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Walter Scott Shooting Highlights Cops’ Contempt for the Right to Record Police

The illegal harassment of camera-carrying bystanders needs to stop.

Even before it became clear that Feidin Santana was witnessing what local authorities now describe as a murder, it took guts for him to record the police encounter that ended in Walter Scott's death. Santana, who was walking to work at a barbershop in North Charleston, South Carolina, the day before Easter, risked illegal retaliation by camera-shy cops the moment he stopped talking on his smartphone and started using it to capture Scott's interaction with patrolman Michael Slager.

Although the First Amendment right to record the police as they perform their duties in public is well established, cops often violate that right by ordering people to turn off their cameras, confiscating their cellphones, or arresting them on trumped-up charges. The shooting of Walter Scott, which last week led to Slager's arrest thanks to the details revealed by Santana's video, illustrates both the prevalence of this contempt for constitutional rights and the importance of counteracting it.

After Scott fell to the ground, struck by five of the eight rounds that Slager fired at him as he fled a traffic stop, Santana continued recording. "One of the officers told me to stop," Santana told CNN. "It was because I say to them that what they did, it was an abuse, and I witnessed everything."

The New York Times reports that when Scott's older brother, Anthony, arrived at the crime scene and took pictures of the body, three officers "surrounded him, telling him to turn over his phone." He gave it to them. "Hours later," the Times says, North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers "arrived, returned Mr. Scott's phone and offered his condolences."

As Driggers seemed to recognize, there is no legal basis for such interference with camera-carrying bystanders. The right to record police has been explicitly upheld by at least four federal appeals courts—in the 1st7th9th, and 11th circuits—and implicitly recognized by others.

Federal judges outside of those four circuits have ruled that the right to record flows logically from the First Amendment right to gather information and that it applies equally to everyone, not just credentialed journalists. Big-city police chiefs take it for granted that "members of the public are legally allowed to record police interactions," as a 2014 NYPD memo put it, and that "a bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media," as Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier informed her officers in 2012.

The behavior of North Charleston police after the shooting of Walter Scott suggests why such memos are necessary. So do the actions of the officers who arrested Austin, Texas, activist Antonio Buehler three times in 2012 for daring to record police encounters.

Last July, responding to a lawsuit filed by Buehler, a federal judge ruled that the right he was exercising is well enough established that police cannot rely on qualified immunity to escape liability for violating it. U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane cited "a robust consensus of circuit courts" that "the First Amendment encompasses a right to record public officials as they perform their official duties."

Even the threat of personal liability may not be enough to deter cops from harassing people who record them, since taxpayers typically pick up the tab when cities settle lawsuits arising from such incidents. Last year, for instance, New York City paid $125,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Brooklyn resident Dick George, who said police roughed him up and arrested him for disorderly conduct after he recorded a stop-and-frisk encounter in 2012.

According to George's complaint, one of the cops said, "Now we are going to give you what you deserve for meddling in our business, and when we finish with you, you can sue the city for $5 million and get rich. We don't care."

Anthony Scott encountered a similar attitude when the cops took his cellphone. "It was eerie how they were acting," he told the Times. "They were cocky."

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "Now we are going to give you what you deserve for meddling in our business, and when we finish with you, you can sue the city for $5 million and get rich. We don't care."

    I find it hard to believe they're that self-aware.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Do you find it hard to believe that they are that contemptuous of the public? I don't.

  • woodNfish||

    Cops know exactly what they are doing. They use their positions to intimidate citizens on a daily basis. After a while it is simply the habit of thugs.

  • Quixote||

    This seems to be true not only of the actual thugs with badges, but of the entire so-called criminal justice system in this country. Consider news of the 400 individuals who have been incarcerated at Rikers Island for a year or longer (some notoriously for several years) without a trial, and think, for example, of the nation's leading "criminal satire" case, where the intimidation seems to have continued now (albeit so far without actual implementation of the decreed incarceration) for six years, if we are to believe the documentation gathered at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    The worst, however, is that we simply become used to these things and end up ignoring them. Only the "dramatic" cases catch our attention; anything else is just another little injustice that's not really worthy of our attention. And, of course, the thugs rely on our indifference, thereby reinforcing their sense (or indeed knowledge) of impunity. Habit is the greatest social evil, on all levels.

  • jabster||

    "You can beat the rap but you can't beat the ride", just in different words, ad nauseam.

  • ||

    Walter Scott Shooting Highlights Cops’ Contempt for the Right to Record Police People

    FIFY

  • Atanarjuat||

    For those of us who have a smart phone but aren't too savvy, what is a good app that will send your video off in real time so that even if the cops get ahold of your phone they can't delete it? No iPhone.

