Victim or perpetrator?

I follow Carlos Miller’s Photography Is Not a Crime blog for a reason. Ninety-nine percent of the time photographers are harassed due to either ignorance about First Amendment rights by law enforcement and other agencies or at times those agencies or employees deliberately ignoring the rights of media and citizens.

First – the media has no more nor less rights than any citizen of this great country. So if a videojournalist is pushed back and locals are allowed to stay near a homicide scene that is wrong – illegal. Journalists can, however, be allowed closer and are even protected under some state laws so they can have access to disaster and other areas closed off to the general public for safety reasons.

So all of this leads to what appears at first glance to be yet another case of cop v. citizen caught on a cell phone. Take a look at the videos here and then let me explain my take on it.

If you watched all nine videos you’ll note some are extremely short, which I’ll attribute to Ikhinmwin possibly either having difficulty uploading or editing or both (those are the one or two second clips).

I went to her youtube channel fully intending to support her and find fault with the police…and after watching the videos and reading the comments, I find fault with both the police and her.

The police could have ignored her…but they did have a point in the fact her bike was legally on the street/over the curb. You can even see that in her own video. And refusing to move a bike because you don’t want the tires to get dirty? Hmmmm…

This is a case that (at least to me) is up in the air – still out waiting for more information. If Ikhnmwin shot this as one clip, it has been edited. It is possible she shot multiple clips…and I for one would like to know which is the case because what is posted does not bode well for her. Her own video shows her bike was on the street and her reason for not moving it seems rather petty. I do think the officer came after her too harshly…and between the two of them, the situation escalated. And the officer is the one who should have been professional enough to let it go. But – there was absolutely no cooperation or courtesy from Ikhnmwin either.

Final score? The cops came out smelling worse but the so-called victim doesn’t come off much better. And if the court of public comments has anything to say (and be warned some of them are pretty nasty) simple courtesy might have averted an arrest.

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Apparently photography IS a crime in Ohio…

Thanks to Canuckcam over at b-roll for this little item. Congressman Steve Chabot had police confiscate cell phones and recording devices from constituents at a town hall meeting. His reasoning? To protect the identities of his constituents.

So below is the recording made by TV news cameramen at the event who were allowed to record the meeting.

And here’s what was caught when two citizen’s protested and one of their cell phones kept recording.

Now YOU tell me what is wrong with the scenario. First – freedom of speech was squashed. Second, freedom of the press (and no – in this country NO ONE can define who is and is not media).

And strangely enough I’m not as upset at the police officer as the Congressman who gave the order to confiscate the devices. Unfortunately I’ve run into many uninformed cops who do not fully understand media rights…and who are willing to believe whatever they are told by higher-ups. I don’t absolve him either.

Yah think the Congressman has a chance of re-election?

8/25/11
Thanks to Amanda Emily for this update: the news has hit the mainstream media fans. Here’s the latest.

Update: M.A.L. vs. Kinsland

Did a bit more research on the case of a middle school student who sued his school, alleging his rights to free speech were violated … and couldn’t find much that has happened since that date. I did find a more complete explanation on Lifenews.com by David L. Hudson Jr., which clarifies what the court meant in its ruling.

A public school can prohibit a student from distributing anti-abortion leaflets in the halls in order to prevent “hallway clutter and congestion,” a unanimous three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week in M.A.L. v. Kinsland.

Apparently the issue in this case is different than Tinker, the 1969 Supreme Court ruling that found that students wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam war was a clear case of the students’ right to freedom of speech – saying that the students (and staff) at schools did not lose their Constitutional rights when they crossed onto school grounds. As a result of the Tinker case, school officials can only deny student right of expression if they feel there is reasonable cause for disruption or might violate the rights of others. The armbands were passive…students wore them, but did not actively advocate protesting the war by trying to convert others.

In M.A.L., a fourteen year old student known as Michael, wanted to distribute anti-abortion leaflets in the hallways of his middle school. He won in U.S. District Court, but school principal Stephen Kinsland appealed, saying the district’s policy of allowing students to post materials such as Michael’s on bulletin boards and in the cafeteria allowed students to express their rights – that the school policy was reasonable.

According to Hudson:

…the 6th Circuit sided with the school’s arguments and found Tinker inapplicable. The panel reasoned that “there is no indication that Jefferson’s proposed time, place regulation of Michael’s speech is based on a desire to suppress Michael’s anti-abortion viewpoint.” The appeals court panel also determined that a public school hallway is not a public forum.

