It’s not often I agree with Glenn Reynolds, but his editorial about the recent trend of police harassing and arresting citizens for recording the police as they publicly perform their duties is spot-on.
The most outrageous example may be Tiawanda Moore’s case. From Radley Balko:
When Chicago police answered a domestic disturbance call at the home of Tiawanda Moore and her boyfriend in July 2010, the officers separated the couple to question them individually. Moore was interviewed privately in her bedroom. According to Moore, the officer who questioned her then came on to her, groped her breast and slipped her his home phone number.
Robert Johnson, Moore’s attorney, says that when Moore and her boyfriend attempted to report the incident to internal affairs officials at the Chicago Police Department, the couple wasn’t greeted warmly. “They discouraged her from filing a report,” Johnson says. “They gave her the runaround, scared her, and tried to intimidate her from reporting this officer — from making sure he couldn’t go on to do this to other women.”
Ten months later, Chicago PD is still investigating the incident. Moore, on the other hand, was arrested the very same afternoon.
Her crime? At some point in her conversations with internal affairs investigators, Moore grew frustrated with their attempts to intimidate her. So she began to surreptitiously record the interactions on her Blackberry. In Illinois, it is illegal to record people without their consent, even (and as it turns out, especially) on-duty police officers.
Happily, a jury just acquitted Moore — apparently the Illinois law makes an exception for surreptitiously recording a crime, and the jury felt that Moore’s treatment by the cops qualified as a crime.
But why did the cops feel free to act this way? Why did state’s attorney Anita Alvarez1 (a Democrat whose website ironically highlights her opposition to domestic violence and sexual assault, by the way) choose to charge this woman with a felony?
Technology may be winning, but the real problem is that America has a class of government workers who believe that they are above citizen scrutiny, and who are prepared to abuse their powers to avoid that scrutiny. The only solution for this is to punish offenders severely enough that others learn their lesson.
Some have proposed a federal civil rights law specifically recognizing the right of citizens to record police, and including severe punishments for police and prosecutors who violate that right. Frankly, it seems like a pretty good idea. Until then, however, we need to educate both police and citizens that photography is not a crime, even when those who wield government power, ostensibly on behalf of the citizenry, would rather not be photographed.
- The link is to Ms. Alvarez’s Facebook page, in case you’d like to leave a comment.