  • Lord Rae||

    Look up Bambuser. Free and it does exactly that.

  • Atanarjuat||

    Thanks, I'll give it a shot.

  • Libertarian||

    I think this will be the common way to do things before long.

    If all you're doing is "sending" video to a website, would it be truthful to tell a cop "no" when he asks you if you're "recording?"

  • Rich||

    It would be the least untruthful response.

  • Ivan Pike||

    If all you're doing is "sending" video to a website, would it be truthful to tell a cop "no" when he asks you if you're "recording?

    No, because you are recording. You are simply sending the video to a website. Don't ever lie to the cops, better to say nothing.

  • Atanarjuat||

    I agree. And I would think telling the cop it was streaming live might actually give them a moment's pause, and save your life.

  • Charles Easterly||

    Libertarian, I agree that you shouldn't lie, and would suggest if you say anything you consider calmly stating "I respectfully decline to answer questions." as often as necessary after, perhaps, saying what Atanarjuat suggested:

    "And I would think telling the cop it was streaming live might actually give them a moment's pause, and save your life."

  • Chumby||

    Can also play their game back by continuing to ask:
    "Am I free to go?"
    "Am I being detained?"

  • woodNfish||

    You are better off not to answer at all, but if you must, answer with a question, "Is it illegal to record you?" If the cop lies on video that is even more evidence of their contempt for us and the law.

  • ant1sthenes||

    The ACLU has one, designed specifically for this kind of shit. As a bonus, you probably have better legal protection for your video too.

  • sarcasmic||

    A case recently went through the courts around here where the cops illegally arrested a couple for recording their harassment of a young woman.

    The city settled while admitting no wrongdoing, basically saying the couple got what they deserved for not doing as they were told.

    According to the city and the police department, all orders from the police are lawful because of the mouth they are coming out of. Do as you are told or we're going to fuck you up. We may pay you a settlement later, but at the time an officer gives an order, it's lawful even if it's not. And nothing else will happen.

    So much for rule of law.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    The "process" is the penalty.

  • Almanian!||

    You know who else flouted citizens' rights....

  • Rich||

    Rosa Parks?

  • ||

    Julius Caesar?

  • DenverJay||

    Mad Max?

  • WTF||

    George III?

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Gordon Ramsey?

  • Atanarjuat||

    Umm, Scar from Lion King?

  • ||

    Jesus Christ?

  • Libertymike||

    If one says Lincoln, one must be a "Neo-confederate wanker" according to Cytotoxic dump and Anonymous Coward.

  • ||

    Ok.

    Abraham Lincoln.

  • ||

    Wanker alert!

  • ||

    Blast!

  • Chumby||

    Trick question? John Wilkes Booth!

  • Poppa Kilo||

    Your mother?

    [come on - do I have to do this one all the time?]

  • Charles Easterly||

    The government of the United States?

  • sarcasmic||

    The Beastie Boys?

  • Charles Easterly||

    +1 Licensed to Ill

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Qualified immunity needs to be trimmed back, but that is going to be a long, slow fight if it happens at all. I have to say, I'd love to see established a legal standard whereby if a video of an event has been deleted or mysteriously disappeared, the police are presumed to be lying about it until proven otherwise.

    Again, not going to happen soon, if ever.

    When I was small, it was common in certain "hip" circles to refer to police as pigs. It find it sad that the trend these days seems to be to live down to that stereotype.

  • Adans smith||

    It needs to be ended and all cops need to carry insurance,like other 'professions' .You know doctors an barbers,ect,

  • Chumby||

    Payouts for police misconduct should come from the police pension fund. Public contributions for said fund should be barred from being increased beyond inflation.

  • woodNfish||

    It isn't going to happen because it isn't just the cops who flout the law, it is the entire legal system - cops, prosecutors, and judges. They are all crooked which is why I don't care when people kill any of them. My first reaction is that it is self defense and the "officials" deserved it. And a guilty verdict from a kangaroo court against the person defending themselves won't change my mind.

    You may think that's an extreme position, but there is mounting evidence that it is not. A drunken off duty Bedford, NH cop ran down two kids a couple of years ago and it took multiple instances of public outrage to get him convicted and jailed because the prosecutors and judges kept letting him off or out of jail. And then there is this: http://www.wwltv.com/story/new...../24039559/

    And if you search the internet, there are hundreds more reports of how legal officials abuse and break the law and are let off every day. That they should they get away with murder (literally) while we suffer under the yoke is something I no longer accept. Fuck them and fuck all the government and everyone in it. They truly are nothing more than a mafia.

