Ricky Rodriguez, who has been following this blog for more than a year, never fails to express his outrage at the ongoing incidents that occur throughout the country, whether it is by leaving comments here or on my Facebook page.
But it was only until recently that he became a victim himself.
Where else but on the Miami Metrorail, which has a history of forbidding photographers from taking pictures.
But what sets his story apart is that he was attempting to take pictures for his family construction company in order to put in a bid for a government contract job with Miami-Dade County, which operates the Metrorail.
However, he was continually prohibited from taking these photos by security guards from Wackenhut, the private company that has been accused of ripping off $3.4 million dollars from the county by billing them for unworked hours.
The county has not renewed the contract with Wackenhut, which brings in $17 million a year, so they should be replaced by another security company in November when the contract expires. We can only hope.
I’ve had my own history with Wackenhut, not only having been harassed myself on the Metrorail system, but also having documented a series of protests against them that eventually led to the resignation of its CEO last year.
But it doesn’t appear that they have gained much common sense since then.
At all times, I had in my possession the plans and contract book from Miami-Dade County stating the job description, locations, and purpose…I also identified myself and my intentions at every stop.
Nevertheless, he was harassed at three of the five stations he visited. He was not harassed at the first station because he was being escorted by a Miami-Dade cop, who incredulously understood basic Constitutional law.
And he was not harassed at the fifth station because by then, he had just learned to walk in and take the photos without waiting for their permission (I could have told you to do that from the beginning, Ricky).
But he was prevented from taking photos for more than an hour at the second station and ended up calling Miami-Dade Transit where he was transferred to various people until he finally reached the head of security, a man named Eric Muntan, “Chief, Office of Safety and Security at Miami-Dade Transit.”
Muntan, who told another photographer earlier this year that he was forbidden from taking photos on the Metrorail, apparently still doesn’t have a clue about basic Constitutional rights because he told Ricky that he needed special permission to take his photos.
Mr. Muntan informed me that the procedure for companies bidding for work is different when there are photographs involved and that I needed a letter from the County to be able to photograph these facilities (A procedure I fundamentally disagree with). He informed me that, I should have been informed about this requirement at the pre-bid meeting.
Nevertheless, Muntan authorized the guards to allow him to take his photos.
But that order never reached the guards at the other stations, so the infringement on his Constitutional rights continued. He was forced to use his zoom lens from the “public area” at the third station.
And at the fourth station, he came across a Wackenhut guard who uttered the following statements:
“Miami-Dade Transit is not Public.”
“The Constitution does not apply on Miami-Dade Transit grounds.”
“The County Ordinances supersede the Constitution.”
While it is likely that the county will not renew the contract with Wackenhut, it is also likely that the problems will continue with whichever company replaces them because Muntan still doesn’t have a clue that these stations are owned by We, the People.
And this is considering that after the incident with the other photographer earlier this year, Miami blogger and photojournalist Random Pixels asked Miami-Dade Transit Director Harpal S. Kapoor to explain the law, if there is one, that forbids photography on Metrorail stations.
He received the following response:
MDT regrets any inconvenience or embarrassment this incident may have caused you. MDT is not aware of any federal, state, or local law which would prohibit personal photography at our facilities. The incident that you experienced appears to have been the result of the misinterpretation of local county law, specifically Miami-Dade County Code 30(B), which requires permits for commercial photography. MDT also requires permitting for photography when it involves equipment other than a hand-held camera (i.e. tripods, cables/wires, screens, etc.), which could pose a potential safety hazard to other patrons. Although not prohibited, security personnel and/or any MDT employee are encouraged to inquire as to what objects/images a patron is photographing. This is done not with the intent of harassing patrons or station occupants, but rather as a means of ensuring the security of our infrastructure and the general public and ensuring that commercial activity is not being performed.
Ricky’s need to photograph the Metrorail stations do not fall into the realm of commercial photography because he is not getting paid for the images but using the images as part of a business proposal (that is intended to improve these stations).
So the problem obviously stems from Muntan, who is creating his own policies regarding photography on Metrorail stations. On our Metrorail stations. On a salary funded by our tax dollars.
So perhaps it’s time for South Florida photographers and camera owners to conduct a photo protest like the one in New York City a few years ago when more than 100 photographers protested against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for cracking down on photographers on the city’s subway system.
Let me know if you’re interested.