Constitutional scholar Judge Andrew Napolitano tackles one of the most pressing issues of our time – should an individual be able to watch and record law enforcement policing actions on public property, as well as on his or her own property?
Cameras now appear on just about every major intersection in the country, at sporting events, malls, train stations and airports, and just about any other public place a person would visit. Local, state and Federal governments have unprecedented access to peek into the lives of every single American. It makes one wonder, then, why a Constitutionally protected American is regularly coming under fire from police and prosecutors for doing the exact same thing the government says is necessary to protect our safety and our freedom. All of these cameras are purported to be here to keep us safe.
We argue that the very same holds true for the citizenry’s ability to self-protect against harm or harmful intent from individuals public and private.
There are over 300 million cell phone subscriptions in the United States, and a majority of those mobile devices have digital cameras built in. The power is in our hands, and its obvious by the protests coming from the government sector that this is the single most important weapon and tool that the public has to ensure individual and domestic tranquility through prevention of criminal activity, be it initiated by a private individual or someone who is performing their duties under the banner of of the law.
If a reporter were to write a story about a particular incident describing how law enforcement brutally beat a suspect and ran it on the front page of a major newspaper, there may be protests from government officials, but there would more than likely be no criminal prosecution. A written record, it seems, is a perfectly acceptable medium. If the same incident is recorded via a digital device like a camera or microphone, especially by an average person on the street and published on Youtube, many states and localalities would be prepared to prosecute. In fact, many already have, and there are numerous accounts of individuals facing excessive jail time for just this “crime” – one person as much as 75 years.
There is absolutely no logical argument that can be put forth for why a private individual cannot make a record – written, digital video and audio, or otherwise – of a public official acting in an official capacity on public land. Judge Napolitano makes a strong case for why this is a natural right – one we’re born with – that cannot be outlawed, except by a police state who views their electorate as slaves or animals rather than human beings:
The issue is not if the police have the right to shoot – a jury will decide that. The issue is, do we have the right to watch and record the police when they shoot?
The answer is, of course we do.
Demanding accountability and defending your rights against the police specifically, and the government generally, are difficult and dangerous tasks…it would be very risky to stand up to the government when it is wrong, especially so with the police.
…It’s dangerous to be right when the government is wrong… nowhere is this more obvious then when the police are caught breaking the law. From Maryland to Illinois the government cracks down, not on police who violate your Constitutional rights, but on those who film the police who violate your Constitutional rights.
That’s wrong. No matter what the state or local law may say, your Constitutional rights to film the police in the course of their duties or when they are present on private property where the owner permits you to film trumps any law to the contrary.
That’s so because your right to watch the government and record what you see is a natural right that is protected by the Constitution, and it cannot be taken away by the government.
A note pad, microphone or camera is a tool to catalog, archive and record events. Humans have done it throughout history. By allowing government the ability to take away this most basic of rights is to take away our very nature as humans.
It’s as simple as that.
Watch the Judge Lay It Out In Terms Even a Government Myrmidon Can Understand: