The National Press Photographer’s Association has issued a letter to Amtrak, demanding it to stop harassing photographers for exercising their First Amendment rights.
The letter is long overdue because NPPA claims it has received several complaints over the last few months about photographers being harassed.
But apparently last month’s arrest of Duane Kerzic for photographing trains for an Amtrak photo contest prompted NPPA to fire off a letter to Amtrak, ordering the train company to “take immediate steps to remedy the railroad’s unconstitutional treatment of law-abiding photographers.”
Now I’ve been a member of NPPA for several years and receive their magazine on a monthly basis, but I have to be honest. It never showed much interest in my case, despite me trying to prove my innocence for the last two years.
From what I’ve seen, NPPA doesn’t regard you as a legitimate photojournalist unless you are employed by a mainstream publication (as opposed to the Society of Professional Journalists who believe the First Amendment applies to all journalists, including Joshua Wolf, a man who was considered just a “blogger” by many media organizations and newspapers when he was jailed for refusing to turn over video outtakes of a protest to a judge).
But perhaps the New York NPPA chapter is more aggressive because it did join several other media organizations in 2004 to protest a proposed ban on photography in New York City’s subway system.
According to the NPPA website:
NPPA’s general legal counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher wrote to Amtrak police general counsel David Domzalski asking the railroad to immediately issue a directive to all Amtrak personnel making it clear that the mere act of taking pictures or video is not unlawful, and that doing so provides “no basis for law enforcement or other transit personnel to take action against a photographer.”
“As far as we can determine, there are no pertinent laws, rules, or regulations specifically prohibiting photography nor any Amtrak rules or regulations establishing a permit scheme,” Osterreicher said.
“Given that photography of public areas is protected by the First Amendment, we believe Amtrak’s actions are plainly unconstitutional. We are particularly surprised by Amtrak’s actions in light of the fact that the MTA [New York State’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority], which also patrols [New York’s] Penn Station, abandoned proposed changes in rulemaking to prohibit photography in 2005, and its corporate counsel, Mary Mahon, ordered the MTA police to stop harassing photographers on its publicly accessible properties.”
As it turns out, another photographer named Michael Bortzman was arrested by Amtrak police in Penn Station last year for criminal trespass after he photographed an Amtrak train. He ended up suing and winning a few thousand dollars.
The issue is also timely considering thousands of people will soon descend upon Washington DC for the presidential inauguration, where Amtrak has a history of harassing photographers in Union Station.