Michael’s attorney said that most likely this ruling would be appealed…they feel that the school was targeting the anti-abortion content of the leaflets and singling Michael out for his views.

As an educator, I understand both the right to free speech AND the need to create an atmosphere conducive to learning on a school campus. There is a fine line between total freedom (chaos) and responsible use of rights. A few years back many California schools had to handle “A Day Without Mexicans” – when Hispanics called for workers and students to abstain from going to work and school in protest of immigration laws. The fear of on-campus protests and disruption of classes caused administrators to threaten suspensions for all who participated. There were meetings with students and administrators…and in the end, the entire event was very low-key and peaceful. I had students who did not come to school that day and who walked miles to attend rallies downtown. (I also had students who simply cut school and used the day as an excuse to be truant.) The former I spoke with and gave my support.

I’m watching this case to see what repercussions come out of it – on the surface it seems reasonable…how it is interpreted and used by administrators is what concerns me.

Forged in fire…

I’ve been reviewing the court cases that define student media rights (Tinker, Hazelwood) and came across the following from the Center for Scholastic Journalism Blog: Federal appeals court rules middle school is not a public forum; more censorship ahead. Ouch. That plus a blurb an email from the Society of Professional Journalists about an attempt to define, and thus restrict, who are journalists and who may/may not be admitted to meetings as such.

To review. The first ruling refers to a situation where a middle school student brought some anti-abortion leaflets to school. The principal told the student he could not distribute them because he did not have prior approval. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that:

…a middle school was not a public forum and school officials could both require prior approval of student leaflets and prohibit their distribution in hallways.

The onus put on school officials is to require ALL material be submitted for prior approval AND either ban or approve ALL material.

At the same time, this is chilling…where Tinker stated that a student does not lose their First Amendment right when they cross over onto school property, this ruling seems in direct conflict.

The Oregon situation, as summarized on the SPJ email:

Is your media organization “institutionalized”? “Well-established”? Does it produce at least 25 percent news content? If you can’t answer “yes” to all three, you won’t be welcome to cover local government in Lake Oswego, Ore., if the local council adopts a policy that defines members of the news media. When an Oregon blogger demanded entry to cover an executive session, Lake Oswego council members challenged his claim that he is a journalist. The city devised the policy, not yet passed, that has generated heat from several media organizations who view it as arbitrary because it allows cities and counties to decide whom to admit and whom to exclude from meetings and executive sessions.

It seems almost as if journalists are involved in a war with public officials, who are hunkering down and drawing battle lines, both at the professional and pre-entry levels. There’s an old adage: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

If our prospective journalists face fire in order to even gain the rights needed to go through high school and then college and then enter the workforce, then we will have a cadre of journalists forged in fire, tough enough to protect not only their rights, but the rights of those too ignorant to realize what they are doing to our youngest citizens and themselves.

A distant rumbling…

Ever since 911 I’ve worried about our freedoms…and, as a journalist, about the right to freedom of speech. All of my life I’ve kind of taken it for granted that the media has a right to seek and tell the truth. In these times that right can not be taken for granted.

And ever since leaving the real world for the shifting shadow and light world of education I’ve found an even more frightening situation. I’ve heard about attempts by school districts and administrators to restrain the rights of student journalists…some successful/some not. These stories used to chill me. I just couldn’t believe that an educator – a person in charge of guiding young minds – would deny anyone the rights guaranteed every citizen. It happens – believe me.

I found it curious that my first principal was very nervous when the issue came up – he knew the state education code and district policy prohibited prior restraint…and asked that I be careful with a very touchy story.

In my present situation I am not facing a wary principal, but an administrator who told me last week that, “video is not journalism” and he had a right to review any material my students wanted to enter in contests (and I assume want to put in the daily student bulletin…scheduled to go online in October).

Funny…I could have sworn I’ve been shooting video for years and it was journalism. It seems to me that newspapers are doing this daily too.

We all have choices…the last time the rights of student journalists came up I told him I was tired and really didn’t want to fight. I was right and he did not have the right to prior restraint. When the dust settled, the students published and nothing happened.

My choices this time are bothersome. As much as I truly love working with students, I abhor the politics and childish behavior that goes along with working as a teacher. All I want to do is my best at helping students learn. So what to do? Shutting up and obeying mindlessly is not an option. I’ve been considering leaving and finding a job more suitable for a malcontent…but that leaves my kids in the wake. Having a knock-down, drag-out fight is not my style….I’m more of the sit-in type. Passive resistance. Listen to the ranting and calmly refuse to give in. But it is tiring and a waste of both of our times.

Oh well. Give it time…

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