It was late Tuesday night when Pablo Unzueta, third-year journalism major, was covering a rally for Dijon Kizzee, a Black man who was killed by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies, in South Los Angeles. As a freelance and student journalist, Unzueta is no stranger to being face-to-face with police, but this night was different.
After issuing an “unlawful assembly” order, LA Sheriff’s Deputies began to close in on the crowd, and before he knew it, Unzueta was in cuffs.
Despite having a press badge on his bag and a camera around his neck, the Daily Forty-Niner video editor was placed under arrest for a misdemeanor violation and held for nearly 24 hours.
Student journalists are journalists, point blank, period.
We may still be learning, but we are out on the front lines, risking our lives and well-being, just the same as professionals in the field.
While being apprehended, Unzueta’s credentials were ignored and his equipment was confiscated. He is almost certain he’ll never see his camera or cell phone again.
Over the past four months, the nation has been grappling with racial reckoning over the recent killings of Black folks at the hands of police. Across the country, protestors have been clashing with officers, and oftentimes peaceful protests end up dissolving into violent confrontations.
In the midst of it all, members of the free press stand as witnesses and documentarians. A press badge was once enough to prevent arrest and attack, however, over the last few months it’s become more of a target than a shield.
Omar Jimenez, correspondent for CNN, was arrested on live television at the height of the protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota, following the killing of George Floyd.
Journalists with large publications, like Jimenez, however, have the legal and monetary support to continue their work in the face of obstacles like arrest and equipment destruction.
Student journalists don’t.
Unzueta was lucky enough to receive pro bono representation from the Student Press Law Center, an organization that works with student journalists across the country, but not even his attorney could get a confirmation from the LASD as to where his equipment was located and whether or not he’d be getting it back anytime soon.
Just because his press badge was from a student organization doesn’t mean his credibility, or talent, are lesser than anyone out in the field.
The next time you go looking for local news, instead of scrolling through a major publication, check out your local student paper.
Because believe us, we need your support.