from the someone's-about-to-get-a-lesson-in-the-1st-amendment dept
Do the police in Fairfax County, Virginia really not know about the 1st Amendment? It certainly appears that way after watching the video of them violently arresting a reporter named Mike Stark, who was trying to cover the gubernatorial campaign of Ed Gillespie. Now, because some people will want to mention this, I’ll note that the following is (a) true and (b) makes no difference at all to this story: Stark works for a highly partisan website that is strongly opposed to Gillespie. But the points here would be identical if it were a reporter at the other end of the partisan divide following the opposing candidate. The positions of the reporter (or the candidate) are meaningless to the basic question of why the fuck was Mike Stark thrown to the ground, piled on by cops and arrested.
And “fuck” seems to be the key word here. The background is that Stark appeared to be filming Gillespie’s bus, and a police office told him to “get out of the road” (from the video it’s a little unclear, but it really looks like Stark was standing in what appears to be a driveway, not a road). Either way, he backs up a bit and argues a bit with the cop, most of which is impossible to hear. But you can make out him saying “I’m a fucking reporter doing my job.” At that point, another cop says “If you curse again, you’re going to go to jail.” To which, Stark responds in the most responsible manner possible: “Fuck this.” At that point, the one officer points to him and says “Go to jail” and the other moves him up against a fence. The officers appear to have some trouble getting Stark’s hands behind his back, though it does not appear due to Stark resisting, just police officers who don’t appear to be very good at their job. So they just swipe his legs out from under him, throw him to the ground (hitting his head on the pavement) and then a bunch of other officers run over and they all just pile on Stark, who repeatedly says he’ll give them his hands if they just get off him so he can move the arm out.
Eventually, the cop cites Fairfax County Ordinance 511 which does (amazingly) say that “If any person profanely curse or swear or be drunk in public he shall be deemed guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.” So that law is on the books — but it’s bullshit. There is no way that such a law is even remotely compatible with the First Amendment. And, of course, when actually charged, Section 511 was nowhere to be found. Instead, the cops charged him with the favorite of police who have arrested someone for no cause: “disorderly conduct” and “resisting arrest.”
This is… bad. It’s a clear First Amendment violation and an attack on a reporter. Others who have been arrested (sometimes on similar charges) for filming in public, have sometimes been successful filing civil rights lawsuits against the cops.
On a separate, but related note, it appears the cops did not realize they were being filmed until towards the end of the video where one of the cops walks over and angrily says to the person holding the camera:
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t film us. Really would. Ok? This job’s hard enough. Honestly? It’s hard enough.”
Yeah, must be real hard when you get to body slam a reporter for daring to say the word “fuck” and then have to answer to public scrutiny for your thuggish violation of his rights. Real tough job.