Judge agrees shooting cellphone video is not a felony (in Illinois).

An Illinois judge reverses trend on cops who arrest bystanders recording the action on video


A federal circuit judge in Boston reached a similar conclusion in August absolving a Boston lawyer of the crime of using his cell phone to videorecord an arrest on Boston Common. (The suit and publicity surrounding it didn't stop Boston police from arresting someone else for the same thing in 2009.)

The American Civil Liberties Union has also made censorship-by-arrest a civil rights issue it will pursue in court.

It's obvious cops don't want to be videotaped while they try to do their jobs, and it's hard not to sympathise to some extent. No one wants to be nitpicked to death by strangers while trying to do a difficult job against spirited opposition.

It's also obvious that the First Amendment was written specifically for situations like this one – when public officials want to silence or punish those who could hold them accountable to courts and the public to which they should be held accountable.

The opposition from cops is not because they think the law or someone else's rights are being violated. It comes from a deep desire to keep anyone but themselves from documenting the process they use to do their jobs.

Accurate recordings deflate as many accusations as they support

It's a traditional right of police. They don't have to write down every single thing that happens, so the things that don't contribute to their view of a situation never make it into official notes.

When every member of the public is a potential video-recording YouTube-posting, rabble-rousing photojournalist, that makes every member of the public a danger to police. Not a physical danger a gun would help address, danger to the reputation and career, which only bluster, censorship and the unjust use of power can control.

Unfortunately for the minority of control-freak cops, there are a lot more video-enabled cell phones out there than there are police to arrest them, and the video recorders have the law on their side.

Chicago Superintendent of Police Garry McCarthy is one of the cops who actually understands both the civil rights involved and the way video can be used or abused.

He told the Chicago Sun-Times the silence-the-public aspect of the Illinois Eavesdropping Statute is "a foreign concept" to U.S. laws and law enforcers. More recordings of police doing their jobs will actually help police that do their jobs well by preventing or deflating accusations of misconduct that are more emotion than fact.

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