Police ordered “CAMERAS OFF” during a crowd disbursement…
A suburb of St. Louis, Missouri has been under a dramatic siege since Saturday, when a police officerÂ shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. In the wake of the killing, protests have engulfed the community â€” drawing a heavy-handed police crackdown with St. Louis County Police officers armed with assault weapons andÂ outfitted with military equipment. Many of the striking images have come from reporters on the front lines, but also from citizens and their smartphones.
Around 10PM ET on Wednesday night, a St. Louis County Police line demanded that a crowd of protesters turn off their cameras. Minutes earlier, the police had ordered what appeared to be a peaceful crowd to disperse, firing smoke grenades and rubber bullets. But none of them have to turn their cameras off.
As a resident of the United States, you have every right to record the police in the course of their public duties.Â The police don’t have a right to stop you as long as you’re not interfering with their work. They also don’t have a right to confiscate your phone or camera, or delete its contents, just because you were recording them.
Despite some state laws that make it illegal to record others without their consent, federal courts have held consistently that citizens have a First Amendment right to record the police as they perform their official duties in public. The Supreme Court also recently affirmed that the Fourth Amendment, protecting citizens from arbitrary searches and seizures, means that copsÂ need to “get a warrant”Â if they want to take your cellphone. (The ACLU has a conciseÂ guide to your rights, here.) And the US Department of Justice under Obama has affirmed the court’s stances by reminding police departments thatÂ they’re not allowed to harass citizensÂ for recording them.
Sadly these rights are not always respected by the police. Even journalists are being harassed in Ferguson in the course of their reporting. Earlier this evening,Â Washington PostÂ reporter Wesley Lowrey andÂ Huffington PostÂ reporter Ryan Reilly were arrested in a McDonalds and later released with no explanation.Â Washington PostÂ executive editor Martin D. BaronÂ said Lowrey wasÂ “illegally instructed to stop taking video of officers,” and then “slammed against a soda machine and then handcuffed.”