Do photographers have not only a right but also an ethical obligation to defy police?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by David Lyga, Jan 13, 2015.

  1. David Lyga

    David Lyga Member
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    When is a photographer’s refusal to obey the directive of a police officer not only legally, but, as well, ethically justified?

    Here is a very recent case of a young man photographing a car accident in Ocean County, NJ and being told by a police officer, without negotiation permitted, to cease doing this or face arrest.

    http://www.philly.com/philly/news/new_jersey/Photographer_arrested_filming_NJ_crash.html

    Another case, even more disturbing, happened in NYC a year or so ago:

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/nypd-cop-indicted-allegedly-falsifying-185617796.html

    What is striking about this first incident in Ocean County, NJ is that this young man is:

    1) white (no racial component involved),

    2) polite (no ‘reason’ for the police officer to augment his authoritativeness),

    3) lacks fright (the young man was assertive and not backing down),

    4) right (the man’s unquestioned legal correctness in this matter was even confirmed by the local prosecutor).

    When police decide not to merely enforce existing statutes but, instead, develop their own convenient rules for private purpose, through either hubris or fear of being overly scrutinized, does a photographer have the right, indeed, moral obligation, to contest such order?

    This question certainly involves conflict, but transcends such with another factor as well: ethics. Are a photographer’s rights (or a journalist’s) justifiably in jeopardy when we willfully concede to the demands of those who are entrusted with authority, or do we have an obligation to counter such misguided attempt by a police officer towards his/her creation of a private ‘suzerainty’?

    In sum, do we benefit, socially and morally, by refusing to relinquish our rights as citizens, especially with a revealing image capture, or do we allow the official to rule the given situation without reprieve, in order to solidify the authority model we have established within our culture?

    More easily put: are police to be deemed as being more important than both statute and personal rights? - David Lyga
     
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  2. TheFlyingCamera

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    I don't think it's a per-se ethical/moral/legal question. I think it's a personal decision entirely up to the individual to determine if the policeman and his behavior is a greater threat to his own person and property. I would applaud anyone who stands up to that kind of abuse of authority, and might even contribute to their legal defense fund, but I would be 100% understanding of anyone who backed down and stopped doing what they were doing if confronted by an out-of-control cop who menaced their person and/or their camera. Some of us have jobs that require us to remain free of entanglement with law enforcement, and jeopardizing our day jobs over a leisure activity is a high-risk activity.
     
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    David Lyga

    David Lyga Member
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    Flying: You (it might be said), 'properly' weigh and hedge the alternatives in this difficult matter.

    We are repeatedly told (both directly and through inference) to obey, without failure, the dictates of authority. Honestly, I can say that I am MORE frightened of doing that than I am of the dire consequences. I posed this question in order to illuminate the possibilities (and assuage my real fears). - David Lyga
     
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  4. Rick A

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    David, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the cop in the N.J. case demand the video as evidence of the accident? I don't agree that he arrest the gentleman for refusal, and the local DA states, he more than likely will dismiss all charges against said man.
    Do we have a moral right to disobey an officer[if we are doing nothing wrong]? That is a question that can only be answered by you(or me or anyone) at that particular moment. I don't believe that walking around with a "predisposition to be combative because I am within my rights" attitude is good for anyone. How could you be happy with such an attitude? I personally will maintain my "happy idiot" disposition, until such time as I get challenged for doing nothing wrong, and only exercising my personal freedoms. Of course David, you already know some of my philosophy. Don't tread on me.
    peace and love pard
     
  5. andrew.roos

    andrew.roos Member

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    I had a similar incident a couple of weeks ago.

    I was practicing with my new FM near the harbour when a woman reported a break-in to her vehicle to a police officer near me. I followed them and positioned myself to take a picture of the scene, with a police officer about to jump a wall to get onto the railway line along which they suspected that the perpetrator had escaped. Another officer approached me and said "no photographs". I explained that I was within my right to take photos in a public place, and asked him in terms of what legislation was he prohibiting me from photographing. He then said he would arrest me under the National Key Points Act (old security legislation from the apartheid era), which prohibits taking photographs of the harbour, if I went ahead. This despite the fact that (1) the picture I intended to take was pointing directly away from the harbour, which was obvious to the police officer from where I was standing and the direction I was pointing the camera in; and (2) that there were several tourists nearby who were obviously taking pictures of the harbour without any attention being paid to them by the police. Although the charge would not have stood up in court, the thought of a night in the police cells was sufficient to deter me from any further photographic activity in their vicinity.
     
