Court should affirm citizens’ right to film police

Just a week ago, the Pulitzer Prize jury awarded a Special Mention to Darnella Frazier, who, at 17, thought about using her cell phone to film the scene she stumbled upon in Minneapolis – a policeman holding a black man with a knee to his neck.

The man, of course, was George Floyd, and his gasps of “I can’t breathe” at the indifferent cop, then Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, sparked a seismic wave of protest, the tremors of which still shake our society. and our policy.

We wouldn’t feel outrage without the video – “a video,” the quote from Pulitzer read, “which sparked protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in the quest for truth and justice journalists “.

With Frazier’s video, every American could see what black people have long been saying about their experiences with the police. Without it, it’s safe to assume that Floyd’s death would have been brushed aside as one more resistance arrest on another bland incident report.

No video, none of us see the death of George Floyd. Or the shooting death of Philando Castille. Or the strangled death of Eric Garner.

The wisdom of the Pulitzer Board makes a Florida appeals court look even dumber than it did on May 5 when a panel of three court judges ruled, 2-1, against a woman of Boynton Beach who was arrested for filming police officers while they were holding her teenage son.

The incident took place in 2009. Sharron Tasha Ford, then 34, was summoned by Boynton Beach Police to the then Muvico Theater to pick up her son who had allegedly broken in. She came with a video camera, thinking it would help protect him.

The officers repeatedly warned her to stop filming. She refused. They slapped her handcuffs, took her to prison and accused her of resisting arrest without violence and intercepting oral communications, that is, recording police officers. without their consent, a third degree felony.

Prosecutors declined to press charges against Ford or his son. The following year, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Ford filed a lawsuit to protect the right of citizens to turn on a camera when arrested by police. His lawsuit against the city and the police revealed a false arrest and violations of his civil rights.

A federal court refused to uphold the civil rights claims, and the Palm Beach County Circuit Court ruled against her on the bogus arrest. Now, the same is true of Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court ruling that police had the right to arrest Ford for “obstructing” his duties, primarily because she was “confrontational”.for refusing to stop filming. “And when the officers calmly asked to speak to her, she accused them of making the situation worse.”

Additionally, the camera-wielding Ford violated officers’ privacy, the appeals court said.

Judge Martha Warner wrote a scorching – and compelling – dissent against the majority opinion of her colleagues, Justices Melanie May and Edward Artau.

Warner said Boynton Police had no reasonable expectation of privacy as the events took place on a public sidewalk outside the theater – with other people watching, no less. What about the obstruction? Ford did not physically block the officers or even speak abusively to them. She only asked questions and raised her voice when the police intervened to arrest her son. “She just spoke passionately like any mother could,” Warner wrote.

The consequences would be dire if the judgment of this panel were to stand. Police are said to have a probable cause to arrest anyone who refuses their order to stop filming them.

The point is that ordinary citizens have as much right as professional journalists to collect information on public officials. The First Amendment is not limited to paid reporters and photographers.

Ford is appealing the latest decision, an appeal backed by the ACLU and a host of journalism groups. This is an important case, which has national implications at a time when interactions between police and the public are under unprecedented scrutiny.

The court should reconsider the case, this time with all its members, and make the right decision: that Ford has the right to film cops, and that the police are prohibited from arresting someone for simply refusing. an order to stop filming in public.

As the Pulitzer Board has said, citizens now play a crucial role in the journalistic quest for truth and justice. No court should stifle this television revolution.

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