  • Reverend Draco||

    Mafia has the moral high ground over government. . . if the Mafia says you'll get protection for your money - by the gods, you get protection.

    The Mafia, for the most part, has honor - it may not be the kind of honor you believe in, but it is honor - government agents have no honor.

    Comparing government to the Mafia is an insult - to Mafiosi everywhere. . .

  • Fairbanks||

    I know of many incidents where civilians have murdered people. Does that mean all civilians are murderers and should be killed? I'm no fan of cops in general, but your logic is a tad off.

  • Adans smith||

    I have been told by former L.E.O's on CNN that these are isolated instances. Just a few bad cops like the 10 or 12 who beat the horse guy.BTY,Scott stop did not follow the law.He was stopped due to one of three brake lights out..Two worked and by NC law only one is needed.He should have never been stopped.

  • Charles Easterly||

    "Two worked and by NC law only one is needed.He should have never been stopped."

    If this is true I hope ex-officer Slager gets the maximum penalty.

  • Adans smith||

    That's from the Simple Justice blog by Scott Greenfield.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    No, some Supreme Court already ruled the cop's ignorance of the law was a very dandy excuse. See, he wasn't a civilian, thus was expected to be ignorant. In fact, polce departments screen away the self-aware and intelligent for that very reason.

  • Hicks||

    Isn't North Charleston in SOUTH Carolina? Maybe they have same laws but I'm pretty sure tail lights problems aren't a capital offense.

    What stuns me was the failure to offer any medical treatment, then lying about it in the official report. Any uninvolved person who ignored a seriously injured police officer as he bled to death would be charged with murder just like they pulled the trigger.

    If a video tape emerged that showed the passerby was increasing the bleed-out rate by jumping on him, and obstructing the breathing while screaming "F- your breath, you f-king run, you die", the passerby would be shot on sight and shown to be a major drug kingpin with a strong interest in Kiddie-porn.

    The most chilling thing is how calmly they watch a man die, and how easily they cover it up.

  • Adans smith||

    Yes it is South,he talked about the laws there

  • Chumby||

    Harassment of camera-weilding citizens by police will continue until police stop abusing the rights of other citizens. In other words, harassment of camera-weilding citizens by police will continue.

  • RhymesWithRight||

    The New York Times reports that when Scott's older brother, Anthony, arrived at the crime scene and took pictures of the body, three officers "surrounded him, telling him to turn over his phone." He gave it to them. "Hours later," the Times says, North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers "arrived, returned Mr. Scott's phone and offered his condolences."

    * * * * *

    Depending on where he was in relation to the body and what was going on in terms of the investigation, I can easily understand surrounding him and making him leave the area.

  • Adans smith||

    Leave the area?If he was behind the yellow tape he was fine.Also,if other officers lied on the reports ,as may be the case, I would not give the cops a pass..Hell,at this point I do not believe any thing a'agent of the state' says..

  • Dread Pirate Roberts||

    Take the settlements out of the cops' pensions instead of putting the taxpayers on the hook, and we'll see a dramatic change as to how much the cops care.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    No, the next bargaining point will replenish the pension plan.

  • Deli-bro||

    So police can rely on qualified immunity for violating laws that are only "kind of" established? WTF

  • AlgerHiss||

    A Carlos Miller runs a website on the specific issue of filming police:

    http://photographyisnotacrime.com/

    It is becoming quite clear that filming cops is quite dangerous. Which really means it’s quite necessary. These people have been getting away with lawless behavior for far too long.

    And anyone that believes that nonsense that it's only a few is delusional. This problem is rampant.

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  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    You want to make it stop?
    Penalize civil-rights violations under color of authority as capital crimes.
    When a cop faces a firing squad for arresting someone for taking his picture, it will end.

  • Alan@.4||

    Pardon me for so noting, but re abuses by police, the courts bear a LARGE PORTION of responsibility.

  • joebanana||

    This freak needs to have "ex-cop" tattooed on his forehead and be put in general population.

  • ||

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  • ||

    I just spent 30 minutes on my comment and when I clicked "preview" it disappeared. What the hell?

  • ||

    Happens to me all the fucking time.

    ::grumble grumble squirrels grumble::

  • ||

    Cops know the law and violate it routinely. What is the penalty? The maximum is: The chief puts out another "memo" and the abuse continues.

    Without the video of the murder nothing would have happened. Even with a conviction, when a little time goes by, the sentence may be commuted and go unreported by the main stream lapdogs.

    The lesson should be clear: We must protect ourselves, especially from our "protectors". Why is there so much blind faith in government?

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