Time Magazine becomes the latest mainstream media company to report on the ongoing epidemic of people getting arrested for photographing police.
In a piece published today, Adam Cohen, who is described as a lawyer and a former Time writer as well as former member of the New York Times editorial board, states that police officers are wary of being videotaped because they fear being publicly embarrassed and scrutinized.
Cohen mentions the Anthony Graber case as well as the Tasha Ford case, the latter which has been getting some national press after more than a year of the media ignoring it.
In fact, the Palm Beach Post finally reported on the Ford case this month, even though the arrest took place in their back yard more than a year ago.
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From the Time Magazine piece:
The legal argument prosecutors rely on in police video cases is thin. They say the audio aspect of the videos violates wiretap laws because, in some states, both parties to a conversation must consent to having a private conversation recorded. The hole in their argument is the word “private.” A police officer arresting or questioning someone on a highway or street is not having a private conversation. He is engaging in a public act.
Even if these cases do not hold up in court, the police can do a lot of damage just by threatening to arrest and prosecute people. “We see a fair amount of intimidation — police saying, ‘You can’t do that. It’s illegal,’” says Christopher Calabrese, a lawyer with the ACLU’s Washington office. It discourages people from filming, he says, even when they have the right to film.
Ford was not deterred. According to her account, even when the police threatened her with arrest, she refused to turn off her video camera, telling her son not to worry because “it’s all on video” and “let them be who they continue to be.”
The police then grabbed her, she said, took her camera and drove her off to the police station for booking.
Most people are not so game for a fight with the police. They just stop filming. These are the cases no one finds out about, in which there is no arrest or prosecution, but the public’s freedoms have nevertheless been eroded.
Ford was right to insist on her right to videotape police actions that occur in public, and others should too. If the police are doing their jobs properly, they should have nothing to worry about.
Last week, the New York Times addressed the issue of photographers getting harassed for photographing trains by bringing up the Duane Kerzic case, which was the first time it was mentioned in the Times, even though he was arrested a few subway stops from the Times building.
And in the last few weeks, the Washington Post, ABC News, MSNBC, NPR , Popular Mechanics and USA Today have all been addressing the issue of citizens getting arrested on wiretapping charges for videotaping police.
The Washington Post, in fact, has done an exceptional job of highlighting these incidents by compiling a list of ten incidents of photographers getting harassed in the Washington DC area for taking photos.
But that list neglected to mention the arrest of Nancy Shia, a 61-year-old elected official who was charged with assault on a police officer in 2008 for photographing a police officer during a protest.