Right Hooks

Judge Rules No Right to Film Cops, Appeal Coming

The First Amendment ensures a free people can challenge the government.

Dan Gilmore · Feb. 26, 2016

The American Civil Liberties Union said that it will appeal the Philadelphia court case where a federal judge ruled there is no right to film police officers. ACLU lawyer Mary Catherine Roper said, “Without a protected right to film officers, the ability of the public to monitor police activity is really reduced. We know how effective video has been in creating a conversation about police accountability. Video does not always show police officers are misbehaving, but without it, it’s really hard to convince people of misconduct by the authorities.”

Last week, U.S. District Judge Mark Kearney ruled that police did not violate the First Amendment rights of two Philadelphia residents who were stopped by police from filming them. In his ruling, Kearney wrote: “We have not found, and the experienced counsel have not cited, any case in the Supreme Court or this Circuit finding citizens have a First Amendment right to record police conduct without any stated purpose of being critical of the government.” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told his police force in 2011 that they should expect to be recorded by the public. In fact, two federal judges in Philadelphia ruled in the past that citizens have the right to record what the people whose job is to enforce the law are doing. Kearney severely limited that right, saying citizens only have the right to pull out their cell phone cameras if they are going to challenge the police officer’s behavior, or they witness wrongdoing, severely chilling the ability for citizens to collect information they need to make a successful challenge. The First Amendment ensures a free people can challenge the government, but for it to work, they need the facts to back up their words.

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