Photograph I don’t want your

Posted by andrea - July 27th, 2006

Glenn Reynolds seems to have bought this story but something about it made all my suspicions wake up and start elbowing other while saying, “Hey, isn’t that…” An excerpt:

Cruz said that when he heard a commotion, he walked out of his back door
with his cell phone to see what was happening. He said that when he saw
the street lined with police cars, he decided to take a picture of the
scene.”I opened (the phone) and took a shot,” Cruz said.

Moments later, Cruz said he got the shock of his life when an officer came to his back yard gate.

“He opened the gate and took me by my right hand,” Cruz said.

Cruz said the officer threw him onto a police car, cuffed him and took him to jail.

A neighbor said she witnessed the incident and could not believe what she saw.

“He opened up the gate and Neffy was coming down and he went up to Neffy,
pulled him down, had Neffy on the car and was telling him, ‘You should
have just went in the house and minded your own business instead of
trying to take pictures off your picture phone,’” said Gerrell Martin.

Gee I don’t know, but there’s something in this whole saga that doesn’t sound right. For one thing, nowhere in the article is anything to either refute or support the existence of this alleged law (against taking pictures of police with a cell phone). If no such law existed (and I can’t imagine such a law being put into effect anywhere in the United States without causing an instant outcry, and considering how crucial to “citizen journalism” type blogging cell phone cameras are, there would have been an outcry, believe me) then the cops were making shit up in order to play micro-fascist, and Cruz has a case. If they didn’t say any such thing, as they claim, then one wonders what they really hauled the guy in for. According to the story, the police were engaged in a drug bust on one of Cruz’s neighbors. It’s possible they were hopped up from adrenaline and got upset when Mr. Citizen Journalist whipped out his cell phone, which in the heat of the moment tend to resemble all sorts of less-innocuous objects. Either way, letting us know whether or not there was an actual statute that was violated would at least add more information to this vaguely imflammatory article. It could still all be true, but leaving that fact out makes the story smell to me, and Professor Libertarian is too busy jumping on the freedom-from-government train to notice.


  1. nowhere in the article is anything to either refute or support the existence of this alleged law

    How about this: “There is no law that prevents people from taking pictures of what anybody can see on the street,” said Larry Frankel of the American Civil Liberties Union. Now you and I might not automatically take the ACLU’s word for it, but I’m sure the NBC reporter does.

    Or how about this: Police also denied that they told Cruze he was breaking the law with his cell phone. That strongly implies that there is no such law. Which the arresting cops probably found out when they got back to the cop shop, and got yelled at by their commanding officer.

    It’s not as if this is the first time such a thing has happened. Glenn has been reporting these cases regularly for several years. Every so often someone gets arrested, either for taking a cop’s picture, or for writing down a police car’s number, or something similar, and the cops seem to have no notion that they’re doing anything wrong. So when someone alleges that the same thing has happened to him, the story seems at least plausible. Of course, the guy could be making it up, and if he is to be awarded compensation, or the cops are to be disciplined, then he’d better come up with something better than his unsupported word. But for now the story doesn’t sound suspicious to me.

    Comment by milhouse - July 28, 2006 12:04 am

  2. I don’t dismiss it out of hand, though it does seem like it would be hitting more than the few blogs that have reported on this recently. Reynolds has reported on similar actions two or three times before, all recent. It makes me wonder if this is something new being tried, through homeland security perhaps. Something new would be reported slowly at first. I could see a try at this kind of power-grab; they have the simple explanation that they fear being targeted. It doesn’t mean it will wash, IF that is what is going on.

    That little mini-rant was the longest I’ve seen Reynolds give to this subject.

    Comment by saltydog - July 28, 2006 1:34 am

  3. Well, if the article writer had done a few minutes research, we wouldn’t have to be speculating on whether the cops were making it all up. When laws are passed, they tend to be written down somewhere.

