A little less than a year ago, as I was still reeling from a traumatic beat down by Metrorail security guards for shooting video on a train platform, I announced that I was considering retiring from PINAC in order to refocus my career into something a little more profitable and a little less perilous, informing my readers that I would give it until January to make my ultimate decision.
Well, here we are in January, and it doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere.
In fact, I now have partners, contributors, correspondents, a cartoonist, a public records crew, an upcoming book and a growing contingent of vocal readers that have become an added clout to the Photography is Not a Crime cause.
In football, they call this the “12th man,” the reference to the home crowd chanting, screaming and stomping their feet to distract, intimidate and overwhelm the opposing team.
Here we have the PINAC Wrath, the relentless torrent of calls, emails and comments on Facebook pages that we unleash on police departments after a cop gets caught on video abusing their power, forcing these departments to either delete the comments and slam the phones in our faces or publicly acknowledge the incident with a promise to “investigate” the incident and offer further training.
The Boston Police Department, however, was stupid enough to file a criminal complaint against me for felony witness intimidation thinking that would curb the calls, a decision that blew up in their faces when not only did the calls increase, but the story was picked up by several other sites and journalism organizations, which increased the calls tenfold and raised even more awareness about PINAC (pronounced pin-ack).
In fact, last month, I met a woman at a bar from Boston who now lives in Miami and told her the story, only for her to exclaim, “Oh my God! That was you?”
Me and my readers, I told her.
Yes, 2013 was the year the readers stepped up to save PINAC, whether it was through financial donations, technical support, call floods and beat reporting.
It was the year we tore down the wall between author and audience to curb the audacity that has become way too common among authorities.
It was something that had to be done as I entered 2013 broke, bummed and burned-out after blogging for two years under contract for a now-defunct photo website named Pixiq owned by Barnes and Noble, which earned me a steady paycheck and saved me from having to stress over technical issues, but also caused corporate friction among stockholders and ad reps who blamed me for scaring off advertisers (the site shut down a few months after I left).
Call it what you want, citizen journalism, government petitioning, video activism, the Fifth Estate, but there is no question we are living in a very revolutionary era where we, the people, wield a tremendous amount of power thanks to advances in technology.
We are not going to abuse that power, but we are not going to dismiss that power either. As long as they keep making arrests and threats, we are going to keep making them look stupid.
After all, we have more cameras than they have cops, so we can wage this war for years. Especially now that we are just getting organized.
So what’s in store for PINAC in 2014?
Ever since I left Pixiq, I’ve been paying about $300-a-month for hosting, most of that time with no money coming in from the blog. But now Nephoscale has agreed to provide us hosting throughout the year in exchange for advertising.
This is a very awesome deal because they are ensuring we will always have bandwidth no matter how heavy traffic gets.
I would like to personally thank Nephoscale co-founder Telemachus Luu for agreeing to this deal as well as thank PINAC Tech Master Eddie Lange for setting this up and would urge anybody out there to consider this company if looking for hosting. The $300 we save here can go towards a number of other things to continue improving this site.
Joel Chandler, Jeff Gray and I will continue to work towards the goal of turning PINAC into multifaceted news and education site. We have several others on board as well, including Thomas Convenant, who will continue hammering away at daily public records requests, many that I haven’t even had a chance to write about yet, as well as Taylor Hardy, who we are developing into a public records specialist.
Longtime Cop Watch member Jake Crawford will also be joining the PINAC team as a west coast correspondent and video producer based out of Oakland. Anybody familiar with his videos knows he has a knack for telling stories on video. And Idaho-based Bobby Stewart will continue to provide his cartoons like the one he did above depicting the legal victories that were made possible by the readers, including all my Miami cases that were helped with donations, and the three recent cases where call floods and public ridicule played a huge role.
We have huge plans for this site and it’s going to take a lot of money, but we’re taking steps to make it all happen. We are exploring options in how to receive tax-deductible donations through a non-profit that will serve as a fiscal manager, meaning they would take a cut, but we will receive most the money.
We are also seeking investors looking to fund quality journalism that not only informs, but educates. We will have a business plan drafted this month and would love to meet with potential investors. Maybe we’ll reach out to Mark Cuban, who is a huge fan of the blog (unless he happens to read this and reaches out to us).
