Think You Have First Amendment Rights?

June 23, 2011

Think You Have First Amendment Rights?
Well, isn’t that cute.

More and more, police are acting like there’s no such thing as The First Amendment. This woman was arrested for standing on her lawn and videotaping the police. She was exercising her First Amendment right to videotape the police — an essential right, in order to see that there is no police misconduct — and they arrested her.

The officer who arrested her talked about how he didn’t feel “safe” with her behind him. I can understand that. Think about what would’ve happened if the officers beating Rodney King had been able to stop the guy from videotaping them. From my book, I See Rude People — a bit on videotaping police misconduct (and other sorts of misconduct):

It’s a recent phenomenon, the power of the Average Joe to expose wrongdoing and affect change with relatively inexpensive and widely available consumer electronics — like a video camera that anyone with a few hundred dollars can pick up at the corner electronics store.

Some might say the earliest example of this is Abraham Zapruder’s 8 millimeter home movie of the Kennedy assassination, but Zapruder caught the shooting by accident while filming the parade. The first major intentional example of Average Joe electronic journalism was in 1991, although it wasn’t Web-based since only a smattering of uber-geeks were puttering around on what would become the World Wide Web.

Los Angeles resident George Holliday, then a manager at a big plumbing and rooting company, was awakened in the middle of the night by sirens. He ran to his apartment window and looked out on four white LAPD officers engaged in the beating of an arrest-resisting black man, Rodney King (who’d just led the officers on a car chase, and who subsequently charged at one of the officers). Holliday turned on his Sony Handycam and rolled the videotape — the videotape that was aired, seen, written and talked about around the world.

The broadcasting of the tape led to the trial and eventual acquittal of the officers — in Simi Valley, a conservative, white-on-white bedroom community of Los Angeles. Blacks were enraged by the verdict, suspecting from the start that Simi Valley was no place for a fair trial, and the racially driven LA riots flared — six days of looting, arson, robbery and murder.

The four officers were later retried on Federal civil rights violations, and two were convicted. Officer Laurence Powell, who brutally clubbed King with his baton numerous times — including in the face, against LAPD policy, and typed on his patrol car computer, “I havent [sic] beaten anyone this bad in a long time” — was found guilty. Sergeant Stacey Koon was the supervising officer on the scene. Koon, a cop with over 90 commendations who’d once given mouth-to-mouth rescuscitation to a black transvestite with open mouth sores, and who never beat King and unsuccessfully tried to subdue him by twice tasing him, was also found guilty. All four officers are now off the force.

The woman in this current case of videotaping the police, 28-year-old Emily Good, now faces a misdemeanor charge of obstructing governmental administration. Or, as I would edit that, protecting our rights and guarding against police misconduct.

Thank you, Emily Good.

Some newsroomlawblog thoughts on videotaping the police.

And here, from a cop bulletin board, policeworld:

James and Barbara Smith filed suit against the City of Cumming, Georgia (the “City”), and its police chief, Earl Singletary, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the City police had harassed the Smiths, including a claim that Mr. Smith had been prevented from videotaping police actions in violation of Smith’s First Amendment rights.

…As to the First Amendment claim under Section 1983, we agree with the Smiths that they had a First Amendment right, subject to reasonable time, manner and place restrictions, to photograph or videotape police conduct. The First Amendment protects the right to gather information about what public officials do on public property, and specifically, a right to record matters of public interest.

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  • REToth

    Anybody want to hazard a guess at which profession she might choose if she doesn’t make it as a marriage/family therapist?

  • Anonymous

    Emily’s arrest had nothing to do with her videotaping, the police did not say a single word about the camera, nor they tried to stop or confiscate the recording. The officer ordered her to go into her house because he did not feel safe with her behind his back, and also because he thought, for whatever reason, that she new the men in the car being investigated. Emily did not comply with his order and he arrested her for not following lawful order, after several warnings. However, the charge was changed later to obstruction. I’m not defending the police officer, and I think the obstruction charge doesn’t have much chances to stand, but had she indeed been charged with not following orders, this would be much more serious issue for her defense. Does every individual always has to follow any order of the police officer? so far, the interpretation by the courts was “yes”. Though, even with this charge of obstruction I can see how the prosecution can argue that the officer made clear to her that her presence was making him feel intimidated – which is covered by the obstruction charge. It doesn’t matter how justified his feeling was (to most people it’s simply ridiculous, taking in account his training, gun, support etc.), but what does matter is that he made it known to her that he is intimidated, and she refused to stop the behavior he took as intimidation.

  • Stockbuster

    If the officer wants to stop you from filming him he should shoot you where you stand. He’s a cop and therefore does not have to allow you your rights if he wants to take them from you. People die every day from cops who decide it’s time to kill you and nobody does a thing about it.

Right. Man up. Buy the book now on Amazon.com. Or listen to Ronnie tell a story at escaping-from-reality.com.