Police are pushing hard to make it a crime to videotape them.. They are making the case that even though they are public servants filming them without permission should be off limits.. This is not good at all… We been talking about this for weeks, how police departments all over the country, have been making moves to get laws passed making it a felony to videotape them. They have been citing wiretapping laws and parts of the Patriot Act.
Up to now, having video cameras has been the saving grace for many for many police brutality cases. Imagine if the murder of an unarmed Oscar Grant at an oakland subway station wasn’t videotaped? If folks recall, the day after he was shot, police released his criminal record to local newspapers and spun a narrative which suggested that he deserved to be shot because he had done wrong in the past. This information had huge impact as defenders of Johannes Mehserle, the cop who killed Grant, have touted his criminal background as a reason to side with the convicted officer and see his action as ‘accidental’.
The push to shut down videotaping is coupled with most police departments having what is known as the Police Man’s Bill of Rights or some other Police protection law that allow officers to keep reports of violent incidents hidden, restrict them from having to polygraph tests, have their lockers searched and even have records of complaints excluded during any sort of criminal proceedings. We saw this play out during the Grant case. The world got to know about Grant past but not the unsavory things of Mehserle who was no angel. Add all that up to this new tactic to enforce wire tapping laws and we now see the a full court press to keep citizens at a severe disadvantage.
Where might one wish to videotape the police? Let’s say we have concerns that racial profiling laws are being violated in Arizona under the controversial SB 1070. There’s a sizeable population of people who feel concerned that police will go overboard or that indviduals like Sheriff Joe Arpiao will defy court restrictions and direct officers to push the envelop and be aggressive in stopping people. Videoapes would be the best way for all concerned to keep everyone honest, but if we have wiretapping laws being cited and possible jail time being the result, this is more then chilling.
You wanna see where this has troubling effects? Look at the news Blackout that took place last year during the student protests in Iran. Many of us were upset and thought it barbaric that Iran had restricted journalists and were beating and jailing protestors who videotaped police who were brutalizing protestors. How in the world did we here in the US get to a place where we are behaving like the country’s we heavily criticized? What will the public do when law enforcement starts putting into place new mass arrest techniques like Operation Falcon which has been damn near ignored by Main Stream media. How will we keep officers involved with that operation accountable?
I’ll leave you with one more food for thought…In recent days we learned that Google is working with the CIA to monitor websites. Does Google which owns Youtube start working with local law enforcement to restrict police videotapes from being loaded up. Police departments have been upset with Youtube stating that it puts officers in bad light and even in danger. We disagree. Videotaping keeps folks accountable and brings attention to rogue cops.
What’s even more troubling is Google now working with Verizon to cut a deal to end Net Neutrality… Imagine if we have situation where a website monitoring or video of police abuse is suddenly restricted or made to load frustratingly slow on the internet. Folks the day is coming where the flow of information is being shut down and blacked out..
Below is the video that has Anthony Graber in hot water.
Should Videotaping the Police Really Be a Crime?
By ADAM COHEN
Anthony Graber, a Maryland Air National Guard staff sergeant, faces up to 16 years in prison. His crime? He videotaped his March encounter with a state trooper who pulled him over for speeding on a motorcycle. Then Graber put the video — which could put the officer in a bad light — up on YouTube.
It doesn’t sound like much. But Graber is not the only person being slapped down by the long arm of the law for the simple act of videotaping the police in a public place. Prosecutors across the U.S. claim the videotaping violates wiretap laws — a stretch, to put it mildly.
These days, it’s not hard to see why police are wary of being filmed. In 1991, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) beating of Rodney King was captured on video by a private citizen. It was shown repeatedly on television and caused a national uproar. As a result, four LAPD officers were put on trial, and when they were not convicted, riots broke out, leaving more than 50 people dead and thousands injured (two officers were later convicted on federal civil rights charges).
More recently, a New York Police Department officer was thrown off the force — and convicted of filing a false report — because of a video of his actions at a bicycle rally in Times Square. The officer can plainly be seen going up to a man on a bike and shoving him to the ground. The officer claimed the cyclist was trying to collide with him, and in the past, it might have been hard to disprove the police account. But this time there was an amateur video of the encounter — which quickly became an Internet sensation, viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube alone.
In the Graber case, the trooper also apparently had reason to want to keep his actions off the Internet. He cut Graber off in an unmarked vehicle, approached Graber in plain clothes and yelled while brandishing a gun before identifying himself as a trooper.
Back when King was beaten, it was unusual for bystanders to have video cameras. But today, everyone is a moviemaker. Lots of people carry video cameras in their pockets, on iPhones, BlackBerrys and even their MP3 players. They also have an easy distribution system: the Internet. A video can get millions of viewers worldwide if it goes viral, bouncing from blog to blog, e-mail to e-mail, and Facebook friend to Facebook friend.
No wonder, then, that civil rights groups have embraced amateur videos. Last year, the NAACP announced an initiative in which it encouraged ordinary citizens to tape police misconduct with their cell phones and send the videos to the group’s website, www.naacp.org.
Law enforcement is fighting back. In the case of Graber — a young husband and father who had never been arrested — the police searched his residence and seized computers. Graber spent 26 hours in jail even before facing the wiretapping charges that could conceivably put him away for 16 years. (It is hard to believe he will actually get anything like that, however. One point on his side: the Maryland attorney general’s office recently gave its opinion that a court would likely find that the wiretap law does not apply to traffic stops.)
Last year, Sharron Tasha Ford was arrested in Florida for videotaping an encounter between the police and her son on a public sidewalk. She was never prosecuted, but in June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida sued the city of Boynton Beach on her behalf, claiming false arrest and violation of her First Amendment rights.
The legal argument prosecutors rely on in police video cases is thin. They say the audio aspect of the videos violates wiretap laws because, in some states, both parties to a conversation must consent to having a private conversation recorded. The hole in their argument is the word “private.” A police officer arresting or questioning someone on a highway or street is not having a private conversation. He is engaging in a public act.
Even if these cases do not hold up in court, the police can do a lot of damage just by threatening to arrest and prosecute people. “We see a fair amount of intimidation — police saying, ‘You can’t do that. It’s illegal,'” says Christopher Calabrese, a lawyer with the ACLU’s Washington office. It discourages people from filming, he says, even when they have the right to film.
Ford was not deterred. According to her account, even when the police threatened her with arrest, she refused to turn off her video camera, telling her son not to worry because “it’s all on video” and “let them be who they continue to be.”
The police then grabbed her, she said, took her camera and drove her off to the police station for booking.
Most people are not so game for a fight with the police. They just stop filming. These are the cases no one finds out about, in which there is no arrest or prosecution, but the public’s freedoms have nevertheless been eroded.
Ford was right to insist on her right to videotape police actions that occur in public, and others should too. If the police are doing their jobs properly, they should have nothing to worry about.
Cohen, a lawyer, is a former TIME writer and a former member of the New York Times editorial board