Finally, we have what I'm calling Good News with a big question mark.
On February 27, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the public has a right to film the police.
Which on its face would seem to be Good News and, coming from the notoriously rightwing 5th Circuit, I suppose it is.
But: I have to ask why is this even an issue? Why is this a thing at all? Of course we have the right to film cops! And don't give me any crap about "qualified immunity" because there is no rational theory of qualified immunity that could enable it to obviate the First Amendment. How can it even be a question? And yet it is, over and over again.
Indeed, the ACLU says there is
a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs or video in public places and harassing, detaining, and arresting those who fail to comply.To make it worse, the 5th Circuit decision wasn't even unanimous: One of those three judges was prepared to find that you have no right to film or photograph cops - or, more precisely, that such a right "is not clearly established."
And the decision contained enough caveats and was written with such timidity - it treated finding a First Amendment right to video police as if it was some daring advance, which maybe for them it was - that it's hard to regard it as striking a major blow for free speech.
Even so, it adds to the growing bulk of cases and rulings that cops cannot exempt themselves from oversight by the general cellphone-carrying or camera-wielding public. And so, still wondering why this is even still a question, I have to call this Good News.