As an avid supporter of law enforcement it’s disillusioning when cops abuse their power and act like street thugs. The official war on photography in which cops try to prevent bystanders from making audio and/or video recordings of their action is the current manifestation of some egregious incidents of abuse of power by cops. We are not talking about anyone interfering with the police; rather it is the police interfering with citizens who are standing in a place they have a right to be and not obstructing the police in any way, except to make a recording of their actions. Back on June 9th I posted on the recent incident of police shooting a man to death in Miami and then confiscating cell phones and video cameras from bystanders who recorded the action. That post contains an 8-minute video recounting other such incidents. Since then a woman in Rochester, New York was thrown to the ground, hand cuffed and arrested for standing in her own front yard making a video recording of the police arresting a man in the street in front of her house. She was later released since she had committed no crime and there was no basis for holding her. She was clearly the victim of an unlawful arrest, and will probably sue the police. If so, the taxpayers of Rochester will get the bill for one of their civil servants sworn to be a protector and acting more like a predator.
UPDATE: Charges against Emily Good of Rochester have been dropped. “It took less than a minute for a judge to dismiss an obstructing governmental administration charge against Good, saying there was no legal basis to move forward.” Good is suing. Well, good.
The victims of these cases of official abuse are usually charged with obstructing an officer, which seldom sticks because any obstruction that might occur is the result of the officers own misguided mindset or fragile ego and not any action of the citizen. Alternatively, in the minority of states with laws requiring consent from all persons being recorded as opposed to the majority which require only the consent of one party, a criminal charge my be instituted on that basis. These charges are often ridiculous because taken literally these laws would make it illegal to make any sort of video or audio recording in a public place since it would be impossible to obtain consent from everyone who might appear in the recording, however briefly. Much of what is shown on the nightly television news would violate these laws if they were enforced universally in the manner some police and prosecutors are attempting to enforce them against citizens with cell phones and other small recording equipment.
In Massachusetts and Illinois, both states of public corruption as a time-dishonored tradition, it is illegal to use any recording device to document police action. See Police Fight Cell Phone Recordings.
It all brings to mind this quote from Montesquieu (1689-1755), quintessential man of the Age of Enlightenment:
Political liberty is not present except where there is no abuse of power. It is an eternal experience that every man who has power is drawn to abuse it; he proceeds until he finds the limits.
The war on photography will be won when citizens help police find the limits. Citizens can through public opinion and awareness stop the scurrilous thuggery against innocent bystanders who merely make a record of police action without obstructing it. If police are doing nothing wrong the videos will be of little interest. If they are acting properly they should have no objection and should simply complete their tasks without interference of bystanders who may have wounded their tender egos but are not breaking any law. The way to win this war is to keep recording them and making a record of their abuse. A new and improved way of doing that, a countermeasure to police misconduct, is available now with improvements likely to come soon. Two new Smartphone Apps, CopRecorder and OpenWatch, make it possible to turn your cellphone into an audio recorder without indicating that it is recording. The day of citizen media where every citizen can be a journalist gathering data, is coming if not already here.
More accountability for government and more political liberty for citizens should follow.