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News & Insight

Police Shut Down Photo Walk Mistaking It For A Rave

By Hanssie on February 2nd 2015

When hundreds people gather on the streets of East Los Angeles and light stuff on fire, it’s either an angry protest or people are celebrating a Lakers championship victory (well, we definitely know it’s not the latter recently). Except this time the mayhem was caused by a group of photographers on a photo walk.


Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.50.31 AM

Screen cap via CBS Los Angeles

A photo walk is an event where photographers get together and shoot (with cameras, not guns – must clarify since we are talking about East LA), meet other photographers and hang out. There are photo walks organized all over the world, but this weekend one got a bit out of hand.

FlaskMob, which is a group that gets together monthly in San Francisco and Los Angeles, organized what would be “potentially the largest meet up that LA has ever seen,” according to their Instagram account. FlaskMob uses social media to spread the word about their events which has grown to the hundreds showing up each event.

In an interview before Saturday’s event on The Hundreds, co-founder Evan Thompson spoke about how they keep things under control. “We had some kids tagging and that’s when we sat down and were like, ‘How far can we take this without having permits and not getting in trouble?’ Nobody wants to put money into it, we’re all doing our thing and we don’t have money to do it legally…once we saw the amount of heavy drinking and graffiti, that’s what got us into a potentially bad situation. But since then, we’ve slowed down a bit. We’ve made time to say “hello” and get to know everyone—they’ve become our friends. Now every time that we meet, we have hundreds of people that we know and they’re helping us make sure it stays safe and not too crazy.”

Police mistook this crazy event for a group of ravers when the photographers began lighting steel wool spinners, fireworks and smoke bombs. Added the fact that the event had a DJ and alcohol and you have all the elements of a rave – with the addition of expensive camera gear.

Below is a video from the event by event attendee, , which shows a lively atmosphere similar to a rave. According to a commenter on Reddit, as well as the FlaskMob’s twitter site, the group ran into some trouble earlier that evening when the 7th street bridge was blocked and barricaded, the group was corralled into an alley. The commenter also claims that “an officer pulled out a shotgun, cocked it, and pointed it at the crowd.

Police sent helicopters and a large team out to find that the crowd was only a group of amateur and professional photographers looking to hang out and take photographs. Police said the crowd was respectful and began to disperse on their own when they arrived. No arrests were made and no property was damaged.

Safe to say that if you’re ever organizing a large event in the community, it would be wise to get a permit, make the city aware of your of your plans and get permission to light stuff on fire. But of course, many photographers run by the motto, “Ask for forgiveness and not permission,” which will run you the chance of ending up all over the news.

[Via CBS/FLASKMOB LA 1/31/15 from Nick Brazinsky]

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Randy McKown

    “Ask for forgiveness and not permission” .. works great when you’re alone or with one or two people … bring a full production crew or a large group of attendees and it doesn’t fly so well.

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  2. Steven Zay

    I agree with Hanssie… But also, given the nature of our society and the events across the nation, this comes to no surprise.

    I should not go unnoticed that there were a handful of issues that arose out of failure to be respectful to our community by our fellow photogs. Don’t lynch me yet, be open minded here. The meet up was not organized, was not at a venue that alcohol and a DJ would be appropriate (Public setting is pushing it w/out permits), shutting down the safe movement of transportation (blocking streets) with out permits is a red flag of common sense. It’s asking for a problem and it puts all of us photographers in the cross hairs of officials when we set out for our next shoot, or even attempt to get a permit.

    As for cross hairs, the officer that may (or may not) have pulled out the shot gun was tactically deploying for what he/she was not aware of. This is LA and if you watch the news, we get a few deadly shootings almost daily. It would be awful for the officer’s family should he/she got the situation wrong and it was an “un-permitted” gang meet up. Clinched fists on a battle field won’t get a soldier very far. We as community members and photographers need to set examples of how we operate (Professionally). We also need to understand and accept that officials have a safety protocol to protect us and our families. Do we bend the rules to get that special shot, of course, but we do it with panache. If the officer did pull out a shot gun, it was most likely loaded with bean bag rounds and not grandpa’s buck shot – hopefully.

    About the news and information disseminated to us. There always seems to be a need to sensationalize and flip a story for dramatic effect. It would not get much attention if the headlines read, “Well organized photography group sat around a permitted event block party, enjoyed a bon fire and sang songs while they traded stories.” When we hear any type of news about ANY situation, it is OUR responsibility to verify whatever information we hear before passing it on to others. If you can’t verify it, keep it to yourself and let someone else get egg on their face. When you simply can’t verify something, the terms alleged, purported, etc, at minimum, should preface your comment to avoid sounding like an… well you get the picture.

    We all love our first amendment, but when push comes to shove, we seem to resort to pulling that card even when we are in the wrong. What does that create? The wrong image to the community about photographers. Now, when I decide to go shoot DTLA, or spin steel wool at other LA County locations, law enforcement and fire officials will be focused on “this event” as a precedence that it could create a rave, or worse, new legislation to regulate us… potential craziness!!!

