First Amendment on a Sunday stroll…

So I turned up at the Lodi Library for an event that was postponed (unbeknownst to me). Instead parking was at a premium because the twice annual Lodi Street Faire had taken over downtown.

Well, dangit, now that I had the camera AND a parking place it seemed to make sense to take a stroll through downtown and get some shots for my book-in-the-works.

Hmmm…what to shoot. Did a bit of Rule of Thirds with horizon high, middle and low. Then set up to shoot wide, medium, close-up, extreme close-up.


Too close apparently. The artist running the booth I chose at random walked out and told me not to shoot her jewelry. Apparently the latest scam is to photograph street artwork, and send it to China where it is knocked off and sold for less.

I explained to her that it was a public street and I had a right to shoot visuals. She insisted I did not and offered to call “the officials.”

Well…normally if I were really working a news shift this is where I’d pick up and move on. Unless it was a perp or real news, in which case I’d do what I did next. Stood my ground and suggested that she might as well go ahead.

So while she walked over to a near-by security guy, I mulled over what I was sure would happen. Ya see, I’m in the middle of researching and writing the legal chapter of my tome…and as most professionals, know my rights. Public street, open access, no expectation of privacy. My little experiment for the day was to see how far this would go before someone…anyone…explained what rights to privacy you really have in public.

I meandered over to the security guy who told me I couldn’t shoot video if someone didn’t want me to. That people have a right to privacy.

So it began to become an exercise in educating people. The old guy standing nearby had called “the officials” and told me people had a right to privacy. I explained, yes they do. But not on a public street. And I explained I could probably have just moved on, but I was standing on my First Amendment Rights.

And that’s when Mr. Security called me a troublemaker.

Right on. That’s me.

And it was pointed out that the cops were pulling up to the scene. On their bikes, hot and a bit tired.

I explained what I had done – and Cop #1 said, nope. No expectation of privacy on a public street. Sweet. He sent Cop #2 over to speak with the artist lady while I inquired if this was part of Lodi Police training. His response: Nope…I’ve been a cop for years and I know this.

Then someone brought up that I wasn’t media and he again pointed out that you don’t need to be media to take pictures in a public area.

How did this finally end? I joshed with the cops a bit, apologizing for making them pedal all the way down to handle my “crisis.” Oh – and it didn’t hurt that Cop #1 and I began talking and I mentioned I was a retired news photog. We parted on friendly terms.

Around this time the security guy began to explain that he wasn’t taking sides. And he really seemed both sorry and taken aback about what the actual laws about right to privacy in public are.

Lesson accomplished. Stood my ground graciously and quietly, all the while trying to educate people. And those few who sat through it learned that (a) there is no expectation of privacy in a public area and (b) anyone can take photos/video in public. I would have spoken again to the artist lady but I suspect it wouldn’t have gone well. As it was I’m dumping whatever I shot of her and her booth.

And right now I’m very very proud of the Lodi Police Department.


3 thoughts on “First Amendment on a Sunday stroll…

  1. I’m going to explain a bit of my thought process here rather than in the main posting. This is only really the second time I can recall conflict in shooting as a civilian. The other time was a month or so ago at a Hoodie rally when the volunteer security (Nation of Islam) tried to corral me in when I got off the sidewalk to get shots of a motorcycle cop blocking traffic with the crowd walking past in the background. This time the security guy put hands on me – so I twitched and said, “Young man, take your hands off me,” adding that it would take me less than ten seconds to get my shot. He backed off.

    Today’s incident is very typical of what the public thinks they know about the law. While working in news and very obviously working – camera, logo, and even reporter – I’ve been vilified and cussed at and even threatened. Annoying, but comes with the territory.

    But as most pros know, since 911 there seems to be a perception that photography/videography is a crime. That there is no right to shoot in public or that anyone can tell you to stop – and even try to force you to stop.

    Public ignorance is widespread – and the more people repeat untruths, the more other people buy into it.

    So yes, Mr. Security was right. I WAS being a troublemaker. Not to cause trouble but to expose the truth. I didn’t take any particular pleasure in being proven right. I would have preferred to just move on and get my shots. But standing down and allowing lack of knowledge of the Constitution would have given the lady artist and security guy more confidence in their misinformation and it might have gone worse for the next person walking by with a camera.

    Photography is not a crime. I have rights, as does everyone in this country. But know your actual rights, not the rights you assume you have. Makes it easier all over.

    • Photography may not be a crime but there are plenty of law enforcement organizations out there who think it is and propagate that line of thinking (and some even have forms encouraging people to fill out to snitch on photogs who take dare to take photos of say a historic building for example)

      • Thanks Amanda…I know that, but many who read this may think if the cops are handing out forms to report photography it must be okay to report it. In the interest of fairness – even though you are NOT required to say who you are or what you are doing – it is best to carry cards that identify you (even if they just say Joe Schmoo/amateur photographer) and to be open about what you are doing. Sometimes the court of ignorance and mob thinking can be dangerous.

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