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  6. Steve Smith

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    Sometimes those doing the dictating do not have the authority.

    e.g. in the case you mentioned about the photographer facing arrest: Certainly in the UK, you can only be arrested for an arrestable offence. I hope it is the same in the US.

    e.g. In order to be arrested, the officer must have good reason to believe that you have done or ar about to do something which is illegal. They cannot just make up laws to suit themselves.


    Steve.
     
  7. Moopheus

    Moopheus Subscriber

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    I've rarely been hassled by actual police. Far more frequently it has been someone with little or no real authority trying to play cop.
     
  8. TheFlyingCamera

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    My point is that this is not a simple decision, and that, despite being in the right, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and you pick the fights you undertake based on the costs of the undertaking. The cop may be a jackass, but he's a jackass with a badge, a gun, and some handcuffs, and even if they are wrong and I will be vindicated in a court of law, I don't have the time or money to sit around defending myself in court or to recuperate from any injuries inflicted during the arrest and incarceration process. I can always come back to that location and photograph there at a different day and time when this specific jackass is not there. It has nothing to do with deference to authority, it has everything to do with being sensible and avoiding risk. Instead, document the event, file a complaint with his superiors AND put the word out in the local media at the same time to guarantee the superiors take action. Police chiefs don't like getting embarrassed on the 6 o'clock news.
     
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  9. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Member
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    Here, thankfully not.


    Steve.
     
  10. Nodda Duma

    Nodda Duma Subscriber

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    Think that's the worst? Look up "no-knock warrant" and "wrong address".
     
  11. spacer

    spacer Member

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    Steve, only true to a point. You guys have some *very* heavily armed SWAT types always on-call by the unarmed Bobbies.
     
  12. blansky

    blansky Member

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    I think I read that US law states anyone can photograph/video any police activity as long as they are not hindering that activity.

    That being said, the cops make their own laws, and you will probably win your freedom after they punish you with a night in jail.

    When photographing these events, you need to have an instant upload to a cloud or other device so that your work is not deleted or the film not confiscated.

    Since Rodney King, cops do no like being video taped.
     
  13. andrew.roos

    andrew.roos Member

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    Tough to upload film to the cloud. Carrier pigeons, perhaps?
     
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  15. moose10101

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    Well, yes, it is the same in the USA, but since the person doing the arresting is also the one who gets to decide if it's an arrestable offense. Are you saying that UK law enforcers never try to enforce a nonexistent law?
     
  16. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Member
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    They try but it's not legal and in the cases we get to hear about, the police always issue an apology.

    But no, the person doing the arresting does not get to decide if it's an arrestable offence. That is dictated by law.


    Steve.
     
  17. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber
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    First of all David I would try to avoid getting into provocative situations with the authoritys by trying to shoot contentious situations that are none of my business, I would try use a little common sense because I'm not a professional photo journalist and don't pretend to be if I'm asked by a policeman to stop shooting I do so because it's very hard to stand on your legal rights when two huge cops have you in the back of a police vehicle and are beating the shit out of you.
     
  18. benjiboy

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    That's true the U.K police have Armed Response Units that are virtually S.W.A.T. teams, and there the Regional Crime Squads who wear civilian clothes are also armed, but the bobbies on the beat are unarmed.
     
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  19. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member
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    I don't know what snapguy had to say, but I probably would have quoted it and agreed.... less whatever name-calling may have been included.
     
  20. Steve Smith

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    I assume that double negative was unintentional...


    Steve.
     
  21. TheFlyingCamera

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    As far as the question of having a right to oppose the police if they are enforcing a non-existent law, or otherwise abusing their authority, you certainly have the right to do so in the US. But it's not a question of rights. It's a case of might makes right situationally.
     
  22. cliveh

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    No they are not. In general they are doing a very good job in very difficult situations and they need public support and not hindrance. The people of Paris know this.
     
  23. benjiboy

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    Yes Steve thanks for pointing it out.
     
  24. Hatchetman

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    how is taking photos, out of anyone's way, a hindrance?
     
  25. TheFlyingCamera

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    The argument could be made that having the camera there is a distraction to the police while trying to do their job, therefore hindering them from safe and successful completion of the task at hand. I wouldn't make that argument myself, and I'd in fact call bullshit on someone making that argument, but it's an argument that could win in court with the right lawyer and the right judge.
     
  26. benjiboy

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    I think I would become aggressive while trying to to do my job if someone kept taking pictures of me.
     
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