In the above video, you see that Carlos Miller (of Photography Is Not A Crime) and photojournalist Stretch Ledford were stopped while taking photos at Douglas Road Metro Station in Miami – before they even got into the station and while they were still in the parking lot.
While we’ve seen prior videos from other photographers that some readers have accused of baiting officers into a confrontation, Ledford actually contacted the Miami-Dade Transit Chief of Security to ascertain the actual rules for photography on the Metrorail premises before they ever set out to take any photos. Miller was openly filming the encounter, and while Ledford appeared to remain cool-headed throughout the confrontation, the private security company seems to have stepped well beyond its legal boundaries.
This is yet another sad event in an ongoing trend of photographers’ confrontation with police and security.
There is an obvious disconnect between those who draft and quote policies and those who are on the street enforcing policies and attempting to keep the public safe. Continually, it seems that the front line personnel are the ones facing criticism and ridicule on the Internet. This entire dilemma is unfair in many ways.
It’s unfair to the photographers, who have every right to shoot video or photos in a public place. The infringement of those Constitutional guarantees is troubling, to say the least.
It’s also unfair to those photographers who are ignorant of what level of rights they do have to use their cameras in public. And, who will shy away when told they can no longer take photos due to “terrorism” laws.
Finally, it’s unfair to the front line police and security personnel. Photographers are keyed-in to the specific Constitutional rights, and in the case above, the specific policies regarding photography in public or at a given location. While we photographers are very aware of our rights, there is a good chance that the police and security personnel we encounter do not have anywhere near the same level of intimate knowledge that many photographers have – and certainly not the same level of those who prepare for First Amendment “sting” operations.
When was the last time, if ever, that you think any of the security officers received a training course on the First Amendment? Now then, how much training do you think those same security officers received on dealing with suspicious packages? Photographers are just not on the radar of their daily job description.
I feel that the root of the problem lies with those who make policy-level decisions – from training, to drafting the actual policies, to overseeing the implementation of those policies. I also feel that the solution lies in activism at that level of authority, rather than risking one’s safety and challenging those who are ignorant of these laws on the street.
I would prefer to pass along a story about how a local photography club engaged a police department, armed with an authoritative knowledge and understanding of the law as it relates to photographers, and educated those front-line officers through either direct training, or by pushing policy-level changes from the top down.
While I don’t always agree with Miller and others’ methods in these confrontations, that’s not to say that I don’t respect them for standing up for their Constitutional rights. Carlos Miller and many others are at least doing something to address a real problem. If nothing else, it brings the issues to the table and, hopefully, pushes us all beyond a talking point and moving toward meaningful action.