We have huge goals here at PINAC for 2015 as we continue our transition from a one-man blog on photographer rights to a fully staffed news site that covers all aspects of police accountability and government oversight.
Not that we always weren’t a police accountability site because it’s been that from day one.
But hardly a week goes by where I am not asked by a reader, “what does this have to do with photography?,” on stories where police are caught on camera abusing a person that happens not to be a photographer.
Apparently, some readers feel misled by the name, Photography is Not a Crime, but this site was launched after I had my head repeatedly bashed into a sidewalk by a group of five Miami police officers because I would not stop taking their their photo as they stood on the side of the road threatening a man with arrest.
To me, photography rights are intertwined with police accountability because I view the world through the eyes of a journalist.
But I can see that unsettles some people who would rather not be reminded that we are going through a national epidemic of police brutality and abuse in this country. And if we don’t do something about it now, it will only get worse.
That is why one of our goals this year is to create a PINAC off-shoot site dedicated solely to photography related issues without the nasty news of corrupt cops getting caught on camera abusing their badges.
Think of it as PINAC Lite, an educational, informative and interactive site where readers can share their photos, stories and tips relating to photography without being burdened by negative police stories. This site will even have its own Facebook page.
But the main site will dwell deeper into the realm of police accountability. We will not only conduct more investigative journalism, we will train citizens to do the same.
PINAC News, as we’ll informally call it, will be educational, informative and interactive as well, but much more journalistic in nature. We currently have a team of more than 60 crew members, which includes writers, reporters, correspondents, photographers, videographers, researchers and public records specialists throughout the country.
Most are volunteers, doing their part to keep PINAC going. And those that are paid, mainly our writers, are underpaid. And me, I’m overworked and overwhelmed trying to keep this site updated daily as it runs on fumes.
We currently have an Indiegogo campaign where we are trying to launch $50,000 by January 17, which may seem like a lot in a short period of time, but we are thinking very big. We are in total startup mode and open to discussions from investors, grant writers and individuals wishing to make large tax-deductible donations. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
However, we will not allow donors or investors to affect our editorial decisions. Those decisions will always remain in-house.
The money will go towards hiring a team of editors and writers to keep up with the daily madness that makes up the news cycle as well as towards our growing team of researchers who spend hours making public records requests, including way too much time educating public officials on the law when they refuse to comply.
The money will also go towards lawyers when we need to take legal action against government agencies refusing to comply with public records laws. And it will go towards business development, including marketing and technical investment.
Part of the plan also includes launching a cyber newsroom page, which will be an open forum where readers can learn about public records law from our growing team of researchers and investigators, who are already working daily behind the scenes on various projects.
We plan to be aggressive in our reporting, but also professional. We might not always be objective, especially when the facts are staring us in the face, but we will always remain transparent. You will always know where we’re coming from.
And, I can assure you, we will always remain committed to the truth.
And no, we are not cop haters.
We are cop watchdogs.
So how do we plan to revolutionize journalism?
The plan is to create a journalistic system that will be part Reddit, part New York Times and part A-Team, as the PINAC research team calls itself because they are always ready to swing into action.
In fact, if you spot somebody on Facebook with an A-Team image as their profile photo, there’s a good chance they are part of our team, making the calls, digging for facts and setting public officials straight on the laws regarding public records.
We will also incorporate the crowdsourcing techniques that made Reddit the most successful aggregating site on the internet along with the journalistic standards that earned the New York Times more than 100 Pulitzer Prizes.
We will provide platforms for readers wishing to submit fact-driven content from their respective regions and we will build a team of professional journalists publishing daily stories, working closely with our research team in obtaining the necessary public records to provide that added dimension of truth that the other news sites are lacking.
The goal is to provide the training and confidence to citizens throughout the country in how to obtain public records from their local government agencies, teaching them to do the work that is no longer being done by their local newspaper.
Once these citizens become comfortable with these skills, they can become part of the research team, passing along tips and lessons to other citizens wishing to learn, who will, in turn, pass on those skills once they become experienced.
To make PINAC more accessible to the readers, we created the PINAC Hotline where citizens can call and leave up to a two-minute message for story tips, especially if it includes you getting arrested for recording. We will either use these recordings as podcasts or we will use them to base our stories on, if we don’t get back to you for more details. I suggest you save the number on your phone just in case you need to make the call; 305-900-3069.
We will also be launching a weekly radio show that will be syndicated nationally where we will feature weekly guests and allow readers to call in with their stories or questions. And we will be accepting opinion pieces from readers for our op-ed page, including from police officers wishing to provide a difference perspective.
In fact, as aggressive as we vow to be, we will always be open to working with police who respect the Constitution.
We will also be offering an ad-free version of the site for a small monthly donation, which will be less than what you pay for a coffee at Starbucks. And we may even offer a “classic” PINAC design for those of you thinking the current site is too busy, depending on the demand.
But that’s not to say the current design is set in stone. We are constantly looking for ways to improve the look and ease of use of the site and we are always looking for feedback on your user experience.
