Monday, June 14, 2010

Photography Is Not A Crime! Everyone Go Out And Shoot A Cop!!

I have to say at the outset that I have enormous respect for police officers. They have a tough job and they're, pretty much, walking targets. My little brother (right) was one of New York's Finest (he still is, in my opinion) so don't take the title literally or I'll be coming after you. I am, however, disturbed by a recent trend that's emerging, primarily in the United Kingdom, of photographers being arrested for making photographs.

Though I do a fair amount of editorial work I wouldn't call myself a photojournalist. Photographing feature stories for magazines isn't the same as going off to a war zone (actually done that!) or covering the White House. Just the same, I'm convinced that deep inside each of us, wedding photographers too, is a reporter, a photojournalist.

When I was a student I had the privilege of being Editor-In-Chief of my college's newspaper and I'm familiar with, and a big fan of, the first amendment, the one that guarantees freedom of the press. Here's what I learned.

Opposition to the ratification of the Constitution was partly based on the Constitution's lack of adequate guarantees for civil liberties. To provide such guarantees, the First Amendment, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, was adopted on December 15, 1791. 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."

So, you can imagine my surprise when I read an article on that this trend is emerging here, too. "In at least three states, it is now illegal to [photograph] any on-duty police officer." The article continues, "The legal justification for arresting the 'shooter' rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested."

This is outrageous! Photographers are not terrorists.

One of my colleagues, Marcus Maddox, was admonished not to photograph an on-duty police officer at the Taste Of Randolph street festival here not long ago. He was actually complimenting an officer on the immaculate condition of her kevlar vest, asked to photograph her... he asked politely... and she produced a card quoting an obscure city ordinance prohibiting the photographing of police officers. He had an easier time photographing the police in Hanoi. "You can't spit without tripping over a cop in Hanoi," he said. "They actually posed for me, but here in Chicago? No wonder the rest of the world is confused about America."

Attempts to restrict our first amendment rights need to be loudly opposed, even when made by state/local governments, which reminds me of this... There's another interesting law known as the 14th Amendment. Though the main focus of the 14th is to define citizenship and the apportionment of representatives, its Due Process provision effectively prohibits states from withholding rights granted by the US Constitution. In other words, if the first amendment guarantees your right to photograph whoever, wherever, whenever; the fourteenth amendment guarantees that no state (or municipality) can enact a law which takes that first amendment right away from you.

Certainly, this is about police officers being caught, "on film" as it were, engaging in misconduct. If that's the case (what else can it be?), maybe the police shouldn't be engaging in misconduct.


Anonymous Jon DeVaul said...

Ever since 9/11 people have been willing to give up rights little by little in the mistaken belief that it's increasing their security. I believe it was Ben Franklin who said, and I paraphrase, people who give up their rights in the name of security soon have neither.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Joe P. said...

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin

8:29 PM  

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