    Comment by andrea - July 28, 2006 5:35 am

  4. Reynolds has the nuanced, anti-cop libertarianism of an 11th grader who has been busted for loitering at the 7-11 or for failure to stop at an intersection in his subdivision. Not exactly coherent and kind of raving when he comments on it.

    Comment by USMCKen - July 28, 2006 6:05 am

  5. Did you people actually read that article?

    To begin with, it’s instructive to note that he wasn’t actually charged with anything. What the police allegedly threatened to charge him with was “conspiracy, impeding an investigation, obstruction of a investigation”.

    Now, I suppose one might be fairly skeptical over whether they actually told him that. (Me? I would presume against the cops, in this one.) However, there wasn’t the least mention of “a law against taking pictures of police with a cell phone”, except for the ACLU guy pointing the no such law exists, and he’s right.

    At the very least, the cops got away with derailing this person’s life with the threat of charges that are in the books. Whether they might have been able to make a charge of “obstruction” in court, it should be an obvious fact that cops can bring that charge just about any time they want to. It’s a blank-check that gets cleared through police stations all the time, whether or not it actually stands up in court. In the meantime, however, their point was made on this guy.

    There’s a “train” here, alright, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Reynolds.

    Again — once more, with feeling — it wasn’t about “a law against taking pictures of police with a cell phone”.

    You didn’t pay attention.

    Comment by Billy Beck - July 28, 2006 9:21 am

  6. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s legal or not if they can stop you from doing it. Of course the charges get dropped once they get to the prosecutor’s office, but in the meantime someone’s been deprived of their liberty and their camera probably confiscated.

    It’s not surprising, after the Rodney King mess, that the cops are camera shy (except for “invited media”). The problem is when they start making things up as they go along, and then lying about it afterward. (Which does happen more often than it should… ask any prosecutor!) What Reynolds seems to be calling for is legislation that gives police a clear notice that citizen photography is legal, and establishes strong penalties for interfering with it.

    Of course if a cop wants to arrest you, there are plenty of “catch all” things he can charge you with, from “interfering with an officer,” “failure to disperse,” “curfew violations,” to “littering.” (Pace Terry Pratchett: “malicious lingering,” “looking at me in a funny way”)

    Comment by Old Grouch - July 28, 2006 9:34 am

  7. Hm. Maybe I didn’t use small enough words. Yes, as a matter of fact, I did read the article. My basic complaint is that the article is vague and relies on assumptions the readers are supposed to make, and apparently most are all too willing to do so. I’m not — why should I do the reporter’s work for him? For example, the ACLU rep stating that “There is no law that prevents people from taking pictures of what anybody can see on the street” isn’t the same as the article writer taking a moment to look up whether there is, actually, any such statute on the books. And I’m afraid that yes, if there was in fact such a law, then it does matter whether the action was legal or not; if not in the airy philosophical world of debate on Rights and Wrongs, then at least in the real world of courts and lawyers where it will affect whether or not the plaintiff will get a fair hearing.

    Personally, I am inclined to think that the police are the ones in the wrong on this matter, but — I don’t have enough evidence to support my belief, only my native American tendency to distrust authority figures, and my habit, to which my American education has trained me, to supply assumptions and predict events based on less concrete evidence than overconfidence in my own intelligence. And this is simply not enough.

    PS: on a side note, I don’t read Terry Pratchett. I picked up a novel or two of his, but perusal of their contents didn’t awaken any interest in reading further. Pratchett seems to be a guy thing; it’s mostly men who have waxed numbingly garrulous over the manifold wonders of the Disc World books, et al. For some reason, though I love fantasy and science fiction, I have always balked at stories that don’t feature round worlds that follow the known laws of physics at least in some measure resembling the real one. The world simply is not flat, or riding on the backs of turtles, or whatever and I can’t enjoy even the fictional pretense that it is. My mind will only go so far down the faery path before it stops. Also, at some point parody becomes stale to me, usually three or so paragraphs in.

    Comment by andrea - July 28, 2006 10:24 pm

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