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“Your First Amendment Rights Can Be Terminated”

June 6, 2012

Fred Thiagarajah

So yelled a Chicago cop to an NBC news reporter right before arresting him for filming the police in a public setting in March 2012.  The reporter was released minutes later but the entire episode was caught on tape and highlights the police trampling our First Amendment rights.  This issue is becoming more sensitive since so many people have smartphones or other devices that record police activities while the police are in public.  The police may not like being filmed, but the courts have held that citizens, as well as reporters, have the right to film the police in public.

Of course, having the right to film the police may not help you when dealing with an angry police officer in your face, especially when the police either don’t know the law or don’t care to know the law.  Nevertheless, an arrest for filming a police officer in a public space can usually be thrown out.  And if a police officer seizes your recording device and deletes the content, they’re the ones committing a crime — destruction of evidence.

What can you do if this happens to you?  Well, in 2007, Simon Glik was arrested in Boston for videotaping the police arrest a homeless man.  Mr. Glik’s criminal case was thrown out, but Glik sued the city of Boston in federal court and eventually settled for $170,000.  Note, however, that the First Amendment doesn’t always apply to private property.


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