Metrorail Attack Reveals Much Work to be Done for Photographers' Rights

It’s been five days since I was attacked by three armed security guards on the Miami-Dade Metrorail for taking pictures and the reactions from around the internet has been interesting to say the least.

I understand there will always be boot-licking pansies who will never understand why I would question a security guard over some made-up law about not being allowed to photograph the rails.

But it’s a little disappointing to see this attitude from photographers and railfans.

Don’t get me wrong. I am completely aware that I can come across abrasive, arrogant and condescending to authority figures who spout unlawful orders about photography in public places.

But the fact that they are using their authority in an attempt to intimidate me into following unlawful orders is not only more abrasive, arrogant and condescending. It’s downright abusive.

And I have a hard time tolerating that.

The main criticism against me is that I somehow “instigated” the incident. It’s true that there have been previous episodes where I deliberately tested officials on their knowledge of their own photo policies, including on the Miami-Dade Metrorail as well as at TSA checkpoints, but this was not one of those cases. I’m always upfront about my intentions in those videos, even to the authorities who confront us.

We were simply catching the train back to my place after hanging out with another friend in downtown Miami watching the football game. Not that it would have given them any more justification to attack me had I deliberately set out to test their knowledge.

I am also accused of being drunk. It’s true that I had been drinking but I was not drunk. The guard didn’t even question my sobriety until he got in my face and smelled my breath. And all it takes is a couple of drinks to make your breath smell like liquor to someone who has not been drinking.

A few people have also said I “sounded” drunk. That’s just how I talk. Anybody who knows me can confirm that.

The truth is, the guard realized I did not fall for his lie about it being illegal to photograph the rails, so he had to resort to another excuse to kick me out, which I thought was pretty obvious.

I am also criticized for getting physical with the guards. Yes, I did turn around and raise a fist towards them after they tried to push me down a moving escalator. It was a natural reaction and I won’t apologize for defending myself.

One thing I’ve learned about running this blog is to not to take any criticism  personal. Especially from anonymous commenters whom have never met me in person nor have spent any time getting to know me online and frankly wouldn’t have the balls to question authority.

So I’m not taking anything personal but I do find it troubling that so many photographers on PetaPixel and so many railfans on Subchat fail to see the real implications of what took place last Sunday night.

Even cops who saw the video believe the security guards were way out of line, not that they have much sympathy for me.

I edited a new video (below) that includes footage from both cameras, side-by-side, to allow people to get a fuller understanding of what took place. The audio is also clearer in certain portions of that video compared to the first one I posted.

 

I also compiled the following bullet points to make it easier for people to digest what took place that night, even though they will probably still defend the guards’ behavior.

  • We were taking photos from the platform.
  • We were confronted by security guards for taking photos.
  • We were told we were not allowed to take photos of the tracks.
  • I questioned which law forbids us from taking photos of the track.
  • I was ordered to turn off my video camera or else be kicked out.
  • I was then accused of being drunk and threatened with arrest if I did not leave the platform.
  • I stood my ground knowing I had not broken any law, knowing I was not drunk, waiting for the cops to arrive to hopefully sort everything out.
  • When I realized they were going to get physical, I asked my friend to start recording.
  • When I saw a third security guard walk up, I attempted to talk to him to hopefully sort it out.
  • The third guard along with the first two guards then began pushing me towards the escalator.
  • I began walking down the escalating, ordering them not to touch me because they do not have that right and there was no need to, considering I was already walking.
  • I was shoved from behind once I stepped on the moving escalator.
  • I turned around and attempted to shove them back because I felt the need to defend myself.
  • I was pounced upon by at least two security guards.
  • One of the security guards reached out and smacked my friend’s camera out of his hand as he was recording the altercation.
  • My friend managed to retrieve the camera and turn it back on.
  • At that point, I was at the foot of the escalator with one of the security guards gripping my neck in a tight chokehold with another security guard pushing down my head, making it even harder for me to breathe and the third security guard pulling at my feet.
  • The security guard who had me in a chokehold then threatened to arrest my friend for recording the altercation.
  • The security guard who was pulling at my feet then approached my friend and handcuffed him.
  • I was handcuffed.

To sum it up, I was attacked, choked, suffocated and handcuffed for taking photos, leaving me with enough injuries to visit the hospital the following day.

Although the X-rays revealed no broken bones I am still recovering from abrasions, swelling and soreness from the attack. An attack that would have landed anybody else in jail had they not been part of the system.

Had we not been taking photos, we never would have been approached.

Had I simply kissed ass and promised not to photograph the track, we would have been allowed to go home without further incident.

Had I turned off the video camera, we most likely would not have been further harassed. Or we may have. You never know.

I don’t trust these guards so I wasn’t about to turn the camera off when I know it’s the only thing that was protecting us from lies.

And contrary to what the guard was saying, it is not illegal to operate cameras on the Metrorail. The only exception is when one is conducting commercial photography, which which could be an advertising photo shoot or a movie scene. Then a permit must be obtained from the county.

Below is Miami-Dade County Code 30B-5 (2) which states the following:

And below is Miami-Dade County Ordinance Sec. 2-11.14 (2) (iii), which further clarifies the law on using cameras on the Metrorail.

There is nothing in writing that forbids passengers from photographing the rails. In fact, the rails are prominently displayed at the top of the Miami-Dade Metrorail’s own web page as you can see below in Bill Cooke’s Photoshopped version (the header is not Photoshopped). Read his blog post here on the incident.

Sunday’s attack against me was the fourth time since 2010 that I’ve had a run-in with 50 State security guards for using cameras near or inside the stations. I’ve even organized protests where I showed up with a group of photographers to drive it through their heads that they have no right to harass citizens with cameras.

And that resulted in a memo supposedly being sent out to security guards informing them that photography is not a crime, but that obviously did not make a difference because we were harassed again a few months later.

And finally, I decided to file a lawsuit in 2011 because I don’t believe a tax-funded private security company contracted by the county should have the right to trample upon the First Amendment rights of citizens.

That lawsuit, which is still pending, will be amended with the latest incident, taking it from a simple claim of negligence to include claims of false imprisonment, assault, battery and possible civil rights violations.

If anybody else has been harassed by 50 State for taking photos on the Metrorail, please contact me to be included in this suit.

I understand that makes me an activist, something a journalist is not supposed to be. I understand that makes me come across confrontational and looking for trouble when the truth is, I just don’t back down from confrontation when I know the written law is on my side.

And I understand that’s going to turn a lot of people off, including the local media who have essentially ignored this incident (with the exception of the Miami New Times), even though 50 State Security receives millions in county dollars every year.

Despite the fact that we captured it all on camera, Miami-Dade police who arrived on the scene didn’t care to view the footage or even hear our side of the story, which shouldn’t be surprising considering 50 State was founded by a former Miami-Dade sergeant in 1971.

But they did believe they had enough evidence to issue us citations for making “excessive noise” – even though they never witnessed us making excessive noise.

We are expected to pay a $100 fine and I am also banned from the Metrorail for 30 days, according to the police sergeant although it doesn’t say that on the citation.

Now I need to put a request in writing to ask for a hearing in order to get the citation dismissed because paying the fine would be an admittance to guilt, which is what they’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get me to do since 2007.

Had I admitted to guilt back in 2007 for the convenience of not having to go to trial for taking photos, this blog would never have seen the light of day.

And that would probably set right with many of the pansy bootlickers in this country. But it wouldn’t set right with me because I’m the one who has to live with himself.

And I decided long ago not to live my life like a scared little chickenshit.

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