Access Denied

Cameras are like kryptonite to Baltimore's police. When my camera shoots, it won't hurt a bit.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? A question I cringe everytime I hear it, and one I'm asked way too often while covering breaking news through out Baltimore.  It's usually followed by a group of officers laying hands on me and trying to physically remove me from an area.  

It'd be one thing if this was taking place at some fancy cocktail event, while dressed in my characteristic attire (all black, leather vest, hat, barefoot or open sandals, year round), I'm typically not on VIP guest lists.  But to be routinely challenged, in public space, by public servants, is something I find deeply disturbing.  

Nearly 20 years ago, I first got involved involved with independent, street journalism.  I've been fortunate to see my work appear far and wide, around the world.  Always controversial, back then, to protect the privacy of my family and myself, I typically published anonymousy, or under one assumed name or another.  Some people knew my face, few knew my real name.

Strange as it may seem, I've had less issues with access then than I do now.  I must have missed the memo given to cops, informing them that constitutional rights, for non-main-stream journalists, had been suspended in Baltimore.

When police walk past everyday citizens, standing around gawking at a scene, and single me out because of a camera hanging from my neck, or a clearly visible press pass, we got a problem.  A BIG PROBLEM!

Having worked with, around and among all sorts of law enforcement, from various agencies, in this country and others, I have never seen a group having more issues with the presence of a camera than Baltimore's finest. What gives?

The issue is not unique to Baltimore City either.  Surrounding counties making up the Baltimore metro are just as guilty.  In the last month, I've been challenged by Baltimore County and Howard County too.  

Based on numerous accounts, Prince Georges County, Maryland State Police, and even Montgomery County Police have been guilty of this same egregiously unsettling behavior.

While I could write a book on this subject; and all the ways it's fundamentally wrong, what a waste of resources it is to have cops hassling journalists instead of crime, the bad blood it breeds between folk like myself and the police; for now, I'll keep it brief.  After all, I have to save something for the book.



When some poorly trained, over aggressive, lack of civil rights comprehending cop, tries to push me around, simply because I'm reporting on a story. Not only is it a nuisance, it's a violation of the highest law of the land; the Constitution of The United States.  The work I do is not a priviledge, it's a constitutionally protected endeavor.

Simply put; The First Amendment gives the press the right to publish news, information and opinions without government interference. Gathering of said information included.  This also means people have the right to publish their own newspapers, blogs, websites, etc.

Has the time arrived to begin pressing charges against individual officers for infringement and suppression of First Amendement rights?  Would making a good example of one and taking it all the way to the fullest extent allowable send a clear message to police agencies?  There needs to be better training for law enforcement in dealing with media and to understand it's vital role in a free and democratic society? 

What do you think?



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Sean Tully October 08, 2011 at 03:19 PM
Police do have some catching up to do with regards to what citizens have a right to do in public. The Internet Age has changed who exactly is a "journalist". The fact is that anyone with information and a connection to the Internet could be classified as a journalist. We all don't have degrees in the subject, but some of the best spot news coverage, especially in photography, is done non-trained reporters.
ralahinn1 October 09, 2011 at 12:52 AM
If someone has nothing to hide, they should not fear having photographs( or other media records) of their actions. Do the right thing and be proud of your actions.
ALan Z. Forman October 09, 2011 at 08:17 AM
It's not just the cops, James. Check out our story on VoiceOfBaltimore.org about the Sun reporter who was ejected from an "Occupy Baltimore" planning session last week because a minority-- that's right, a minority-- of the protesters didn't want any media coverage except what they could manipulate and control. Read it at http://voiceofbaltimore.org/archives/386 AL Forman Voice of Baltimore . org
Sean Tully October 09, 2011 at 04:51 PM
Alan, your example is nothing like police preventing a citizens from video taping in a public place. The Occupy Baltimore group had the right to exclude anyone they wished, as long as they weren't holding the meeting in a public place. If the majority of the group agreed with the minority that the Sun reporter should be barred, then that seems like the majority agreed to bar the Sun reporter.
ALan Z. Forman October 10, 2011 at 05:12 AM
Not so, Sean, the Occupy Together movement operates on a consensus model that gives preference to women and traditionally marginalized groups over men. The overwhelming majority at the planning session voted to allow the Sun reporter to stay, but because a small percentage of their number felt "uncomfortable" with her there, she was forced to leave. And sure, they can exclude anyone they want from their planning sessions, but that doesn't give them the right to dictate who can and cannot film them in the Inner Harbor-- a public place. Still it's encouraging to see so many people, mostly young, willing to address an important public issue, even if a small minority are overly concerned about the prospect of seeing their name in a newspaper or their face on a TV newscast. The majority, however, would do well to overrule them. We do still live in a democracy, you know. AL Forman http://VoiceOfBaltimore.org


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