality, journalists come across obstacles in the field. Security guards and police officers are expected to be automatically suspicious of anyone with a camera.

“I do think it’s reasonable to impose some burden on journalists to find out what is necessary or what is required at a particular venue,” said Judge Stephen Larson, a partner at the Los Angeles office of Aren’t Fox and a former federal judge. “Part of it is simply a matter of crowd control and security and other reasonably objective interests that government has short of affecting the content.”

Back to that hot day in September. I closed up my tripod, carried all of my equipment and tried to begin negotiating with the Olvera Street security guard. No luck. I explained that I was just trying to get my shots for a school assignment. He said he was just following orders to send me to get a permit.

“If you’re going to come cold off the street, and we don’t know who you are, our security guards will probably tell you, ‘You shouldn’t be filming here. You need a permit,’” said Espinosa. “That’s the way we’ve instructed.”

The security officer and I headed upstairs to El Pueblo’s main office and I continued to the second level where an Olvera Street official demanded my press credentials, which are not easy to get in this city. To qualify for an official Los Angeles Police Department press pass, journalists must provide a letter from their employer—a news agency— if they work for full-time. But if journalists are not working full-time, they need to provide three letters from three separate Los Angeles news outlets claiming that they have completed freelance assignments for them. As a student, I am neither a full-time staffer nor an accomplished freelancer. Does this mean I am not a journalist?

There are many tourist locations near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

There are many tourist locations near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

We went back and forth with the Olvera Street employees, and I was ultimately sent away with a three-page student filming permit form to fill out and return with once approved. Because I was on a tight deadline, I had no time to deal with this kind of paperwork. Instead, I headed over to Chinatown to create a whole new story.

“It’s a personal thing as to whether photographers want to push it or just say, ‘I don’t have the time, I don’t have the energy to risk being arrested,’ and they just end up complying with these unconstitutional orders,” Osterreicher said.

This happened to me a few weeks later when I walked from my class at the University of Southern California to Hoover Recreation Center in South L.A., a public recreation center owned by the City of Los Angeles, where I was hoping to film a weather story about people remaining active despite the heat wave.

Again, in less than 10 minutes, a Hoover Recreation Center employee asked me, “Do you have a permit to film?” Knowing that I was on public property and should have no issues, I pushed back asking, “No, do I need one?”

She explained that the park could get sued if I had any shots of children in the background. She didn’t explain what laws she was talking about. This rule made me wonder where, if anywhere, I would be permitted to film.

“You know internally that you’re there for an objective, journalistic purpose but there are many people that might be showing up for anything but an objective, journalistic purpose,” said Larson. “How is the person permitting you to come in to know that? Well, they know that by your credentials.”

Understandably, some people are scared for their safety and persona. They are afraid of how they will be perceived and how the video will be used. And government agencies see dollar signs when they see professional filmmakers and often don’t understand the difference between a lengthy film shoot for a commercial or feature film or TV show and a daily journalist or documentary filmmaker simply trying to document real life in public places. These modern-day obstacles make filming for journalistic purposes extremely difficult to carry out.

In October 2011, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for harassing news photographers for taking pictures in public places. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, citing incidents where deputies stopped people, frisked them and even threatened to arrest some of them.

Three photographers who had been in public places, such as in a subway station or on the street in front of a courthouse, contacted the ACLU to sue these deputies.

The lawsuit seeks “damages on behalf of the three plaintiffs, and an injunction to prevent the unlawful search, detention and harassment of photographers by LAUSD in the future.”

“If you don’t have a press pass, that can create some kind of problem because with technology, the way that cameras are, commercial shoots can pretty much do everything with a small camera,” said Kevin Herrera, a spokesman for the Third Street Promenade from Downtown Santa Monica Inc. “So it’s even harder for us to identify and differentiate between someone who’s doing it for a journalistic purpose or someone who is doing it for commercial purpose.”

I guess, third time’s a charm? My third and most recent permit-blockade experience was at the University of Southern California’s main campus center. I was filming a package for USC’s television news with USC equipment as a USC student.

But none of that seemed to matter to  a security official who suddenly appeared at my side as my classmate and I were filming a story about the placement of bathrooms on campus. She approached us somewhat aggressively and demanded, “Do you have a permit to film here?”

I must admit, at this point, I almost laughed. I couldn’t believe that I was being asked for a permit at my own school, practically my home.

Trying to keep our frustration in check, we politely explained to the woman that we were there for the school news outlet. She responded by telling us that next time, we need a permit so they know we are not going to “defame” the university. After saying this, she mumbled something into her walkie-talkie and scurried away.

In today’s society, not all journalists have press credentials. Not all journalists come with a cameraman. And not all journalists have a state-of-the-art van to travel in. As a student journalist with a rickety tripod and a tiny video camera, I am still reporting the news, and I should still maintain the right of freedom of the press.

Osterreicher reaffirmed this, saying, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it for school, or whether you’re doing it for yourself, or whether you’re doing it for The New York Times. The right is still the same.’’

I have asked the officials guarding public spaces in Los Angeles to clarify their expectations for permits for journalists. I have included their preferences in the video and audio pieces throughout this article.

Officials at both Olvera Street, the oldest street in Los Angeles, and Third Street Promenade, a public street lined with stores and restaurants in Santa Monica, said that they welcome reporters, but that they would like journalists to call ahead to let their offices know what they are doing at the specific location. If the reporters have credentials, they will be left alone on site. A permit is only necessary when filming for commercial purposes.

While journalists should follow the law and appropriately carry out their duties, they should not be stopped from doing what is their inherent right as reporters. This includes reporting the news in all public places without a permit or prior consent from anyone.

