Activists often end up encountering situations where accountability to through photography is needed. Here are five helpful tips for activists photographers brought to you by The Conscious Resistance Network.
1. You can shoot anything in “plain view” on a public street.
You always have the right to photograph or videotape anything and everyone on a public street, without consent. This is called “Plain View”, and within this protection you cannot be arrested. Drones could make a bigger issue of this in the near future, as amateur photogs begin using them for art and civil reconnaissance.
The above photo illustrates my first encounter documenting the police. There was a disturbance taking place near me in downtown NYC, and many fire trucks and police cars were already at the scene. After about 10 minutes of photographing, some officers emerged from the building with a man who was handcuffed. I did not know his crime, and still do not. I got closer to get a good angle and the female officer told me to stop taking pictures.
I simply informed her that I am on public property and will continue to photograph as per my constitutional rights. She snapped back a few times telling me to get lost, and then continued with her more important endeavor of arresting the man. I wasn’t doing it to frame her, I just wanted an interesting picture, and I was well within my rights to do that.
2. Always have a backup recording device, in case of arrest.
In many cases cops have destroyed or deleted data to prevent a lawsuit. Cops are not allowed to destroy your data under any circumstances. As you can see in this article firsthand, many officers will not hesitate to destroy your recording (or camera) for the dire need of preventing a lawsuit. They believe we are doing this as some sort of a for-profit scheme – and not that we would just like to see them do their jobs constitutionally and non-violently. Get a small cheap audio recorder, keep it concealed and already recording the next time you are confronted by police.
Encrypt your phone with a password lock, and lock it if the officer attempts to illegally confiscate it. With privacy apps such as “My Secret Folder” on iOS (plenty for android as well), you can take photos and videos right from the app, where it immediately goes to a secret folder that is protected by multiple passwords. SLR photographers should tie their straps around their wrist to make it difficult for a cop to quickly snatch their camera, or knock it to the ground. Ok, maybe camera straps aren’t advanced technology, but they are there for a reason – so use it!
4. Be friendly to cops, even when they are breaking the law.
I realize how hard it must be to not vent the frustrations you have gained after years of witnessing police abuse… but the point of recording is too keep an accurate and evidence based document for use in a potential case. If you are loud and confrontational, they will treat you as a threat. Be chill! Take it easy on the sarcasm as well, they can sense passive aggressive behavior stronger than Wolverine can smell his arch-enemy Sabertooth. They might even attack you with the same vengeance.
If you own a DSLR (single lens reflex) you could pretend to be working on a school, or art project about public servants. If you are just using your phone, try not to make it too obvious, and perhaps pretend to check messages. Do not make reference to their illegal activity – your camera is already doing that. The friendlier you are – the better chance you have at uploading that video later that night, rather than sitting in a jail cell for an unconstitutional arrest.
5. Police cannot confiscate photo/video equipment, or view your images, without a warrant.*
*Police can confiscate photo/video equipment, or view your images, without a warrant, (if you live in a constitution free zone, or if they feel like it). They no longer need a judge if you happen to live within 100 miles from the coast. 4th amendment be damned.
However, this is more of a warning if you happen to be recording federal police, as most state and local will see this as a legal gray area. State and local police still must get a judge to gain a search warrant, and they cannot delete photos and videos without approval. However they can seize your phone if they believe you have committed a crime, and download the contents later only with the authorization of a judge. And if they do seize your phone/camera, who knows what kind of “accidents” could happen? They won’t be held liable.
If the police DO take your camera, ask them “why are you taking my camera?”, and “I don’t consent to a search”. If they do end up downloading and/or deleting your video, congratulations, you got a back-up device hidden in your pocket that recorded the whole illegal ordeal!
Brandon designs the weekly promotional ads for TCR, and also is our official photographer. Brandon graduated 2010 from Stephen F. Austin with a BFA in Photography and Digital Media. He is the Owner of BC Walk Photo/Video/Design You can contact him @ firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Facebook
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