Monday, May 16, 2011

Joel Rose: This Is The Police -- Put Down Your Camera

This Is The Police: Put Down Your Camera
by Joel Rose

There are more than 280 million cellphone subscribers in the U.S., and many of those phones can record video. With so many cameras in pockets and purses, clashes between police and would-be videographers may be inevitable.

Consider what happened to Khaliah Fitchette. Last year, Fitchette, who was 16 at the time, was riding a city bus in Newark, N.J., when two police officers got on to deal with a man who seemed to be drunk. Fitchette decided this would be a good moment to take out her phone and start recording.

"One of the officers told me to turn off my phone, because I was recording them," she said. "I said no. And then she grabbed me and pulled me off the bus to the cop car, which was behind the bus."

The police erased the video from Fitchette's phone. She was handcuffed and spent the next two hours in the back of a squad car before she was released. No charges were filed.

Fitchette is suing the Newark Police Department for violating her civil rights. The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union helped bring the lawsuit.

"All of us, as we walk around, have to understand that we could be filmed, we could be taped," says Deborah Jacobs, director of the ACLU chapter. "But police officers above all others should be subject to this kind of filming because we have a duty to hold them accountable as powerful public servants."

The Newark Police Department did not return calls for comment. But Newark is not the only department that has tried to discourage its citizens from filming on-duty cops.

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