We are using an advertising network, but that is not producing the expected results, so we might be exploring new options there.
The PINAC Nation merchandise line will be expanding with new high-quality products, which is a great way to support the site and spread the message.
And your donations are always very helpful as Joel, Jeff and I will be dedicated to this project full-time this year. If every reader made a monthly reoccurring donation of $5 to $10, we would be able to meet many of our goals and be able to pay for our legal defense should the need arise.
I hope a year from now, we will have a new redesign that will maintain much of the character of this design, but will be more of a full-fledged news site. But before that, we plan to introduce a page dedicated to public records education as well as a page where we promote lawyers who have helped us along the way. We would like to eventually have at least one lawyer from every state.
You guys are a huge part of this, so we’re always looking to work with people who want to help out. Running this site is a huge amount of work and the more people who can help, the more efficient it runs. One of our goals is to establish a presence on Google +. We have a page but haven’t done much with it and frankly, haven’t had the time to do anything with it, so if somebody would like to take that role, please email me at the address listed below.
If you would like to go out and do video activism or public records requests, send me an email to the address below, and I’ll forward it to our team who might be able to coach you.
In addition to running this site, I’ve been writing a book on citizen journalism, which is set to come out in May. It will be sold in 23 languages throughout the world, so perhaps this site will one day be global where we have pages covering different regions of the world as this is a worldwide movement.
Milestones Over the Years
There’s a lot more that will be happening this year, but that is just a basic primer to give you an idea. Below are a few excerpts I posted over the years as the site grew to unpredictable levels.
During the last five days, my attorney conducted depositions on two of the five officers who arrested me, allowing them to further contradict themselves as to what actually took place the night of my arrest.
The officers not only contradicted each other in separate depositions, they contradicted what was said in the arrest report.
Meanwhile, my story has remained the same since my February 20th arrest.
Daniel Zuniga, the promising young prosecutor who was assigned to my case, was fired this week from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office for participating in a “toys for case dismissal” agreement with Miami-Dade County Judge Karen Mills Francis – the judge presiding over my case.
Unfortunately, I was never informed of this philantropic set-up, for I would have gladly donated toys to charity in exchange for my case being dismissed.
But now that The Miami Herald broke the story, the odds are slim that I will be given the same opportunity as the countless others who had their criminal charges dropped after donating toys to Safe Space, which is Judge Mills Francis’ favorite charity. It is not clear on whether or not these donations were tax-deductible.
Meanwhile, I’ve been running up thousands of dollars in legal bills with a lawyer who kept telling me that Zuniga is a hard-ass prosecutor who refuses to budge on my case. According to my attorney, Zuniga offered a deal in which he would drop most of the charges if only I plead guilty to one of the charges (it may have been the obstructing traffic charge or perhaps the disobeying a police officer charge).
Or maybe it was a deal where I enter some type of program where I’m not really “guilty” but I’m not really “innocent”. Hell, it might have even been a deal where I donate toys to a charity, but I know it wasn’t in exchange for the dismissal of my case.
The truth is, I don’t even remember the details because I rejected them outright.
When I first launched my blog last May, I did it expecting that my trial would be starting soon, so I was planning on using my blog to post updates about my case, which had generated a significant amount of interest on the Internet. But like all things down here, my case languished in delays and cancellations and false starts.
So I started using my blog to document other First Amendment violations around the country as I waited for my trial to start. And that enabled me to update the blog every few weeks or so.
But lately, as some of you have noticed, I am blogging much more frequently and on topics that are not just limited to First Amendment violations. This is something I plan to continue throughout 2008.
I will use this blog as my soapbox. As my bullhorn. And maybe even as my confessional booth.
I will rant and rave and report and reveal and maybe even recite some of my rhymes.
I will mock and madden and maybe even muckrake.
In the words of the great Henry Miller, the writer who inspired me to live in Europe as a struggling writer in my twenties, I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing.
How can one resist an unlawful arrest?
That is the question I asked the judge when I was informed of the jury’s verdict, which came in at 11:45 p.m. , after almost two-and-a-half hours of deliberations:
- Not guilty of disobeying a police officer
- Not guilty of disorderly conduct
- Guilty of resisting arrest without violence.
