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Victory! Judge Blocks Law That Made it Illegal to Film Police

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Published on: September 12, 2022

Champions of free speech achieved a small victory as a federal judge blocked a new law that jailed people for filming cops.

Frequent readers of the Free Thought Project know that filming the cops is not a crime. Despite this being a widely known provision — held up with multiple court precedents — cops continue to violate the First Amendment protected right of citizens to film the police. Earlier this year, the Arizona House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would criminalize filming cops on the job, dealing a massive blow to First Amendment rights. The following month, the Senate passed it, and in July, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed it into law.

On Sept. 24 it was going to be illegal to record the police in Arizona within an 8-foot distance. Fortunately, at least for the time being, a federal judge has blocked the law, agreeing with a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and multiple media companies.

According to ABC, “U.S. District Judge John J. Tuchi issued a preliminary injunction that stops the law from being enforced when it is set to take effect on Sept. 24. The quick decision came after Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and the prosecutor and sheriff’s office in Maricopa County told the judge they did not plan to defend the law. They were named as defendants in the lawsuit filed last month.”

“We are extremely gratified that Arizonans will not have their constitutional rights infringed and their ability to record the police criminalized by this law,” KM Bell, an ACLU attorney said.

Republican Representative John Kavanaugh, who is a former police officer, was the lead sponsor of the legislation. According to the law, it would be illegal “for a person to knowingly make a video recording of law enforcement activity, including the handling of an emotionally disturbed person, if the person does not have the permission of the law enforcement officer” and is within 8 feet of the cop.

Kavanaugh originally stipulated a 15 foot radius, however it was later amended after multiple objections. But for many, this is still too far.

As Valera Voce, points out, the law also classifies unlawful video recording of law enforcement activity as a petty offense, unless a person fails to comply with a verbal warning of a violation or has been previously convicted of a violation in which case an offense is a class 3 misdemeanor. A class 3 misdemeanor comes with a minimum of 30 days in jail. Finally, the bill explicitly declares that it “does not establish a right, or authorize any person, to make a video recording of a law enforcement officer.”

“It’s crazy thinking about that for a second. The video that led to the criminal conviction of the police officer who killed George Floyd would itself be a criminal act. And that makes no sense whatsoever,” attorney Dan Barr told FOX 10.

“We believe that this bill stacks the deck against the public check on officer misconduct,” Timothy Sparling, a lawyer and legislative advocate for Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Sparling argued that the bill leaves too much up to the discretion of the officers. “When officers have such wide discretion to determine, say, what is lawful conduct or what is unlawful conduct on the ground and that is not properly defined … it’s ultimately up to whatever the officer wants it to be,” Sparling said.

Indeed, it is, and this is a dangerous notion. Luckily for now, it has been stopped in its tracks.

It is already illegal to interfere in police investigations. Yelling at cops or heckling them while they do their job can be construed as interfering and if it reaches a certain level to where it endangers the officers, it should probably not be tolerated.

But merely filming should never be considered a crime.

George Floyd, Eric GarnerAlton SterlingAlexander GonzalesWalter Scott. and countless others all have one thing in common — their last moments alive were captured on cellphone videos as police killed them. These videos and others like them led to charges against those involved, with some of them putting killer cops in jail for a long time.

Not only did these videos lead to charges against cops but they showed the world the reality of police many interactions and how the escalation of force can and will result in the death of those accused of petty offenses.

Without citizen video, the country would still be in the dark about the nature of police violence in the land of the free and thanks to bills like this one, we could possibly revert back to that darkness. Fighting it is the only option.

The bottom line here is this: much of America’s law enforcement have never liked public accountability and have consistently objected to laws that make it easier to hold them accountable. From keeping body camera footage secret to passing ordinances like this one, cops will do everything in their power to make sure you can’t see what they don’t want you to see — even if it takes place in public spaces and directly affects you.

This law would have undoubtedly been used by police to further oppress those who attempt to assert their right to film the police and hold them accountable. It is shameful and though it has been temporarily blocked, it needs to be repealed immediately.

Article posted with permission from Matt Agorist

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