As a photographer stories like this really get my blood boiling:
A few weeks ago, on his way to work, Matt Urick stopped to snap a few pictures of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s headquarters. He thought the building was ugly but might make for an interesting photo. The uniformed officer who ran up to him didn’t agree. He told Urick he was not allowed to photograph federal buildings.
Urick wanted to tell the guard that there are pictures of the building on HUD’s Web site, that every angle of the building is visible in street views on Google Maps and that he was merely an amateur photographer, not a threat. But Urick kept all this to himself.
“A lot of these guys have guns and are enforcing laws they obviously don’t understand, and they are not to be reasoned with,” he said. After detaining Urick for a few minutes and conferring with a colleague on a radio, the officer let him go.
The Washington Post story has a lot more accounts of similar incidents.
What really gets me about this is that these officers are still stopping and detaining photographers, despite the courts saying it is perfectly legal:
Courts have long ruled that the First Amendment protects the right of citizens to take photographs in public places. Even after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement agencies have reiterated that right in official policies.
So why do so many police and security guards believe they are in the right? Well it boils down to that post-9/11 mentality:
“Security guards are often given few rules to follow, but they have clearly gotten the message that they need to be extra vigilant,” said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. “In the end, it seems you never know how a particular security guard is going to react.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the more we shred our Constitution in response to the 9/11 attacks, the bigger the victory for those who attacked us.
I don’t believe police and security guards who stop photographers should lose their job, but I believe a vigilant policy does need to be enforced. Say after the first offense it’s a warning. The second and you are in some really boring class explaining our Bill of Rights. If there is a third offense, well then you are on the unemployment line. Perhaps then the message will finally filter down to those on the street.