It’s just after 12pm, and I’m in the lab chugging through a ton of digital stills, thousands of images that will be stitched together in some way to encompass the theme of Moving. Outside, something is moving towards the hotel, marching and chanting down Seventh Street towards Olive. My comrades press against the fourth floor window and look down, and we make the same assumption at around the same time:
This must be part of the Occupy LA rally gone mobile.
For days we have been going to stories, and now a story has come to us. I grab my camera and run down the stairs. I need a break from my computer anyway.
There are perhaps four dozen protesters, by their signage part of a union representing people in the janitorial trade. Their signs, a mixture of English and Spanish, read “Justice for Janitors” and “ABM Unfair”— the latter referring to a company called American Building Maintenance, a national company that provides janitorial services to buildings around the country. Many of the marchers wear “Justice for Janitors” shirts, while others appear to have come from the nearby Occupy LA rally, currently camped in front of City Hall.
The marchers chant in Spanish, and are being lead by a short woman with long hair and a plaid shirt, a neckerchief hanging around her neck. She is playing a drum, and has the look and bearing of someone who could just as easily be fighting for indigenous rights in Chiapas as marching through Downtown L.A. Not for the first time do I find myself wishing I’d been a more diligent student of Spanish.
The marchers are taking up the sidewalk, so I go into the street to try to get a shot that might better encompass the scene. I am no more than a car’s width from the curb and taking the first of several shots when a police cruiser honks at me. I nod in acknowledgement and get back on the sidewalk. I realize quickly that by staying on the sidewalk I’m either impeding or joining the rally. As a journalist, to do either would be unprofessional, so I carefully head back onto the street (again no more than a car’s width out) and run ahead to the head of the march, step back on the sidewalk and begin taking more photos while moving backwards.
A moment later there is another honk. It is the same police car. Two officers step out. I explain to Officer Keenan (Badge number 25975) that I’m a journalist, and that my job necessitates my neither joining nor impeding the march that I’m covering.
Officer Keenan is not swayed, and demands my driver’s license. I am issued a citation that reads “21954(a) VC – After warning, 075 Viol run w/a in #2 lane for approximately 50 feet around parked vehicles.” I am ordered me to appear on or before December 23 to answer the charge.
There is no set fine at this point—it is a misdemeanor violation, and failure to answer it carries with it penalties approaching six months in jail and/or a thousand dollar fine, so unless I intend to go on the lam for jaywalking, I need to deal with it. I plan to contest it, of course, on the grounds that my duty as a journalist necessitates that I neither impede nor join the subject that I am covering. Let’s hope the judge agrees.