Police Harassment of Photographers Remains a Problem

It’s been almost two years since we posted our ”Know Your Rights” Guide for Photographers, began calling attention to the problem of police harassment of photographers (including through this video), and began blogging about the issue. And several years before that, our affiliates around the country had already begun filing what have become numerous lawsuits on the issue.

It’s also been nearly two years since the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that the right to film police officers is protected by the First Amendment and that, moreover, that principle is so “fundamental and virtually self-evident” that it should have been known to the police even before the court’s ruling. That ruling was only the most prominent—courts around the country have been pretty much unanimous in finding such a right.

Yet the problem persists.

As Carlos Miller documents on his invaluable site Photography is Not a Crime, incidents of police harassment of photographers (and worse) continue to take place around the country on a daily or near-daily basis.

Why is it so hard for police officers to learn the law? We have seen settlements in some cities in which police department management has sent clear messages to their officers instructing them on the law, but in many cities, not enough has been done to train officers and/or enforce requirements that they abide by the Constitution.

As citizens prepare to gather this Fourth of July for rallies to restore the Fourth Amendment, let’s hope that this First Amendment right is respected as well.

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If the "principle is so “fundamental and virtually self-evident” that it should have been known to the police", then a police officer should be PERSONALLY liable for damages if he violates that right. Correct?


I would have to agree!


Piggy backing on comment 1. Why are they not being arrested and prosecuted? Would that not bring a quick end to illegal arrests, seizure/being detained, property stolen under the color of law.

Amy Barnes

When can we see some actual criminal prosecutions of police for theft of photographers' cameras? Why are the police not gone after in criminal court?


I don't disagree with it, but I have a major-ass problem when people do something f'ing despicable and then hide behind the First Amendment to say they "have every right to do it."

Doesn't common sense or common DECENCY ever factor into this? And what happened to the idea of "you don't get to hide behind the Bill of Rights when committing crimes or verbal abuse?

My friend's daughter was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary school, and every day a load of trolling fools visits her page to tell her that her daughter's really alive and that it's all a damn hoax. As if she's hiding her daughter in the closet or something, and what kind civility can a "person" have to tell a parent of a murdered child every single DAY that the person that parent KNOWS is gone ISN'T really gone?

When the hell does anybody ever have to use common sense, that's never been common, or common decency and keep their big fat mouths CLOSED every once in a damn while?

You have the freedom of speech to yell 'Fire' in a crowded movie theater too, but you'll end up spending a few days in jail if you actually do it. Especially if anyone gets hurt trying to leave.
When the founding fathers wrote the First Amendment, they WEREN'T thinking it was okay to verbally abuse the crap out of someone who's already in unimaginable pain or incite other people to commit acts of violence.
I'm absolutely convinced that that's not what they meant by "freedom of speech."

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