Several journalism and civil rights organizations are urging U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to begin holding law enforcement authorities and agencies accountable for arresting citizens who record in public.
May 3, 2012
Dear Attorney General Eric Holder:
The First Amendment has come under assault on the streets of America. Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began, police have arrested dozens of journalists and activists simply for attempting to document political protests in public spaces. While individual cases may not fall under the Justice Department’s jurisdiction, the undersigned groups see this suppression of speech as a national problem that deserves your full attention.
The alarming number of arrests is an unfortunate and unwarranted byproduct of otherwise positive changes. A new type of activism is taking hold around the world and here in the U.S.: People with smartphones, cameras and Internet connections have been empowered with the means to report on public events. These developments have also created an urgent need for organizations such as ours to defend this new breed of activists and journalists and protect their right to record.
Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of access to information are vital whether you’re a credentialed journalist, a protester or just a bystander with a camera. In the digital age, these freedoms mean that we all have the right to create and share information using all manner of devices and lawful means.
In this new environment, we must guard these rights and protect the networks that give so many the means to connect and voice their political beliefs. The First Amendment’s protections must extend to everyone.
The right to record is an essential component of our rights at a time when so many of those witnessing public protests carry networked, camera-ready devices such as smartphones.
Continuous access to the open Internet and social media — over both wired and wireless networks — is also essential.
We the undersigned call on authorities at the local, state and federal level to stop their assault on people attempting to document protests and other events unfolding in public spaces. We must protect everyone’s right to record.
American Civil Liberties Union
Electronic Frontier Foundation
National Press Photographers Association
New America Foundation
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Reporters Without Borders
One of the signing organizations, Free Press, posted a petition encouraging citizens to voice their opinions on this matter. I just signed it.
Holder seems to be receptive to the idea of protecting citizens who record police considering the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to a federal judge in January, reminding him of the Constitutional protections in these matters.
Holder, however, may be distracted by a memo that was also issued today formalizing the steps to hold him in contempt for allegedly withholding evidence in the ATF gunwalking scandal in which the U.S. government – under both Bush and Obama administrations – sold more than 2,000 guns to Mexican drug traffickers that ended up escalating the drug war down there.
According to CBS:
The case for a citation declaring Holder in contempt will be laid out in a briefing paper and 48-page draft citation distributed to Democrats and Republicans on the committee. CBS News has obtained copies of both documents. In them, Republican members use strong language to accuse Holder of obstructing the committee’s investigation, which is now in its second year.
The documents allege that the Justice Department has issued, “false denials, given answers intended to misdirect investigators, sought to intimidate witnesses, unlawfully withheld subpoenaed documents, and waited to be confronted with indisputable evidence before acknowledging uncomfortable facts.”
So hopefully today’s letter urging him to protect the First Amendment does not get overshadowed by the draft citation.
But considering a U.S. Border Patrol Agent was also killed with guns that were sold to the Mexican cartels, Holder might not be willing to further infuriate law enforcement officials by insisting they respect the First Amendment.
But if our past two presidential administrations had no problem allowing guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug traffickers, then this one shouldn’t have an issue allowing citizens to use cameras without fear of getting arrested.
Please send stories, tips and videos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
CARLOS MILLER’S LEGAL DEFENSE FUND
I am immersed in a legal case where I not only want to clear my criminal charges stemming from my arrest in January, but I want to sue the Miami-Dade Police Department for deleting my footage, which I was able to recover.
My goal is to set some type of precedent to ensure this does not happen as often as it does today where cops simply get away with it.
So if you would like to contribute, please click on the “donate” button below and contribute whatever you can afford.
You can also contribute to my Legal Defense Fund by purchasing a photographer rights lens cloth and/or laminated card to wear around your neck like a press badge through Zap Rag.Please write “carlos3” in the comments section of the Paypal transaction to ensure I receive a portion of the sale.
Also, in an unrelated PINAC matter, I recently went through a hair transplant operation and I’m documenting my recovery on this blog if you are interested.