“Be Brave” Would Have Been More Accurate

The ACLU is, by definition, very invested in educating the American public as to their rights. To this end, they have released another informative video as to your First Amendment right to photograph or record video in public places, and that includes the police.


The video explains what to do in the face of a police officer who is unlawfully attempting to restrict your First Amendment right to photograph or record them in a public area, including being polite, informing them that you are aware that they are not allowed to see your recordings or force you to delete them, and asking if you can leave. The video ends with the common phrase: “know your rights”.

“Be incredibly brave” would have been a more accurate way to end that video. I understand their frustration, and the need for more people to stand up for their rights and not allow the police to walk all over them. If you politely comply with their request to see the pictures or video, and agree to delete it, you can’t then turn around and complain that they violated your rights, after all you also have the right to choose to show your pictures to whomever you want, and to delete them if you wish. However, I also understand the fear that many people, especially people of color, would feel in such a confrontation with police officers.

The stories of shootings, beatings and unlawful detainment of US citizens pile up every week. There are so many that I wouldn’t even know where to begin in linking them. The recent shooting of a man whose car broke down, even though his hands were clearly above his head, for instance. Or the shooting of a therapist trying to calm down an autistic patient of his, even though he had clearly identified himself, what he was doing there, and also had his hands above his head. And those cases were not even people defying unlawful orders given to them by police. So many people rightfully fear the mere presence of police officers, let alone calmly and politely contradicting their orders and informing them of their rights. Many would, quite literally, be risking their bodily integrity, and their lives.

I can’t fault the ACLU for releasing these kinds of videos, for the more people who are educated about their rights the better. However, I also can’t fault those who are too afraid to follow their advice on how to deal with police in such a situation. It is sad that it has come to this point, but unfortunately it has. While I am sure that the ACLU is fully aware of the current situation, the video still gives the impression that the violation of citizen rights by the police is simply due to a polite misunderstanding, rather than a disturbing and violent trend. I’m not going to give simplistic advice as to how to resolve this situation, because I have none to give. All I’m going to do is suggest a slight modification to the ACLU’s message.

Know your rights, but know also that you need to behave in the way that you feel most safe. If you are willing to stand up for your rights in the face of danger, here is how to do so in the safest, most lawful way possible. We applaud those who lead, and fight, and stand up for those rights that we hold so dear, and we are here to help you in that fight. Together, let’s try to put a stop to the corruption and violence, and we do that by being united in the defense of our rights.


  1. says

    Be sneaky. If that doesn’t work, then be brave.

    I’ve been in photographing in places I’m not supposed to. One of the things you learn is how to pull out the card while palming it and substituting it for an empty one (which you then give whoever it is) It’s also a good idea to carry a broken camera (get them on ebay, search “for parts”) of the correct type – let them have that instead of your actual camera. Oh, and be privileged. That one’s the kicker.

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