Sunday, July 25, 2010

Time for a bit of good news, Part 1

This past week, a federal district court judge ruled that
Pennsylvania state troopers violated the constitutional rights of a man they arrested for videotaping police while they performed roadside inspections. ... After obtaining the permission of a nearby landowner he peacefully videotaped the officers from twenty feet away in August 2000 and again in October 2002. On both occasions, [Allen] Robinson was arrested for harassment and convicted by a local judge.

"We are not dealing with a 'close case,'" Judge Harvey Bartle III of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania wrote in overturning the 2002 conviction. "There was no justification for the actions of defendants in violating Robinson's right to free speech and his right to be secure in his person against an unreasonable seizure." ...

"To defendants, Robinson was a gadfly," Judge Bartle concluded. ... "It is fundamental that persons such as Robinson may not be deprived of their constitutional rights simply because they are unpopular or disliked or are resented by the police."
At a time when police almost routinely harass people trying to photograph or videotape legally in public areas, a time when trying to record police misconduct (or, as in Robinson's case, any sort of conduct) can get you charged with a felony, a time when many police - unsurprisingly. actually - seem to think they can make up the law as they go along, victories such as this are very important.

What was especially important in the immediate case, in my opinion, is not not only did the judge order the police to pay Robinson $35,000 in compensatory damages, he also ordered the three cops who arrested him to each pay him $2000 in punitive damages. Why is that important? Because it's my firm opinion that this kind of crap will stop only when individual cops have to pay a price for their behavior. In most of those rare cases where there is a penalty imposed, it is all but invariably placed on the town or the police department as a whole while the individual cops skate. I am prepared to guarantee that $2000 out of their bank accounts will provide more of an attitude adjustment for those cops than any number of departmental memos could.

Footnote: Commenting on a different case, David Rocah of the ACLU of Maryland said this:
Police and governmental recording of citizens is becoming more pervasive and to say that government can record you but you can't record, it speaks volumes about the mentality of people in government.
Not only government, Mr. Rocah. In a post about privacy issues way, way back in December 2003, I wrote:
Are the children going to be able to track the parents? Are the employees going to be able to track the boss? Will the public be tracking government agents or Starbucks executives?

Of course not. It seems silly even to ask. ... This is not about protection or accountability, it's about power. Establishing, using, extending, demonstrating power. Whether it's the direct intimidating power of "they know I'm watching" or the more subtle power of "I can catch them at something," both of which assume those being watched are untrustworthy (which is what the watchers always assume about the watched), it is ... something those with power put on those without it.
So no, not only the government. It is a matter of how we think about power in our society.

No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');