The video is chilling, but it's also a sign of the times......
"Your First Amendment rights can be terminated," yells the Chicago police officer, caught on video right before arresting two journalists outside a Chicago hospital. One, an NBC News photographer, was led away in handcuffs essentially for taking pictures in a public place. He was released only minutes later, but the damage was done. Chicago cops suffered an embarrassing "caught on tape" moment, and civil rights experts who say cops are unfairly cracking down on citizens with cameras had their iconic moment.
Tales of reporters, protestors and citizen journalists being threatened or arrested for filming law enforcement officials during disputes are on the rise, critics say, with Occupy Wall Street protests a lightning rod for these incidents. The National Press Photographers Association claims it has documented 70 such arrests since September and, in May, called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to focus attention on the issue.
"The First Amendment has come under assault on the streets of America," the photography association said in a letter to Holder that was also signed by several other interest groups. "Police have arrested dozens of journalists and activists simply for attempting to document political protests in public spaces.”
Such allegations are ironic, given the sharp rise in police surveillance technology, which gives cops vast capabilities to film citizens, said Catherine Crump, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney.
"It is true that Americans are photographed more and more today as they walk around in public spaces," Crump said. "And it is ironic that law enforcement agencies are objecting when the same activity is being used to film their activities. But it's not surprising because there's often a double-standard in this space."
There's always been a tense relationship between cops and cameras, but that relationship is being pushed to the brink now that half of U.S. adults carry smartphones, nearly all of them capable of filming and sharing visuals instantly with the whole world via the Internet. Cops at Occupy Wall Street protests -- such as those at Zucotti Park in New York City -- routinely deal with dozens of amateur photographers shoving cameras in their faces, many of them aggressive. It's not hard to see how the cameras can escalate an already tense situation.
But First Amendment law is clear: Citizens in public spaces have a right to film things they see in plain sight. Courts have repeatedly upheld that right in high-profile cases.
Court rulings sometimes have no bearing during intense situations, however.
"It wouldn't really matter with some police officers if you had an original copy of Bill of Rights with you," said Mickey Osterreicher, a lawyer for the press photographers association. He said he deals with new cases nearly every day involving photographers who he believes have been wrongly arrested.
"The sign on my desk that reads, 'Bang head here,' is getting worn out," he said.
In April, Connecticut's State Senate passed a law that clearly defined citizens' right to film, but the state's lower house failed to act on the measure. The proposal was introduced by Sen. Majority Leader Martin M. Looney , D-New Haven, after a series of incidents involving cops in that state's capital city. In one, a police officer is caught on camera saying “You don’t take pictures of us,” before making an arrest. In another incident, 26-year-old Luis Luna was arrested for filming an arrest, and video files on his iPhone were deleted.....
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