Happy New Year! 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. The times I came close to getting arrested in 2010, I believe it was the video camera that saved me.
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.
So let’s take a look at the major stories of the year. And in case you want to go further back, here is the 2009 PINAC Year in Review.
I was fresh from winning my appeal in my first arrest for taking photos of cops, but I had to deal with a second arrest for taking photos of cops, which took a positive turn when the original judge whom I had just beaten in my appeal was forced to recuse himself for my second trial.
And Joel Chandler provided us with some important lessons on how to deal with the police after they harass you for taking photos in public.
In London, thousands of photographers took to the streets in protest against laws that turned photographers into suspected terrorists.
In Georgia, some libertarians proved to be not so liberty-minded when Ron Paul campaign workers ordered a videographer to stop filming an altercation between Ron Paul staff and an anti-Semitic man who was trying to crash one of their functions.
And a PINAC story on the Chicago Transit Authority urging commuters to report photographers sparked national discussion about photographers and rail fans, resulting in me getting interviewed by a Chicago radio station.
The second month of the year was dominated mostly by me annoyingly urging readers to vote in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Best of Blogs competition – a contest that involved more than 200 local blogs – which I ended up winning after coming from behind in the polls. (thanks, guys!).
Meanwhile in Texas, a man schooled cops on the law when he refused to provide an identification.
Also in Texas, a cop was arrested for “improper photography” when he was accused of photographing women inside a department store dressing room.
And in Virginia, used a video camera and the internet to challenge speed trap tickets.
In New York, a man who worked for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority won a $30,000 settlement after he was arrested for photographing trains.
And in Idaho, a man who sodomized by a cop with a Taser won a six-figure settlement.
In California, PINAC reader Rob Hurlbut received an apology after San Diego Trolley security guards harassed him for shooting video in public.
And in New Mexico, a small-town cop fired for beating a handcuffed teen on video was hired by a neighboring small town.
Charges of resisting arrest without violence were dismissed against me when Miami Beach Police Officer David Socarras failed to show up to trial for the second time in a row, even though Miami Beach makes it mandatory for their officers to show up to trial.
Meanwhile, I visited New York and stayed with a buddy in New Jersey, where a state transit guard told me I was not allowed to take pictures in the parking lot of a train station because it was “private property.”
San Francisco blogger and photographer Thomas Hawk came to Miami and got harassed for taking photos. But we hung out and had a blast anyway.
PINAC received a cease and desist letter from some journalist in Vermont who tried to pass himself off as a lawyer if I didn’t remove a photo by a certain time. As a journalist who has also has passed himself as a lawyer during my victorious appeal, I took him up on his challenge by allowing his deadline to pass (by 24 hours) before removing the photo.
In a story that would eventually dominate national headlines, a Maryland man was arrested after he uploaded a video of a traffic stop in which a state police officer pulled a gun on him. Anthony Graber was speeding on his motorcycle with a camera on top of his helmet when police confronted him.
I ended up interviewing him after he spent 26 hours in jail, which ended up becoming an exclusive when the national media got wind of this story and tried to interview him, only to be told he was not speaking under the advice of his attorney.
Also in Maryland, a citizen video proved that police lied when they claimed a student had assaulted them. Turns out, they attacked him while he was dancing in the street, celebrating a basketball victory. The feds were called in to investigate the Prince George’s County police department.
Video evidence against the cops ended up disappearing in what the media described as a “bizarre coincidence.”
Meanwhile, a New York City police officer caught on video body checking a bicyclist during a Critical Mass ride through Times Square in 2009 was found guilty of falsifying reports. Of course Patrick Pogan ended up serving no prison time for his crime.
Also, an Ohio State University student photojournalist was arrested after photographing a group of Keystone Cops trying to corral a loose cow.
For the second time in a month, a police officer was convicted from evidence obtained from video. This time it was Ottawa Hills (Ohio) Police Officer Thomas White, who shot a motorcyclist in the back after a traffic stop, permanently paralyzing the 24-year-old man, who was complying with his orders.
Unlike Patrick Pogan, White was sentenced 10 years to prison. But he quickly posted an appellate bond and he remains free to this day.
He ended up accepting a plea deal in September.
In Tennessee, lawmakers who should know better tried to bar a reporter from entering the legislative chambers because he dared to take a photo when one of them collapsed from a diabetic episode.
Rep. Joe Towns, who had introduced the resolution to bar AP reporter Erik Schelzig quietly withdrew his resolution when other journalists called him an idiot.
