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A Camera Revolution, Eavesdropping Laws & Being Arrested for Recording Police Officers

What if Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers who were murdered by the Chicago police department had the capability of recording the police raid that caused so much controversy in 1969? What if the Rodney King Video was never recorded in 1991? What if someone had been able to record John Burge when he enforced police torture on American citizens for more than a decade? Through videophones we have a grassroots accountability system for police and other forms of government that have traditionally been able to sustain corruption in the dark corners of invisibility.

As we move into the 21st century our society repeatedly finds new innovative ways to use these technological advancements. But there seems to (historically) and consistently be someone in power attempting to restrict and control these modern capabilities.  As we see with Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and a plethora of examples around the world, the camera revolution has been a tool to shine a spotlight on traditionally invisible problems.  However now in Illinois and other states, wire-tapping laws are being used to make it illegal to record police officers.

Many have overlooked the power of a video. But as a camera on cellular devices becomes almost standardized there is simultaneously an army of cameramen being built. And the power of a video camera becomes much more realized in modern societies. If you conduct a simple youtube search of police brutality one can see the fruits of new media’s labor.

Unfortunately wherever you have individuals in society finding opportunities to hold the police (or other forms of government) accountable, you will also find someone attempting to destroy those structures of accountability.

There have been several recent stories in the news over the past couple months about police either destroying cameras, arresting those who did the recording, and even one case of someone being arrested for using her camera to stop a police from sexually harassing her.

Radley Balko explains how people are usually not jailed for these crimes, but the police still use the laws to arrest people at the scene, and some police even arrest citizens in states that don’t have any wire-tapping or eavesdropping laws. He writes the following: “In addition to arresting citizens with cameras for wiretapping, police can use vaguer catch-all charges, such as interfering with a police officer, refusing to obey a lawful order, or obstructing an arrest or police action. Such arrests are far more common. Even more frequent are incidents where police don’t make arrests but illegally confiscate cameras, delete photos and videos, or incorrectly warn camera-wielding citizens that they aren’t allowed to film.”

It is no coincidence that Chicago, one of the most corrupt cities, in one of the most corrupt states in the country is now enforcing a law that doesn’t allow everyday citizens to record police officers. I think people should be taking this issue to the streets (marching against and protesting these policies). Through cameras we have finally found a grassroots procedure that can sustain systems of accountability. We cannot allow corrupt institutions—that wish to keep marginalizing communities that are plagued with invisibility— to use the law for fraudulent purposes.


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