A citizen in Towson Maryland was harassed by a Baltimore County police officer Sunday morning as the citizen filmed an arrest of two people. As the citizen filmed the police action, one officer goes ballistic after he realized he was being filmed. When the agitated officer confronted the filmographer, the man exerted his right to film the scene.
“I’m allowed to do this,” he told the officer. “Get it out of my face,” the officer replied.
“I have my rights,” the man states. “You have no rights,” the officer retorted. This mindset is very troubling to say the least. Video can be viewed here.
I usually give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt in many instances, however, that's getting harder to do because these types of stories are becoming more numerous.
It's problematic that this officer tells the man filming the arrest that he lost his First Amendment right. “I thought I had freedom of speech here,” the man filming said. “You don’t. You just lost it,” the officer replied.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled (2011) that it is not illegal for citizens to videotape police officers when they are on public duty. “The filming of government officials while on duty is protected by the First Amendment, said the Court.”
Furthermore, the court stated “The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles [of protected First Amendment activity].”
“Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs,” stated the ruling, adding that this has been the case all along, and that the right to film police officers is not just restricted to the press.
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review an earlier federal appeals court decision in regards to the filming of police officers. Justices decided not to hear a case involving the state of Illinois' authoritarian "eavesdropping" law that has been regularly abused by authorities to prevent citizens from taping cops in action.
The Chicago Tribune reported that in deciding to pass on the issue, justices left standing a ruling by a lower federal appeals court which found that the law violates free-speech rights when it is applied to persons who tape police.
Some of these confrontations with citizens can be blamed on bad training, but bad training didn't create the dangerous mindset of this particular Baltimore County police officer. When the officer stated that the man "had no rights," he revealed his disdain for the Bill of Rights.
Of course every occupation has its bad apples, but when a police department has bad apples, the rights of citizens can be trampled. When law enforcement disregards our rights as something of a nuisance, a police state can emerge.