It’s easy to understand why police officers might be a little camera shy. After all, before the YouTube Era, before the concept of Internet virality, a homemade video of four police officers savagely beating Rodney King got play everywhere, culminating in an acquittal that led to six days of riots in Los Angeles.
Nearly two decades later, millions of Americans walk around with cameras in their pockets, be it digital cameras or smartphones. Amateur videographers are now practically encouraged to film police officers, both to prevent misconduct or to call out injustice. Comeuppance is natural nowadays.
So police officers have, over the last several years, begun fighting off these amateur filmmakers by arresting anyone who’d dare provide a check and/or balance to their proceedings. It’s a serious issue, and one that has such a lack of legal precedent that law is still currently being made.
One such case making headlines recently surrounds a Rochester woman arrested for filming the police from her front lawn. The case against Emily Good, who filmed a traffic stop in front of her house, has now been dismissed. Good was arrested by police, even though she did absolutely nothing legally wrong except take footage of what should have been an ordinary traffic stop.
On May 12th, Good was videotaping the police when an officer asked her to go inside multiple times. She refused and was charged with obstructing of governmental administration.
According to WHEC:
Here’s the video that got this porch photographer arrested:
A joint statement issued by Rochester Mayor Tom Richards, City Council President Lovely Warren and Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard says they support the decision to drop the charges:
“Whatever the outcome of the internal review, we want to make clear that it is not the policy or practice of the Rochester Police Department to prevent citizens from observing its activities – including photographing or videotaping – as long as it does not interfere with the safe conduct of those activities. It is also not the policy or practice of the Department to selectively enforce laws in response to the activities of a group or individual. This has always been the case and it is being reinforced within the Department, so that it will be abundantly clear to everyone.”
Mind you, as noted, this is not the first time that the police have arrested people for videotaping them.
Last summer, Anthony Graber was riding his motorcycle in Maryland when he was stopped by a plainclothes police officer who had been driving an undercover car. Graber had been speeding and changing lanes in an unsafe manner. When Graber was pulled over, he had his helmet camera running, usually reserved for recording stunts.
The police officer jumped out of his car with his gun out in order to perform a routine traffic stop. When the officer realized he was being recorded, he arrested Graber and charged him with wire tapping. That’s right, wire tapping. The charge could carry 16 years of prison.
Fortunately for Graber, Harford County Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. ruled that only the speeding charge and other traffic violations applied to the motorcyclist.
According to the Baltimore Sun, “The judge ruled that Maryland’s wire tap law allows recording of both voice and sound in areas where privacy cannot be expected. He ruled that a police officer on a traffic stop has no expectation of privacy.”
Even for a police officer looking to stop people from taping, wire tapping is a serious stretch, especially on a public road where police officers routinely invade privacy when they pull cars over. C’mon. This link has the whole video recording from Graber’s camera, including the part where he speeds down the motorway, but skip to the 3:00 minute mark if you want to see the juiciest part of the action.
Khaliah Fitchette was filming the police on March 28, 2010 when she was told to stop taking video of what the police were doing. She refused, and according to Today:
“She was handcuffed, put in the police car and taken to detention facilities (first a juvenile one, then an adult facility), and during that time the second police officer who was there erased Fitchette’s cellphone video. When the two officers realized they had no basis for detaining or arresting Fitchette, they drove her to her mother’s workplace, where they dropped her off.”
Oops, we totally just realized we have no legal ability to be arresting you so…..enjoy the rest of your day! Needless to say, the ACLU was all over the case.
And then of course the recent events that unfolded in Washington D.C. at a D.C. Taxicab Commission meeting being held in the Park Police station. Last Wednesday, Pete Tucker and Jim Epstein were attempting to report on the meeting when they ran into trouble with the police.
Even though Tucker was telling them it was a public meeting and he was allowed to take photos of the dais at the meeting, he was arrested and put in a cell. Epstein, a producer for Reason.TV, was able to film Tucker being arrested. But when he attempted to leave, police officers surrounded him and moved him downstairs to a cell. Tucker and Epstein were charged with disorderly conduct, and only Tucker for unlawful entering. They were later released, and Epstein was able to release the video of Tucker being arrested. Check it out:
The real problem here is that most people have their rights trampled on because they are not looking to fight with the police. They’ll tuck their iPhones back into their pockets because they don’t want trouble. That’s the real issue. The ones who have been arrested, the ones fighting legal battles, are the heroes of the cause, people who know their rights and won’t let an authoritarian iron fist crush those rights.
Today we celebrate the Emily Goods of the world. Another one free. More to go.
MORE: Stream this episode of WBUR’s On Point: Turn Off That Camera! Filming The Police At Work