One of the reasons photographers raise a fuss when their rights are infringed upon is to create awareness in the general public and among law enforcement. A recent lawsuit between a photojournalist and the Washington DC police department has done just that. The Washington Post reports:
District police cannot interfere with citizens as they photograph or videotape officers performing their jobs in public, according to a new directive issued by Chief Cathy L. Lanier as part of settlement in a civil lawsuit.
The six-page general order, similar to one published by police in Baltimore in November, warns officers that “a bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record members in the public discharge of their duties.”
[...] “It tells police to leave people alone,” Spitzer said. “It makes it clear that if a person is in a place that interferes with police operations, the officer can ask or tell them to move to another location, but they can’t tell them to stop taking pictures.”
After being arrested on October 1, 2007 for using his cell phone to film officers making an arrest, Boston lawyer Simon Glik sued the city for violating his civil rights. Late last year the court denied a motion to have the case dismissed, and just yesterday it was announced that the City of Boston had come to a settlement with Glik, agreeing to pay him $170,000 for damages and legal fees. The decision last year and the settlement yesterday both reaffirm that the First Amendment protects the right to photograph and film police officers carrying out their duties in a public place.
Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania-based photographer Jason Macchioni was recently shooting a time-lapse project from an overpass at night when he was approached by police officers who demanded his ID and threatened to arrest him for wiretapping (Macchioni was recording video of the encounter). Macchioni tells us,
I was shooting a time-lapse which I’m still working on, I arrived at this site around 9 and was there for about 3 hours until these two cops rolled up! At first I was calm and refused to give ID, After the second cop was breathing down my neck and really threatening me. I gave in and tried to get them to leave. Then stuff got heated.
Macchioni has enlisted the help of the ACLU in filing a complaint with the police department. Want to learn more about your rights as a photographer in the US? Check out this short cartoon the ACLU released earlier this month.
The New York Times has sent an angry letter to the New York Police Department after video emerged showing photojournalist Robert Stolarik being pushed around and then blocked while trying to photograph officers arresting Occupy Wall Street protestors. The memo itself hasn’t be published, but NYT VP and assistant general counsel George Freeman is quoted as saying,
It seemed pretty clear from the video that the Times freelance photographer was being intentionally blocked by the police officer who was kind of bobbing and weaving to keep him from taking photographs
The department has acknowledged receiving the note from the NYT, but has not issued a formal response yet. This incident comes just weeks after Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly ordered officers to avoid unreasonably interfering with media access during news coverage. Read more…
Boston lawyer Simon Glik was arrested on October 1, 2007 when he used his cell phone to record officers making a drug arrest, and later sued the city and the officers for violating his rights. After the officers tried to having the lawsuit dismissed on the basis of qualified immunity, a Federal Appeals Court denied the motion last week and ruled that filming and photographing police is in fact protected by the First Amendment. They also note that the rights extend not just to professional news gatherers, but ordinary citizens as well:
[...] changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.
This is great news for photographers’ rights (in the United States, at least).
29-year-old student and avid photographer Christopher Fussell was taking photographs of trains at a Baltimore station back in March when he was confronted by Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) officers. He was able to record the conversation, which shows the officers having a complete lack of understanding of laws and photographers’ rights. Fussell writes,
I have no qualms with MTA Police inquiring what I’m doing, but the fact that they took it to the next level with so many lies, unreasonable detainment, denying my boarding of my train that caused me to be delayed and following me to delay me further; this whole episode of theirs was unprofessional and perhaps unconstitutional. I am posting this video in hopes to further strengthen photographer’s constitutional rights.
The story has since become a pretty big deal after the video went viral online, with the MTA admitting that the officer had incorrectly cited the Patriot Act and other laws. The American Civil Liberties Union has also sided with Fussell and may sue MTA over his detainment.