Articles

Photography is Not a Crime

Written by Alex Newman on April 30 2010.

Miller said these sorts of problems crop up regularly all across America, but they shouldn’t. “Court cases around the country have determined that photography is protected by the First Amendment,” he told JBS.org in a telephone interview. “Then, obviously, the Fourth Amendment also comes into play because of the illegal searches and seizures without even having probable cause; just because you’re taking pictures.”

It is important for citizens to stand up for their rights, Miller explained. And it’s crucial that people be able to photograph and videotape police without fear of retaliation. “For accountability purposes,” he added. “It protects them and it protects us. And if they have nothing to hide, then they shouldn’t have an issue with it.”

Miller started off his career working in the newspaper industry. “But finally, I saw the writing on the wall — I saw there was no future in these papers and they didn’t care about real journalism anymore,” he explained. Now, he makes a living doing everything from wedding photography to online journalism.

Following his first arrest, Miller considered taking up law school. After all, he waged his appeal “pro se” — without a lawyer — and won. But while working on an article about excessive arrests on Miami Beach, he was jailed yet again. According to Miller, he merely photographed a police officer for the story he was writing. Then, the officer chased him down, ordered him to delete the picture (Miller refused, but the cops eventually did it anyway), and finally, handcuffed Miller and took him to jail for allegedly “resisting arrest without violence.” The case was eventually dismissed. And now, Miller is working on a lawsuit.

Of course, not all officers are pleased with Miller’s site, as evidenced by some of the comments posted on it (which he essentially refuses to "censor"). But despite some people’s perception of his efforts to expose wrongdoing, Miller isn’t anti-police. “I have a lot of cops who actually support and read my blog and who e-mail me to give me tips,” he said. “They’re ashamed and embarrassed by what a lot of these other cops do.”

In addition to support from some members of the law enforcement community, Miller said his work transcends party lines and that support comes from across the spectrum. “We have common ground on this issue: we all believe in the right to take pictures and speak your mind,” he explained. “The media, most of the time, they ignore these stories, or they just don’t really put a lot of importance to them. But when people send it to me, I’ll get it all over the country … It serves as an ongoing education process.” His work has been covered by The New York Times, Fox News, The Miami Herald and many other media outlets across America.

Citizens should always be prepared, Miller warned. “The message I tell everybody is ‘never leave home without a camera … and don’t be afraid to take pictures,’” he said. “The other thing I recommend is, if you’re being harassed, pull out your camera or your video camera and put it in their face — take a picture of the cop who’s harassing you, or the guard who’s harassing you, or the citizen who’s harassing you … That’s the best way to protect yourself. You know, the camera is the new gun nowadays.”

And indeed, cameras are an excellent tool for holding governments and public servants accountable. While violations of photographers’ rights are probably less frequent in America than most countries, they must still be vigorously opposed whenever they crop up. And as reported by JBS.org last year, Miller’s concerns are shared by activists worldwide. A “flash mob” of angry photographers — organized under the banner “I’m A Photographer, Not A Terrorist” — turned up in London’s Reuters Plaza in September to protest draconian British anti-terror regulations against picture taking. And their voices were heard.  

While it is important to support local law enforcement, that support must be earned and based on trust. Police who strive for high standards in law enforcement should encourage citizens to hold officers accountable, not punish people for using their cameras to do so. And even though most American law enforcement officers are upstanding people who support the rights of citizens, some are not. There are still countless cases of wrongdoing every year (as an example, see this recent JBS.org report entitled “Maryland SWAT Stats Reveal Excesses,” or check out www.carlosmiller.com). And unfortunately, those "bad apples" sully the reputation of law enforcement generally in the eyes of the public. Miller’s efforts are to be applauded. It should be considered the patriotic duty of citizens to uphold the rule of law and the rights of individuals — whether that be through elections, lawsuits, or the lens of a camera.

Alex NewmanAlex Newman is an American freelance writer and the president of Liberty Sentinel Media, Inc., a small media consulting firm. He is currently living in Sweden and has spent most of his life in Latin America, Europe and Africa. He has a degree in foreign languages and speaks Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian and a little Swedish and Afrikaans. In addition, he earned a degree in journalism from the University of Florida, with emphasis on economics and international relations.
 

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