What’s Suspicious About Exercising Your First Amendment Rights, Or, Why Can They Film Us But We Can’t Film Them?
It’s no secret that the government is big into surveillance. The Snowden revelations about how the entire U.S. government operates above the law, greedily scooping up every email, phone call, and text message every U.S. resident sends and receives every day were quite the eye-opener for many.
For other, it was seen as simply a vindication of what we have suspected for a very long time indeed: we are being surveilled, all of us, all the time. It is an ugly new reality, one that does not sit well with those of us who pay attention to what’s behind the soaring rhetoric of freedom that spews from the mouths of the same politicians who approve these activities behind closed doors.
What’s interesting to observe is how huffy the enforcers for the will of the state get when the tables are turned. To wit, a YouTube category called “First Amendment Audits,” in which freedom fighters armed only with their wits, a camera, and a solid knowledge of their rights under the Constitution seek to exercise those rights–and often end up educating the police on those rights.
Here’s great example of a cop in Greer, South Carolina bringing home a failing grade on his audit.
A YouTube user who goes by the handle Trey Citizen was shooting footage of a police station parking lot from a public sidewalk in Greer when he was approached by a uniformed cop who informed him that they had gotten a call reporting ‘suspicious activity.’ Whether the call came from the unmarked police car that had exited the parking lot moments before and slowed to take a good long look at Citizen was not made clear.
He asks for the officer’s name and badge number, but refuses to provide any additional information when the officer asks for his ID.
The cop then replied, “So, we’re just gonna have a stare-off … ‘cause I’m recording you and you’re recording me? Is that what we’re going to do?”
But there was only one person in the scene who felt threatened by being recorded, and he was wearing a uniform. When the cop tells him that he wants to see his ID because recording is suspicious activity, the filmer responds, “Sir, Terry v. Ohio, suspicious activity is not enough reasonable cause for [demanding] ID.”
He then asks the cop if suspicious activity is a felony or misdemeanor (it’s neither) to which the increasingly flustered officer says it is a misdemeanor.
A second and then a third cop comes along and demands ID, and things continue to escalate from there. Suffice to say, this is a must-see video for any citizens concerned with police overreach–and also for any police are unclear on how the law works when it involves citizens lawfully filming in public spaces.