An article being circulated by the Main Maine Civil Liberties Union states that Anthony Graber faces as much as sixteen years in prison if found guilty of violation state wiretap laws because he dared to video tape an officer drawing a gun during a traffic stop:
The scale of the Maryland State Police reaction to Graber’s video is “unprecedented,” (the cops raided his parents’ home and confiscated four of his computers,) but it certainly isn’t an isolated event. Yvonne Nicole Shaw, 27, was also arrested after recording an encounter with officers who had been called for a noise complaint.
(Image from thenonconformer.wordpress.com)
There are now proposals in the Bay Area to outfit all cops with wearable cameras to record stops, arrests, sobriety tests, and interviews. Obviously, I think this a grand idea unless the cop cameras become the state’s official narrative.
Citizen monitoring of the police is crucial in a democracy as we saw in the Oscar Grant tragedy. Hypothetically, if Johannes Mehserle had been suited with an official police camera, and no subway riders dared record video on their cell phones because doing so was newly outlawed, who knows what would have happened to that sole record of events? We shouldn’t rule out the possibility of videotape getting “accidentally erased,” or “lost” in office clutter.
The plethora of bad outcomes alive in this hypothetical situation can be extended to protests. Citizens video tape police during these demonstrations as a form of protection. Back in September ’08, I was reporting about the Republican National Convention in St. Paul when I received an email from Eileen Clancy, the founder of I-Witness, a citizen watchdog organization that relies on the freedom granted to them under the First Amendment to document public activity with video cameras.
Police have arrived at our office in St. Paul. They say that they have received reports of hostages barricaded in the building. We are behind a locked door. Lawyers are outside dealing with them.- Eileen
That was the second time the police harassed I-Witness at the RNC. The first encounter occurred on August 30 when seven members were preemptively detained at the house where the group was staying. And that’s the level of harassment activists faced without any bans on videotaping police officers. It’s terrible to imagine what could happen if the state outlaws independent monitoring of the cops – especially now that they’re experimenting with all kinds of neat toys like tasers, sound cannons, and the good ol’ reliable rubber bullets and tear gas.
It’s important to stress that citizen journalism is also good for the police, unless of course they’re more interested in covering up corruption and abuse than in preventing it. An independent monitor is able to neutrally observe conflict – sometimes from a unique vantage point as demonstrated by this G20 video shot by a Canadian citizen:
Could a police camera – on the ground, in the middle of the chaos – have captured quite the same story? It’s unlikely.
– Allison Kilkenny