Friday, May 18, 2012


Earlier we reported on two separate cases where video evidence of police shot by random citizens wound up being crucial in the exoneration of photographers arrested while doing their job. Well, appropriately enough, the US Department of Justice just recently came out in defense of the right to record police while they are on duty. In an 11-page letter addressed to the Baltimore Police Department, the DOJ stated in no uncertain terms that “the press does not have a monopoly on either the First Amendment or the ability to enlighten,” and that the seizure of recording equipment and videos without a warrant constitutes a Fourteenth Amendment violation. The letter comes after the DOJ was unhappy with how the police department handled the case of one Mr. Christopher Sharp, who had his phone taken from him and all video evidence destroyed after he recorded the police arresting and beating his acquaintance. The courts attempted to dismiss Sharp’s case by citing an oft-used loophole in the law which allows officers to interfere with recordings if the person recording video is actively violating a law. Although the letter is addressed specifically to the Baltimore Police Department, the DOJ made it clear that the letter “reflects the United States’ position on the basic elements of a constitutionally adequate policy on individuals’ right to record police activity.” And many are hopeful that this sort of positive interference by the federal government will make citizens’ rights more clear and ensure that loopholes, like the one the BPD was using, will not be tolerated.

  OLDER STORY: Two photographers from opposite ends of the country found themselves in similar situations over the past few weeks. Although the charges leveled against each were different, both photogs were ultimately exonerated after video evidence was presented on their behalf. Amateur photographer Joshua Garland from Seattle and photojournalist Alexander Arbuckle from New York were charged with third-degree assault and disorderly conduct, respectively. After YouTube and Ustream videos by others in the area were presented as evidence, however, charges against Mr. Garland were dropped and Mr. Arbuckle was acquitted. The charges themselves aren’t disconcerting, but what is disconcerting is the fact that, at least in the Arbuckle case, video evidence seems to prove that the police weren’t only mistaken, but lied under oath in an attempt to make their charges against the photographer stick. And although it’s unclear what, if any, consequences the arresting officers in either case will face, many are hoping that the officers are charged with perjury. Until something changes though, especially when you’re dealing with protest photography, stay in sight of a video camera or two — you never know when that footage might come in handy.

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