Ferguson, MO Brings Into Question Filming Police Activity

Editorial / Tech

Saturday’s shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, MO has also brought into question the use of smartphones and cameras in filming police activities. There have been well documented and widespread reports of not only regular citizens being told to shut off their devices but also news reporters, who’s job it is to actually document these things.

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly were arrested Wednesday and both were abruptly asked to stop filming. There was even an incident where a television crew from Al Jazeera America was gassed and their camera equipment taken apart by police after the reporters ran for safety. Are we living in a police state here? What are our rights under the law when it comes to filming what our public servants are doing?

Here’s an excerpt from a CNET report:

“As long as you stay behind the police’s yellow lines, you have the right to film or photograph them,” Clay Calvert, a University of Florida professor of mass communication, told me Thursday.

When it comes to the two reporters who were arrested, Calvert said he could see no evidence that the journalists were somehow impeding the police in their line of work.

First Amendment rights are, however, sometimes treated in a more fluid manner by police acting under extreme stress or merely attempting to unreasonably assert their authority. Some police officers, Calvert said, prefer that the First Amendment issue is decided in a court, rather than debating it on a street.

In the case, for example, of a traffic stop, when police have no idea with whom they might be dealing, gray areas arise — at least in a police officer’s point of view. The individual may be armed. There may be other safety concerns.

There are a lot of variables to take into consideration by both law enforcement and you as a citizen or reporter when it comes to filming or documenting these types of events. As Calvert says above, impeding the work of law enforcement is not the right way to document and therefore you could be subject to arrest or whatever other legal action they take. But most of these cases have been people NOT breaking any laws nor getting in the way of police. So the question remains now, when does the law come to the defense of the citizen when civil servants do not allow them their right to film them? What do you guys think? Let us know in the comments below or in Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

  Source: CNET

Featured image courtesy policestateusa.com.

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