This week we received more news of the continued war on photography. The NY Transit Police – aka Thugs, Inc. arrested another photographer. This time for taking pictures of the subway EVEN THOUGH IT’S NOT ILLEGAL TO MAKE PHOTOS THERE! So we’re at the point where the cops are pretty much MORE dangerous to photographers in New York than your average mugger.
I am not sure what it is about handing someone a gun and a badge that gives them the feeling they’re above the law, but it’s pretty apparent that in New York anyway, that’s par for the course.
But is there anything we can do about it?
The online forums and social networks are full of people posting their outrage. Guess what – nobody cares. It’s going to take more than tough talk to stop the cops from harassing photographers.
It’s time that photographers start sticking up for their rights by using the administrative, judicial and legislative process. If a cop (or anyone else) stops you from engaging in legal photographic activities, sue them. If security guards illegally detain you, call police and tell them you’d like them to investigate a kidnapping. File complaints against those who impede your right to photograph with any administrative body that will listen. Contact your legislative representatives and ask for statutory protection.
If a police department is sued, has to pay money, and is publicly outed for harassing photographers they’ll learn a lesson that all the complaining in online forums can’t teach. Recently, Seattle had to pay money to a photographer for harassment. The SPD revamped its policies to provide more training to the cops to get them on the cluetrain – i.e., that it’s not a crime to take pictures.
In the UK, the government is trying to make it illegal to take a photo of a police officer or soldier. Once that happens, you can kiss whatever press freedom is left goodbye along with the right to pursue photography in a peaceful manner. Cops will just claim that photographers were making images of police or soldiers (whether or not they are) and fines and jail sentences will follow.
We can stop this from happening (at least in the USA) if we act quickly – but ACTION not words is what is required. Go to court. Sue the bastards. Make them pay. Don’t just vent in an online forum. The people who need to hear you aren’t there listening. They’re out hassling other photographers because nobody’s taught them the lesson that there is a price to pay for violating our Constitutional rights.
In closing, I’d also like to challenge the profession photo associations to become a great deal more aggressive on these issues. Organizations like the PMA, NAPP, WPPI, PPA, ASMP and others collect lots of dues and have a louder voice than the average photographer. Yet, these organizations seem content to try to negotiate these problems away. It isn’t working. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work. You can’t negotiate with a bully. The only thing a bully understands is a kick in the rear. Stop trying to talk to unreasonable people. Take them to court. Teach them what the law is. Take their money. Shine the public spotlight on their activities. Get the public at large to realize that if they allow their police force to act in a manner that’s contrary to law – it’s the PUBLIC who will foot the bill. I suspect that while few outside our industry care about our plight, they WILL care about having to pay damage awards when we win our day in court.
Sorry for the rant – but at least I feel better.