Judge Jose L. Fernandez, who turned out to have an extreme contempt for me, was unable to answer that question, even though he had asked if I had any questions after the verdict was read.
it’s hard to believe it will be almost two years since my arrest. And it’s hard to believe that exactly one year ago today, I announced the new format for my blog, switching it from two-columns to three-columns as well as hosting my own site.
In that post, I promised to “mock and madden and maybe even muckrake” as well as to ” rant and rave and report and reveal and maybe even recite some of my rhymes”.
I think I’ve kept that promise. And maybe even done more.
After all, the Miami New Times recently called this blog one of “Miami’s best blogs”, which is an honor because this blog doesn’t necessarily fall into the category of a “Miami blog”. Most of my readers, in fact, don’t even live in South Florida.
Right now I have two posts that have accumulated more than 100 comments and several others that have reached more than fifty comments. Of course not all these comments are positive but it doesn’t matter to me. I enjoy the feedback.
I fought the law and I won.
Almost nine months after filing my appeal, I received notice this weekend that I was victorious. The fact that I prepared my appeal pro se makes the victory that much sweeter.
A three-judge panel determined there were errors both in my conviction and my sentencing. The panel reversed both with directions for me to be tried again before a different judge.
In other words, they realized that Judge Jose L. Fernandez allowed his personal bias to affect my trial, including in how he allowed the prosecutor to use my blog against me – even though I did not even launch the blog until after my arrest – and how he allowed those blog postings to affect my sentencing.
Considering I’ve already served my sentence, which included a year probation, 100 hours of community service and several sessions of anger management class, the reversal might seem a tad too late.
However, the reversal is significant because I was arrested again for taking pictures of cops while I was still on probation.
Yep. You read right. I hadn’t mentioned the second arrest on my blog because I did not want it to interfere with the pending appeal. It’s completely irrelevant but once you experience a biased judge, you get pretty jaded.
It was a year that firmly established Photography is Not a Crime as a national blog, going from an average of more than 700 page views a day in 2008 to more than 4,000 in 2009.
A year in which PINAC was mentioned in both The New York Times and Playboy Magazine as well as several other respectable publications throughout the country.
A year that resulted in me getting arrested again for photographing police against their wishes.
But the most significant highlight for me this year was winning my appeal pro se on my first arrest; a legal victory that nobody will ever take away from me.
For the first time in more than three years, I have no criminal charges hanging over me.
A judge on Tuesday dismissed the resisting arrest without violence charge from my second arrest after the arresting officer did not show up.
It was the second time Miami Beach Police Officer David Socarras did not show up to the trial. The first time, he had called in sick, prompting Judge Jose L. Fernandez to postpone the trial to another date.
That was before we asked Fernandez to recuse himself.
The new judge, Edward Newman, didn’t waste any time dropping the case when he realized that I was in the courtroom but Socarras was not.
After weeks of negotiations, I’ve signed a contract with a publishing company where I agreed to incorporate Photography is Not a Crime into a new photo site called Pixiq.
The good news is that I will be getting paid for my content.
The bad news is that PINAC has now turned into a job instead of just a hobby. Wait, that’s actually really good news. And it was never just a hobby. It’s been a calling.
So expect more blogging from me.
2010 was a very productive and successful year for Photography is Not a Crime,where it was named the Best Overall Blog in South Florida in a newspaper contest, mentioned in several national news articles and segments about photographers’ rights and incorporated into a new photo site owned by Barnes and Nobles.
For better or worse, it appears that PINAC has gone mainstream.
I wouldn’t go that far. But people are definitely paying attention. And the mainstream media is finally realizing that non-journalists have as much right to take photos in public as journalists.
And to top things off, I managed to get through the year without getting arrested, although there were a few close calls.
The main lesson I carried into 2010 is that it’s all about video.
The two times I was arrested (in 2007 and in 2009) was when I was shooting still photography. Video cameras seem to make cops think twice about doing anything stupid.
And now that they have become so affordable, I can’t stress the importance of carrying a video camera in your pocket where ever you go, especially if you’re out shooting stills.
Photography is Not a Crime continued to grow in popularity reaching record numbers, especially over the summer, specifically the month of July where more than 540,000 page views were reached.
