In a recent interview with The Boston Herald, Boston police Commissioner William Evans whined about people who record the police, even going so far as to call for a new law that would criminalize the act of recording a police officer while standing within a certain distance of them.
“If we can get legislation to make it fair, so it protects both sides, then I’m all for it,” Evans told the Herald. “Would I love to see a little distance? I’d love to see that.”
I’m glad Evans finally admits that the public needs legal protection when they record his officers. I’ve needed protection from the Boston police for years as they have threatened me with false arrest, with “physical removal” from public buildings and have shoved me around on many occasions.
But I don’t think that’s what the commissioner meant.
Evans also complained about camera-wielding individuals allegedly getting in police officers’ faces and “taunting” them, mentioning a July 4 incident as one example. Although he didn’t reference me by name, it was clear from the description he provided that he was referring to a video I shot.
In that video, I asked Boston police officers, who were not wearing their badges, to comply with state laws about identifying themselves. After I began speaking with the officers from a polite distance, Boston police Deputy Superintendent William Ridge got in my face – standing literally inches away from me in an obvious attempt to intimidate – and ordered me to leave the public sidewalk that I was legally standing on.
Regarding that incident, Evans complained: “If the officer had an incident with that person and the person wanted our badge, of course we’re going to give it. But when you’re just out there for the very reason of trying to get a getcha moment, then that’s irritating to us.”
It’s not a “trying to get a getcha moment” when I, or anyone else, decides to record police officers who are actively breaking laws or violating policies. Acting as though police misconduct isn’t real because of the very fact that someone recorded it makes no sense. The fact that Evans is attacking people who record police misconduct instead of trying to address police misconduct shows his real priorities.
On top of that, the law Evans is calling for is clearly unconstitutional.
The Glik precedent, which involved a man arrested for recording Boston cops, established years ago that recording the police is protected by the First Amendment (not to mention the more recent Gericke decision). Evans claims that he’s trying to address the issue of people interfering with police, but if that’s true, there’s no reason to pass a law singling out people who are recording. There are already laws that prohibit interfering with police.
By targeting only those who are recording, it’s clear that Evans wants to criminalize journalistic activity, not interference.
If a law like the one Evans hopes to see passes, it could potentially make it illegal to record police in almost any circumstance. Any time a police officer approached a person, it would be illegal for that person to record the interaction if the cop got close enough to them.
But such a law would probably be struck down by the courts if it was ever passed. Maybe Evans slept through civics class, but passing a law that violates the First Amendment will only lead to lawsuits and wasted taxpayer money.
Furthermore, if any lawmakers are foolish enough to try to pass a law like this, they’ll probably end up withdrawing the bill amid a public outcry like Texas state Representative Jason Villalba, who tried to pass a similar buffer zone law for people recording cops earlier this year. Here in Massachusetts, state Senator James Eldridge has already come out against Evans’ proposal.
But we shouldn’t wait for lawmakers to propose such a law. We should #FireEvans over his contempt for the First Amendment right now.
Phone number for Boston mayor’s office: 617.635.4500
Email address for Boston mayor’s office: firstname.lastname@example.org.