Wednesday, August 20, 2014

overseer, i'm an american citizen. if you want to remain an overseer, don't violate my civil rights!

HuffPo |  But this idea that cops get to say when and where constitutional rights apply is so very, deeply misguided that I am shocked anyone could type it out without coming to their senses mid-sentence. After all, if you want to get kicked off jury duty, the fastest way is just to say, "If the cops arrested her, she must have been doing something wrong." Our entire system of criminal justice is built around the idea that law enforcement officers are imperfect. 

There's an experience I think every reporter has had, at least once: you are filming or photographing something, in public, and a police officer demands that you stop. It is not a request. It is a demand, made with some show of force. On the second demand, as if by training, they usually indicate that they are explicitly ordering you to stop. (A deputy sheriff once sped his SUV, parked about 20 feet away, toward me as a means of punctuating an "order." I had to jump out of its path.) He or she will likely threaten to take your camera, or arrest you. 

It's hard for the average person to wrap their minds around the fact that this sort of thing is fairly commonplace. Most cops, like most people, are nice enough, and generally just trying to do their jobs. They have our respect, because they keep us safe by doing work that is more difficult and dangerous than most. I know a lot of fantastic cops, and I daresay they far outnumber the bad.

Still, I've been threatened by police officers, for doing my own job, on four occasions. Little ol' me, the last guy to cross against the light, without so much as a speeding ticket (still) on my record. In each of those cases, the police officer backed down after being calmly informed that he was a public person in a public space, with no reasonable expectation of privacy. You know, stuff he should already know. I've been lucky, I suppose. I've certainly never been arrested or tear-gassed. 

What has always troubled me most about these incidents -- if you can believe it -- is the inescapable impression that officers really believe they have the right to issue these "orders," under threat of arrest. As if a law meant to allow cops to direct traffic somehow trumps the Bill of Rights. First Amendment? Fourth Amendment? They don't need no stinking constitution. They have guns and handcuffs. And I knew each time that the only reason I wasn't being arrested was because I came across as the type of person with means of recourse.


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