As Scrutiny Of Law Enforcement Increases, Legislators Are Trying To Criminalize Filming Of Police Officers
from the public-servants-are-deciding-'service'-means-'fucking-the-public' dept
It appears several legislators haven’t learned anything from the months of anti-police violence protests that spread across the nation in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin.
What should have provoked a reassessment of law enforcement’s contribution to society, and a closer examination of their means and methods, has instead generated a super-perverse form of backlash that has seen certain legislators circle the lawmaking wagons in hopes of shielding already very powerful people from additional scrutiny.
There’s a good chance Officer Chauvin would never have been convicted if his actions hadn’t been recorded by a resident at the scene of what’s generously referred to as an “arrest.” Without this recording, the public would have been left with the Minneapolis PD’s narrative, which stated only that George Floyd had “died” following a “medical incident” during a “police interaction.” What actually happened was never acknowledged in the MPD’s press release: Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes… and for three minutes after another officer informed Chauvin he could no longer detect Floyd’s pulse.
The answer to this problem is more scrutiny and more recordings of police officers performing their public duties. Pretty much everywhere in the nation this activity is considered protected First Amendment activity. But some legislators believe more opacity is the answer and are trying to criminalize the act of recording officers.
We’ve already covered one such effort. Arizona Republicans are trying to pass a bill that would make it illegal to record officers from less than eight feet away. Not discussed is how officers are supposed to accurately gauge this distance. Also not discussed is what happens if an officer closes the gap, turning a legal activity into a suddenly-illegal one.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an anomaly, as Trone Dowd reports for Vice News. More legislators are working hard to punch holes in this Constitutionally-protected act.
While Arizona is still grappling with passing its proposal, laws that could threaten the right to film the police have passed in other states. As of last April, Oklahoma has an “anti-doxing” law to prevent an officer’s personal information, which could include video badge numbers, patrol car license plates, and other identifiable information, from being released to the public.
So, you can film cops in Oklahoma. You just have to ensure you don’t release any information anyone else at the same incident can see clearly, like badge numbers and license plates. According to the bill’s author, identifying information simply isn’t protected. According to state Senator Dan Bullard, “there’s no reason to get up close to a vehicle or up to the officer.”
A similar “anti-doxing” provision is now up for debate in Florida — an expansion of the state’s already terrible anti-rioting law.
Florida state Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, the Republican author of Florida’s HB1 anti-riot bill, had a similar motivation for the “cyber intimidation by publication” portion of his bill.
“‘Harass’ has a specific definition that requires the person’s actions to serve no legitimate purpose,” he told VICE News.“To violate the law, a person’s threat or harassment must put the victim in reasonable fear of bodily harm—not just annoy the person. This statute is narrowly tailored to prevent individuals with bad motives from ‘doxing’ someone.”
If you don’t like the public to identify you while you perform public duties, maybe you should exit the public sector. Plenty of other public servants work in offices or at desks that have their name and position on them. Vehicles on public streets have no expectation of privacy, which has allowed law enforcement agencies to collects billions of license plate/location records. Only someone interested in shielding officers from the consequences of their actions would argue the capturing of badge numbers and cop car license plates is dangerous and a potential violation of their (nonexistent) privacy.
This is obviously a whole new level of legislative bullshit. It has nothing to do with officer safety and everything to do with protecting them from accountability. The incidental capture of information these bills and laws say is off-limits will deter recordings and give vengeful cops and prosecutors an easy way to punish people for daring to aim cameras at cops.