    Its all in how we work together.

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  3. Basit Zargar

    Lol now we seem to be dangerous !

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  4. Jim Johnson

    The title of this articles and others about this are kind of misleading. The police shut down the gathering because it was obstructing traffic, was a disturbance in the neighborhood, and possibly a danger to it’s participants and the general public (fire flinging?). They only mistook it for a rave (which it kind of was) or a protest when they were called out.

    The outcome wouldn’t have changed even if they knew the real purpose of the event.

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  5. Anders Madsen

    “There was a point in the night that an officer pulled out a shotgun, cocked it, and pointed it at the crowd.”

    What the HELL?!?

    Pointing a loaded, cocked SHOTGUN at the crowd? If that idiot had pulled the trigger, he would have caused collateral damage like crazy, no matter how good his aim was!

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    • Jim Johnson

      I’m not sure that is 100% accurate. I’m guessing there was a shotgun present.. possibly even cocked, but “pointing at the crowd” is probably an interpretation. It goes against basic training for the police.

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    • Graham Curran

      We’ve seen what that basic training can produce over the last year.

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  6. robert garfinkle

    More so, if you look at the “Breaking News” banner, which speaks of a “Protest” (unless that’s Photoshopped in :) ) when it was not that at all – and that’s a huge problem these days, is, to minimally call it “mis-information” – it’s an collateral side-effect of freedom of speech. The biggest problem with mis-information is, people have a tendency to go with it, take it for a ride, and lately, take it over “truth”. Yup, the drama wins even if it’s a lie… and that’s a very current state of where we are as a society today…

    Freedom of speech is great, won’t want to change it at all, just wish people / media / politicians would show our first amendment the respect it deserves, show each other respect we deserve and speak in truth’s – or am I asking / expecting too much…

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    • robert garfinkle

      I suppose I have more to say.

      Media, we kind of fill those shoes in some of our positions; and it would be my hope that any one of us, “know the difference”, what reality is (or not) and be responsible enough to not let our emotions blind us. Some, have a propensity to see things differently, without checking fact, and just reporting on it – to which it looks like the media “just assumed” it was a protest…

      When people throw trust to media sources, they take it on faith that what’s reported, is truth.

      This event could have turned out a lot worse – the end of it could have been tragic. That’s why I am concerned with Media just hauling off and doing wild-west style reporting, without “confirming” first what it was…


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    • Hanssie

      I agree, but I feel like it’s been that way since the dawn of news, even when it’s been passed on via Pony Express rider. People generally follow what they are told, and take everything at face value, forgetting that there are three sides to every story out there. We can be manipulated by whatever media wants to sell us, add enough fuel to the fire, “eyewitness” accounts and voila, a story.

      Society wants drama and lots of it. Why else would people like Kim Kardashian be deemed as a “famous person” which no other assets except well, the one…

      In these days of social media reporting, it just happens to be whatever is the most popular account – that equals truth.

      As for the police, they were just doing their jobs. I kind of have to side with them on this one. A redditor commented that they were overreacting, but these days and in this society, you cannot be too careful.

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    • robert garfinkle

      Ashton brings up a great point (above) – about planning. Had the police, and the media been aware ahead of time it may have (most likely) turned out differently.

      Hanssie, I agree with your response, 100%.

      Anders’ (below) response, speaking of shotguns, that’s radical (not his response, but description of what happened – gotta be clear about that), had authorities at least known ahead of time, that most likely wouldn’t have occurred…

      The leaders of our country, those who people look up to, whether they are leaders of community in general, leaders standing up for rights, politicians, or media outlets are the living / breathing icons of our first amendment – they are free as the wind to say anything they want, that’s freedom right?

      Yet, we know some words spoken bear consequences like when threats are made towards another or when words start a panic / riot (i.e. yelling “Movie Theater!” in a fire etc…), and we know better not to say those type of things, lest we get in trouble, yes?

      But there is more, in my opinion, which is acting responsibly, before you say it, asking one’s self, if I say this what impact will it have on my audience.

      maybe I’m asking / expecting too much. Am I?

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  7. Orlin Nikolov

    Stupid coppers

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    • Ashton Pal

      I wouldn’t blame the police for this one. This is more the fault of the people who planned the event. You can have a group of people walking around, talking and taking pictures without any problems. Once you start doing things like lighting steel wool spinners, fireworks and smoke bombs then you open it up for people to complain. Consuming alcohol outside is open liquor which can lead to public drunkenness which also causes people to complain. Once you start doing things like that, it’s automatically flagged as a disturbance in which police have to respond to see what’s going on. I don’t know if this was a closed event where you needed an invite because what’s stopping any person from joining the group for the sole purpose of consuming alcohol. They have mentioned before about people causing problems so more planning needs to be done.

      I’m not against photowalks. I attend them all the time, but there’s certain things you can’t do. If people want to grab a meal, listen to some music and a drink later on, the group should have arranged for everyone to meet at a bar or restaurant.

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