Disclaimer and Fair Disclosure: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent Occupy Tacoma or Occupy Wall Street. I am not an authorized spokesperson for Occupy Tacoma. ~AOS
Disclaimer 2: These remarks are not meant to criticize the Tacoma Police Department. To my knowledge, so far, Tacoma Police Department has respected the rights of Occupy Tacoma and has limited activities to legitimate public safety and law enforcement.
You can also read this post on my web site
If, as Justice Brandeis famously said in 1914
“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
Then millions of tiny video recorders cast the disinfecting glare of publicity upon those cops too fond of beating up peaceful protestors. Every time police repress legal peaceful dissent, dozens, even hundreds of YouTube videos of the events tend to go viral on the Internet. And boy, how those misbehaving cops hate cameras!
Rogue cops always have hated DIY photographers, even before the advent of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In fact, misbehaving police and sympathetic old-boy crony networks have been trying to swat those pesky videographer gadflies with their tiny cameras-stingers for quite some time now.
Did you know that videographers who film police activity often find themselves charged with felony crimes, making said movie-makers eligible for prison terms of many years? See below for more details.
The charge is usually “eavesdropping” under the theory that recording exchanges between 2 or more individuals without their express consent violates wiretap laws. Such wiretap laws are supposed to protect the individual’s right of privacy, but how can an activity or conversation held in public be private? That’s the question courts consider when they throw out convictions based on these laws. Courts have ruled that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for activities occurring in public.
But since the beginning of the Occupy movement, oddly enough, one hears less of prosecuting photographers under “eavesdropping” laws. Perhaps that’s because it’s easier to hush up a felony charge against a solitary videographer than dozens of charges against a bevy of photographers participating in a mass demonstration.
Here are a few examples of what has happened in the recent past, before OWS (Occupy Wall Street) and related phenomena:
In 2007, Seattle resident Bogdan Mohora videotaped an arrest, and police seized his camera and arrested him. You can read the Seattle PI account by clicking here. They released him several hours later and never charged him. But he spent time in the hoosegow and police seized his camera. Seattle Police never apologized nor did they even file a legally required police report. Nevertheless, Mr. Mohora was lucky, compared to a certain Florida resident named Narces Benoit. At least Mr. Mohora later received $8000 damages the court ordered the PD to pay as the result of an ACLU suit.
On Memorial Day of 2011, Narces Benoit filmed police surrounding a car and firing over 100 rounds into it, killing the occupant. You can see his chilling video by clicking here. Alternet reports that police seized and smashed several witnesses’ cell phones, including Mr. Benoit’s. According to reports, police stomped on Mr. Benoit’s camera, smashing it, and arrested him, but not before Mr. Benoit surreptitiously rescued the SIM card and slipped it into his mouth. That’s why you now can view this video. The police responded by charging Mr. Benoit with eavesdropping—charges that carry a 15-year sentence in that jurisdiction. Click here to read Alternet’s story.
Then there’s the story of 41-year-old Michael Allison, who faced 75 years in prison, which at his age is a virtual life sentence. His crime? He’s in trouble for filming several of his encounters with police and one with a judge.
Another example: Police arrested Emily Good, a Rochester NY resident, for filming a police encounter between 3 white police officers and a black civilian that occurred across the street from her. She filmed this encounter from her front porch, on the opposite side of the street.
There are many similar horror stories and amateur videos of police misconduct floating around the web. The charges are usually criminal eavesdropping, occasionally inciting to riot, or interfering with police.
However, courts more and more are overturning these laws on the legal theory that video recording public activity in public places does not constitute a breach of anyone’s privacy. Notwithstanding that, plenty of jurisdictions continue to charge the lone photographer and videographer with violating privacy and eavesdropping statutes for filming police activity that occurs in public.
But we haven’t seen a lot of that with the Occupy protests so far. How come? What’s the explanation?
Check out the picture right above. Just look at how many cameras and video-recorders there are in this demonstration, will you? That’s the problem for the misbehaving cop.
Mr. Policeman, Little Brother is watching your every move, from every angle, from every vantage point
There are so many cameras at these protests that police behavior will be recorded, and within an hour, these pictures flash around the world. The cops can’t seize all the cameras. They can’t avoid being photographed. The world is different from the days of Rodney King when few people had video-cameras or even thought of filming police misconduct. Nowadays, some of these cameras are networked to satellites in the sky and instantly upload graphic files as soon as the shutter is snapped! Technology makes it virtually impossible to censor videos and photographs of cops misbehaving.
The authorities don’t want the bad press associated with prosecuting hundreds of protestors for photographing the very scandalous police misconduct these videos expose. That’s just bad theater. Instead, too often police just single out photographers for arrest, beating them, even shooting projectiles at them, hoping to discourage their activity or frighten them off. That’s pure intimidation and legally sanctioned bullying!
To the rogue cops, I have this message: There are just too many cameras. You can’t smash them all.
The more you try, the more the Occupy movement will grow. The Occupy movement has no center, no hierarchy, no command and control. It’s too bloody decentralized for you to disrupt. The social networking sites and the internet appear to be incompatible with official old-school repression. The old paradigms have passed into history. This is a new world, the world of tomorrow.
So, to Riot Control Police who are to prone to riot themselves:
Beware the photographers and videographers.
Little Brother Is Watching You!
Like Anonymous, they are everywhere
They are legion.
They do not forget.
They do not forgive.
To the brave photographers and videographers: Keep your wits about you and give no legal excuse to the cops to victimize you. Remember, the disinfectant of sunlight is our best antibiotic against the disease of police brutality, the megabucks public relations campaigns arraigned against us. and the official attempts to disrupt us with police infiltrators.
We are shaking the foundations of the empire with our mighty weapon, nonviolent mass action.
We are pitting a picture, an idea, a pen, and a thirst for justice against the policeman’s truncheon, his water cannon, his rubber bullets, his flash-bangs, his tear gas. That’s why we have the advantage in this battle, as long as we can remain unified and in solidarity with each other.
We are the 99% and the 99% are us.
The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living — Socrates