I returned to South Beach for the Memorial Day Hip Hop Weekend – where I had been arrested a year earlier – only to come across the same cop again. Miami Beach Police Officer David Socarras tried his best to intimidate me, but this time I was armed with a video camera.
A startling occurrence took place in North Carolina after a deputy threatened to arrest a man for videotaping in public and the sheriff publicly denounced the deputy. The sheriff not only reminded citizens that they have the right to videotape in public, but encouraged citizens to do so, as long as they don’t physically interfere with police.
I said it back then and I’ll say it again. New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon deserves to be named 2010 Sheriff of the Year.
Unfortunately, North Carolina lawmakers do not have the same sense as McMahon. Democrat Congressman Bob Etheridge was caught on video assaulting a young videographer on a public street. The videographer claimed to be a student. Democrats accused him of being a republican plant.
Regardless, Etheridge had no right to assault him for shooting video in public. Etheridge ended up apologizing and that was that, unfortunately.
And in Maryland, police continued their assault against photographers when they arrested a woman who was videotaping them in public on wiretapping charges. But thankfully, the prosecutor in this case decided there was no case.
A fellow photojournalist and I decided to test whether security guards on the Miami-Dade Metrorail were aware that we were legally allowed to take photos on the train. It turned out, they had no clue. And neither did police who were called to the scene.
In fact, we were “permanently banned” from the Metrorail for having taken photos, thus beginning a long-campaign between myself and the Metrorail that resulted in a security guard assaulting me in front of a television news crew.
I organized two protests and a Metrorail security commander said they had sent out memos to all security guards, informing them that we did have the right to take photos, but the problems persisted in October when I stopped by with Adam Mueller.
And speaking of Mueller, he and fellow Cop Block blogger Pete Eyre were arrested on wiretapping charges in Massachusetts for videotaping police officers in public. That case is still pending, so stay tuned for news on that.
And Jerome Vorus of Washington DC was detained for the second time in four months for taking photos.
And a New York Congressman introduced a resolution to protect citizens who videotape cops. The move was mostly ceremonial, but it was refreshing to see at least one politician didn’t think it was a crime to record police.
Police in Ohio arrested a woman who was videotaping them because they feared she might have been holding a “cell-phone gun.”
An Oakland Tribune photojournalist won a $99,000 settlement stemming from a scary altercation with a police chief, who was forced to resign.
Washington DC teenage activist Jerome Vorus continued testing the system and was harassed by FBI officials for photographing federal buildings.
A man who photographed Transportation Security Administration officials at Houston International Airport was detained for an hour and had his camera gear confiscated overnight.
Joey Boots, a former Howard Stern co-star, videotaped a teenage girl doing gymnastic poses in Times Square when he was accused of being a pervert. Boots, who is gay, informed them that he had every right to videotape the girl.
The video went viral and we ended up with the usual debate between those who base their argument on the law and those who base their argument on morals.
And in North Carolina, a judge named Beth Dixon convicted a woman who was arrested for videotaping police officers. Dixon, who was clearly out of line in her decision, was reelected in November, despite a PINAC campaign to defeat her.
Police in Indiana confiscated a photographer’s camera because they feared he might be a terrorist. Had the photographer knew his rights, they would never had confiscated his camera.
It was revealed that the Transportation Security Administration was publishing posters where it depicted photographers as terrorists. The PINAC story went viral and the Washington Post reported on it.
A Notre Dame student was arrested on felony charges for videotaping police officers at a party they were breaking up. He ended up getting tased.
Another college student was tackled and handcuffed in Connecticut for videotaping cops arresting his friend. He was charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with an investigation. The video shows he was merely observing.
The feds agreed to a settlement that confirmed that the photographing of federal buildings is not illegal.
Philadelphia transit cops told a photographer they would have to add him to the terrorism database because he was taking photos inside a train station.
A woman in New York City was arrested for videotaping a public school meeting.
Washington DC teenage activist Jerome Vorus was once again detained for taking pictures in public.
A Purdue student journalist took a defiant stand against a cop who was ordering him to stop videotaping.
A Missouri man wearing a hidden video camera in a pair of sunglasses ended up videotaping his own unlawful arrest.
Activist Julian Heicklen came down to Miami and we tested authority’s knowledge of the law when we decided to photograph and videotape federal courthouses.
I also tested the TSA policy on photography at Miami International Airport a few weeks before.
A New York senator who attacked a photographer was convicted and is now awaiting sentencing.
A raid on an Atlanta gay bar led to policy changes on photography within the city’s police department.
JetBlue security guards escorted a New York Daily News photographer out of its terminal for taking photos.