Without the video from the cases of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Walter Scott, these cases and many others would have gone uninvestigated and unnoticed; with many holding staunchly to the belief that whatever is written in a police report is fact. Still, even with these cases, large public outcry, and overwhelming evidence, there is still mistrust and demonization of the people decrying their treatment by law enforcement. The bias is so bad, in fact, that as opposed to doing further investigation into the claims of misconduct on a larger, more comprehensive scale, such as those seen in our video above, local law makers and states have attempted to curtail the filming of law enforcement that bolsters the claims.
That's right. Instead of admitting that the state of policing in this country is hugely problematic and working with communities to fully uncover depths of the problem, many are systematically working to cover up any trace that a problem exists. Some of the more notable attempts as of late:
· Just this March, Texas State Rep. Jason Villalba(R) tried to pass a law in Texas that would make it a class B misdemeanor to film police within 100 feet if they have their handgun out.
· In Missouri, State Senator Doug Libla opposed a bill that required police to wear body cameras. Instead, he proposed his own bill, that not only didn't require body cameras, but would have exempted all footage of police encounters from state open records laws.
· Twelve states have adopted what is known as a two party consent eavesdropping law that police have successfully used to confiscate and arrest anyone filming them on duty. These laws simply mean that if someone, including police, has "a reasonable expectation of privacy" when they are filmed, they have to give their consent to be recorded.
The problem, of course, is that public servants, such as police, should NOT have a reasonable expectation of privacy while performing their public duties, in public spaces, amongst the public. It IS punishable to interfere with an arrest or their work, as it should be. But if all protocol is being followed, filming should not be considered interference.
Luckily, the Supreme Court seems to agree that outlawing citizens' right to film is not constitutional. The First, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal and New Jersey have determined that forbidding the video and audio recording of police officers and public servants IS ILLEGAL under the First Amendment. SCOTUS refuses to hear the cases because they have ceded to these precedents set by the lower courts.
So why is this still an issue? Why are we still arguing and attempting to legislate something that has already been proven unconstitutional? Why was the man who filmed the arrest of Freddie Gray in Baltimore arrested, with no probable cause, along with countless others over the years?
We know that even if arrested and convicted of an eavesdropping law, few cases would ever hold up in appellate court. But that's not the point. The point is the mere THREAT of being put through the legal system is enough of an intimidation tactic to dissuade people from being brave and doing this civic duty. Not to mention that the legal process takes a ton of time. If in that time, the footage of police brutality can be inadmissible in, say, a homicide case, it was well worth the loss on appeal for that city government.
All of these tactics are tools in the politics of oppression; ways to keep control and disempower the average citizen. These are not laws about protecting the public or creating a more just society.
Brave New Films' new Film The Police, is a strong, reminder of how important it is for all of us to fight for our rights. It is absolutely legal for you to film the police. Moreover, organizations like the ACLU are creating apps for people to directly send their videos to be seen by attorneys, just in case phones are illegally confiscated
So take a look. Share it. But most importantly, know your rights. America is built on a Constitution that will not be overlooked because it doesn't suit the needs of those in power. We should all be equal under law. Even police.