Domestic Violence Survivors Describe Their Lifelong Recovery Journey

DomesticViolenceInfoFinalLove can turn ugly. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of sex, ethnicity, age, class and location.

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month is commemorated throughout October, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is reminding citizens that domestic violence remains one of the most underreported crimes in the United States.

“It’s really hard to collect data,” said Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council Executive Director Olivia Rodriguez. “The information doesn’t encompass everything because a lot of people will not report violence.”

Some of the reasons why domestic violence is underreported include mental health struggles, economic instability and fears that reporting an abuser could separate the family. It can also be difficult for survivors to find help even if they do report the crimes because there are a lack of resources.

Walking away from a violent relationship can be one of the hardest things to do.

“We’ve got to let women know, ‘You can get out,’” said Ronda Minks, an Alexandria House employee. “It’s much better to get out than to live a life of fear.”

Los Angeles county has just 15 government-funded domestic violence shelters, according to the Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council. The numbers have decreased in the last 10 years because of a redistribution of funds to other groups such as veterans. In addition to these government facilities, there are other shelters that receive private funding and rely on volunteers and small staffs to help support survivors of domestic violence and their families.

Some transitional homeless shelters provide care for survivors, but they may have various requirements. These requirements may include only accepting pregnant survivors or single women. One of the most difficult types of shelters to find are places that accept women and her children.

One of the shelters that offers this option is Alexandria House in Los Angeles. The two-house, nine-bedroom shelter helps women and children get back on their feet by helping them find a home, a job and setting up a detailed plan to accomplish their personal goals in the near-future.


Unlike most government shelters that only allow residents to stay for 30 days, Alexandria House allows women and children to live at the facility for up to two years. However, this option makes makes it difficult for the facility to bring in new women and families because of a lack of space.

“A lot of our phone calls are a lot of moms that are desperate for housing,” explained Alexandria House Associate Director Sunnie Yanez. “The hardest part is to turn people away.”

The acceptance process for Alexandria House is not easy. Potential residents have to meet with employees for a series of interviews. Despite the challenge of getting in, once accepted, most women at Alexandria House describe it as “welcoming” and “home.”

“They showed me, ‘We’re not giving up on you no matter what you do. … We’re going to love you until you love yourself. And even then, we’re still going to love you,’” said Willa Habersham, a former resident at Alexandria House.

The shelter focuses on teaching women how to care for themselves and their children. Residents rotate cooking dinner for everyone in the shelter throughout the week. The women and their families are highly encouraged to attend these dinners to visit with each other.

After residents move out of Alexandria House, they are always welcomed back for past resident meetings and other community events for themselves and their families. The shelter works with the children of survivors by providing childcare, therapy, tutoring and other programs. Many of the women and their families visit often and keep the community and support alive.

Some of Alexandria House’s employees and former residents shared their stories and the ways that shelters like Alexandria House redirect and inspire women to strive for a better life.

Click here to see a Storify about #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft.

USC Students: ‘Why I Vote’

While some USC students rushed to class or lunch dates, others curiously stopped by the tent set up in front of the Tommy Trojan statue to register to vote on National Voter Registration Day. USC Institute of Politics, student organizations and the Los Angeles County Registrar took part in a nation-wide event by setting up in the middle of campus and helping people to register to vote.

In the 2008 election, six-million people did not vote because they didn’t know how to register. The goal of the day was to lower these numbers by walking through the process and getting potential voters excited about the elections. Student groups rewarded students who registered with pizza, tank tops, buttons and keychain bottle openers.

Senior Kevin Chuang discusses his reasons for registering and tells why he thinks college students need to get more involved in the voting process.

Here’s a breakdown of how many young people vote in the general and presidential elections:

Voter Registration Infographic

From Coast to Coast: Fairfield Student to Bike 2,400 Miles for Charity

After a long day of classes and conflicts, Lauren Haviland ’15 shuffled to Gonzaga Hall for Glee Club practice at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21. As she indifferently took her seat, she leisurely pulled out her iPhone and scrolled through her emails. When her eyes fell upon one email, her day and her future were completely changed.

Haviland received an acceptance letter to participate in the Bike & Build program this summer. The team will depart from North Carolina on May 13 and bike to California by July 21. Along the way, the group of 30 members will stop to build homes, while cycling anywhere from 60 to 100 miles a day, with only two full rest-days. The riders will sleep in houses with host families, as well as schools, churches and community centers. These hosts will also be responsible for providing their food.

“You can’t live without a roof over your head. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to be a part of this cause,” Haviland explained.

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Run for Refugees Brings Cornerstone Class to Life

As the beat of the Congo drum matched his steps, Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall reached the pinnacle of the last hill in the 5K Run for Refugees this Sunday.

Team Cornerstone, as Crandall called it, consisted of 15 Fairfield University community members who raced in the seventh annual 5K to raise awareness and donate to refugees. The Fairfield team donated almost $320 to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. About 700 participants ran or walked through East Rock Park in New Haven on Super Bowl Sunday morning.

“A lot of people wake up on Sunday morning with dreams of nachos and cheese, pulled pork and beer,” Crandall posted on his blog on Monday. “We, on the other hand, woke up with a mission – an opportunity to bring good to the world in 3.2 miles.”

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ING NYC Marathon Returns One Year After Sandy

New York City was filled with anxious competitors and excited spectators on Sunday as the 43rd ING New York City Marathon returned to the five boroughs.

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy caused the cancellation last year two days before the race was supposed to occur. Months later, the Boston Marathon bombing caused devastation at another important event for runners and fans alike.

After a year of setbacks in terms of marathon running, the ING NYC Marathon set a world-record number of finishers with 50,304. Many ran to raise money for charity and awareness. Some were dressed in full costume.

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