PINAC racked up more than a half-million page views in August as well.
But in the fourth year of running PINAC I’ve learned that summer is my busy season.
That’s when everybody is out and about with their cameras. That’s when cops are a little heated under the collar.
This was also the year where the National Press Photographers Association became very active in following PINAC’s stories. And that’s huge.
NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher proved that photographers are supported regardless if they are NPPA members or are working for the mainstream media, sending out countless letters to police departments across the country and even helping drafting several photo policies within these departments.
This year I will celebrate five years of running Photography is Not a Crime, which is much further than I ever expected to take this. April 28th to be exact.
My initial goal with this blog was to win my case from my first arrest. But then I was convicted for resisting arrest and forced to take anger management classes while being placed on probation for a year. Then I was arrested again while I was on probation.
Then I overturned my conviction from my first arrest and they ended up dropping the charge many months later after letting it sit in limbo for more than a year instead of trying to retry me.
And I also beat my second case when the cop didn’t show up to court twice.
And by that time, PINAC had morphed into something more than just my case. In the beginning, I was lucky to get 200 readers a day. Now I complain when I only get a few thousand.
It took several days but I managed to recover the footage that was deleted by police on the night of my arrest, which is the first step in not only clearing my name, but in exposing how police media spokeswoman Nancy Perezsingled me out from the rest of the media.
After almost two years of blogging on Pixiq, I received notice that my services would no longer be needed, meaning I have to find a new home for Photography is Not a Crime by next month.
Apparently, my writing was a little too controversial for the largest book retailer in the country.
I knew this day would come, even when I signed an agreement with Barnes and Nobles, which owns Sterling Publishing, which owns Pixiq.
But I hold no resentment. No anger. No ill-wishes against Pixiq.
In fact, I’m appreciative they gave me the opportunity to write for them for two solid years.
The most telling part of my trial yesterday, besides the continuous lies under oath by Miami-Dade Police Major Nancy Perez, was when a frattish looking prosecutor fresh out of law school named Ari Pregen tried to explain to jurors how a “real journalist” was supposed to act.
A real journalist, he explained, was supposed to follow police orders without a second thought. A real journalist would never back talk to police. A real journalist would never question a direct police order as to why he was not allowed to stand on a public sidewalk.
I was attacked, choked, suffocated and handcuffed by 50 State security guards for shooting video on the Miami-Dade Metrorail Sunday night, escalating a pending state lawsuit into a possible federal suit.
As you will see in the above video, they tried to push me down the escalator and I shoved back in order to defend myself, which prompted at least three security guards to pounce on me, including one security guard named R. Myers who violently choked me to the point where I thought I was going to die.
I was video recording on my iPhone and my friend was recording on his camera. Both of us ended up handcuffed and detained until City of Miami and Miami-Dade police arrived, both who knew right away who I was.
We were released an hour later with a $100 citation accusing us of “producing loud or excessive noise,” which is a lie.
Ari Pregen, one of the the Miami-Dade prosecutor who tried to convict me last November, explaining to the jury that I had not acted like a real journalist when I was arrested covering the Occupy Miami eviction, was fired for repeatedly abusing the power of his badge at a local strip club.
Perhaps Pregen should learn how a real prosecutor acts before determining how a real journalist should act.
Six years ago today, I limped out of the Miami-Dade County jail with a huge welt on my forehead from where police had bashed my head against the sidewalk after I had refused to stop taking their photo.
I had just spent 16 hours in what is considered one of the most dangerous jails in the country on nine misdemeanor charges, vowing to do whatever it took to clear my name.
Two months later, I launched this blog in the hopes that it would educate police and photographers about the law when it came to this issue because I saw a huge amount of ignorance out there. I also wanted to raise awareness about my upcoming trial.
But today, after an additional two arrests and trials (and still no convictions) as well as a recent beat-down by security guards for taking photos on the Metrorail, I am burned out, broke and considering bowing out.
I thought of quitting, baby but my heart just ain’t gonna buy it
Here is a video we recorded last month where we talk about the role the readers played in forcing Boston police to withdraw their criminal complaints against us. Joining us were Frank and Tammy Valdes, the two former police officers we interviewed last month who were convicted after one of them blew the whistle on other cops.They will be sentenced Thursday.