Given the horrible events just outside of St. Louis this week, I think we should make our Labor Day a special sort of holiday. At the same time, we can learn, or perhaps, relearn just what rights we citizens of this country have.
Here is a recent internal police memo to the NYPD. It really says it all in a nutshell:
Members of the public are legally allowed to record police interactions. Intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or ordering the person to cease constitutes censorship and also violates the First Amendment.Several appellate courts, and even our Supreme Court have held that you may photograph, film, and describe the actions taken by police and that the police have no right to stop you. They cannot confiscate your camera, your digital memory, your film. In fact, without a warrant, (yes, Alice, warrants still mean something. Despite Homeland Security, the TSA, the NSA, the CIA, or the FBI)
Here are some simple guidelines that everyone should know. If you know your rights, you are far more likely to keep them.
1. When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view.
According to the ACLU, this means you can photograph people, places, things, including federal buildings, police, airports, even oil refineries without fear of arrest or police harassment.
That does not mean it won't happen, but the law is on your side.
2. When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. This is important. If it is private property, respect the property owner. They may give you permission if you ask nicely, but do not insist. Just because you are taking pictures does not give you carte blanche for trespassing.
3. Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your digital photographs or video without a warrant. Our Supreme Court, even with Scalito and Roberts, ruled in the case Riley v. California (October, 2013) that cops cannot view what or who you shot (with your phone, iPad, or camera) without your permission or without a warrant.
4. Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances. It is a felony if they do, folks. Even cops hate being charged with felonies.
5. Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Being a prick is not the goal. Interfering with cops' activities is both stupid and wrong. If there is a legitimate reason for them asking you to stop, stop. Move out of the way. Further. No, even further. Then start filming again.
(Source The ACLU.)
This Labor Day, if you see an officer of the law, take out your phone or camera and shoot them. This does a couple of things.
a. it makes police more used to being filmed at most times.
b. it allows you to practice your civil liberties and rights, and is good practice for when you really need to film or photograph.
c. it makes the point to police that they are here to serve, not beat up citizens with cameras.
Here are some things that you may want to say before shooting:
Version A: "Could you smile, please? I want to show that there are good cops doing a good job! Thanks!"
Version B: "Hey officer, could you smile for me please? Thank you."
Version C: "Yo, asshole cop. I just want proof that not all of you in uniform are mindless, violent, brainless thugs who get a thrill out beating up reporters and shooting unarmed innocents dead in the street. Smile please!"
Be aware of your rights.
Be aware of what is happening around you.
Be ready to shoot photos and video.
Be prepared for cops who are not up on the law. You may want to take a copy of the constitution with you. I carry a copy everywhere I go. The ACLU will be glad to send you one free of cost. Why don't you donate something while you are there.
For those who wish to read Riley, go here.