Washington, D.C. is home to many government buildings that are as ugly on the outside as they are the inside. BuzzFeed's Benny Johnson biked around town earlier this week snapping photos of a few of the most hideous examples, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters, the U.S. Post Office Building, and the Department of Health and Human Services. You can see the results here.
Today, in a follow-up article, Johnson explained that taking the photos was no easy task—cops actually attempted to thwart him at every turn. Even though representatives for the various departments confirmed to Johnson by phone that it was perfectly fine to take pictures of the buildings, law enforcement agents contradicted that directive over and over again. From BuzzFeed [I took out the pictures and condensed the text—you can see the full thing here if you're curious]:
I asked, from across the street, why I could not come any closer to the building.
But when I tried to take photos there… The four officers surrounded me right here, directly in front of the building entrance.
After taking the above photo of the public, ahem, Sponge Bob mailbox, an armed security guard approached. He told me the pictures I was taking were "suspicious" and said I was not allowed to take them. "This is a public sidewalk, why not?" I asked. He then told me I was no longer allowed on the property and to go across the street immediately.
He said, "You would not want people taking photos of your office, would you?" Ultimately, he asked me to leave.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for Department of Energy Security told BuzzFeed: "There is no problem or restrictions in taking photos of the building," and simply cautioned against photographing employees.
After I took this photo of a public walkway in front of the building, four armed guards surrounded me and my bike. I was ordered off my bicycle and told to hand over my camera. "Where is your identification? Why are you taking photos of our building?" an officer asked me. I explained my role as a reporter and asked what rules I had broken. "You are suspicious, and we are in a post-9/11 world," he said.
The four armed guards prevented me from moving or getting on my bike. After calling my boss, and discussing with the guards, I was given my camera back. "Be smarter next time," he said, "and don't take any more photos here."
Don't the cops have anything better to do than hang around outside government buildings, casually invoking national security when a reporter tries to snap some clearly innocent photos? Maybe they're self-conscious or something.
For more on this subject, check out Reason TV's "The Government's War on Cameras."