Our goals can be summed up in our motto, Be the Media; as well as our mission statement, Little Brother Watching Big Brother. To read the plan in more detail, check out our executive summary.
But what does this have to do with photography?
Every time I see a video of police abusing a citizen or every time I interview a person with similar tales or every time I am personally confronted by police for taking photos, I am brought back to that night on February 21, 2007 when I was attacked by police for taking photos where I have no doubt they would have killed me had I continued “resisting,” which was simply me asking, “why am I getting arrested?”
My experiences since then include being dragged through a malicious prosecution with a biased judge and lying police officers committing perjury on the witness stand, leading to a conviction of resisting arrest, even though I was acquitted of all the underlying charges of the arrest that I supposedly resisted.
I appealed that conviction pro se, representing myself, and had the conviction reversed. But during that time, I was arrested a second time for photographing cops and eventually a third time, all charges that I eventually beat in court.
Then there was that time I was almost killed by security guards for taking photos on the Miami Metrorail – my own version of “I can’t breathe” – where Miami and Miami-Dade police officers arrived on the scene and asked, “are you Carlos Miller?”, and when I said yes, proceeded to take my friend and I to jail on some made-up charge.
While I was sitting on the platform with my arms cuffed behind my back, bloodied, bruised with a possible broken ankle, I asked for medical assistance from the responding paramedics, only to be refused by a sneering EMT who said, “you don’t look hurt.” Fortunately, my ankle was only sprained, which only caused me to walk with a limp for the next few weeks.
I was able to talk my way out of that arrest, but I was still cited for making “excessive noise,” which I fought in court, only to watch a Miami-Dade cop perjure himself under oath to say that he witnessed me yelling and screaming on the Metrorail platform, when he initially claimed in his citation that he had merely been informed by security guards that I had been yelling and screaming.
But citations require the officer to witness the offense, so rather than just admit he never witnessed me yelling and screaming and go on with his day, he completely made up a story under oath in order to justify his citation.
The judge sided with me, but I was left with the realization that police officers would lie about anything without giving it a second thought. After all, this was just a measly citation that would have resulted in a fine. Why would an officer perjure themselves for something so insignificant?
But this was 2013, six years since launching the blog, and two months after I had won a case against his department whose public information officer arrested me and who also perjured herself on the witness stand.
So maybe it was personal for him. I don’t know. But it is personal for me. They made it personal from the moment they bashed my head into the pavement.
Although I’ve recounted these stories many times on this site, I am repeating them because evidently many readers have just discovered the site and are under the impression that up until recently, I’ve ignored police abuse stories to focus solely on the rights of photographers, only to take a sudden, unexpected venture into police accountability.
Much of this criticism began after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson where many readers expected me to simply take the word of cops that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was in fear for his life when he shot the 18-year-old in the street.
And because I refused to do that, I was accused of “race baiting” and “cop hating” and repeatedly told, I was “losing credibility,” even though the prosecutor later admitted that he allowed witnesses to testify in front of the grand jury, knowing they were lying under oath.
So it wasn’t me that lost credibility.
I am aware there is a percentage of white readers who do not like when I write about black men getting killed because they are viewed as “thugs.” I am informed of that every time I post one of these stories. It becomes very predictable after a while.
Many white readers do not appreciate the “black lives matter” mantra that has become a slogan during the current anti-police brutality protests taking place throughout the country because they feel it’s exclusionary.
And many black people believe white people don’t experience police abuse. That they are somehow immune from the beatings and the killings and the unlawful arrests.
But nobody is immune. Not even cops when they’re off-duty as we have seen.
Our goal is to open people’s eyes to show that we’re all in this together. And that includes the cops who would like to restore credibility to their profession.
Police abuse is something I cannot ignore. I will not ignore. And we, as a society, should not ignore.
The lies, the beatings, the killings, the intimidation, the outright thuggery from many officers that goes unchecked by fellow officers and department heads needs to stop.
We have a serious crisis on our hands and something needs to be done about it before we experience an all-out cop coup in this country, which is already happening in New York City.
My Journalistic Background
Before I launched PINAC, I spent almost ten years writing for daily newspapers covering the police beat while taking my own photos for my stories, which was rare for a reporter back then when most reporters weren’t photographers and most photographers weren’t writers.
But I’ve always done both, showing up to crime scenes after hearing breaking news on the scanner with a notepad in my back pocket and a camera around my neck, getting as close to the scene as possible without getting too close.
I knew how to play the game and I played it well. I knew how to stand up to cops when I was in the right and back down when I was in the wrong. I knew my rights and I knew the law. And it kept me out of jail because I was always sure not to break the law.
But that didn’t help me the night of February 21, 2007 when I was brutally attacked for taking photos.
It got very rough. It got very ugly. I was left me scraped, bruised and traumatized.
There’s hardly a more helpless feeling than when you are being attacked by cops because you know nobody is going to come to your rescue.
But if you’re lucky, somebody might record the beating. And if that person is lucky, they won’t get attacked for recording the beating. And if we’re lucky, we will get to see the video and demand the cop be held accountable for his abusive actions.
That’s what this has to do with photography, in case you’re still wondering.