Monday, March 26, 2012

Philadelphia Police Apparently Need Remedial "First Amendment" Education

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PAOn the night of March 14, 2012, Temple University photojournalism student Ian Van Kuyk was arrested outside his residence while taking pictures of uniformed Philadelphia policemen performing what has been termed a “routine traffic stop.”

Van Kuyk, who was with his girlfriend who was also arrested, said he was never closer than ten feet of the scene when police ordered him back. He said he voluntarily backed up and was at least thirty feet away when a uniformed Philadelphia police officer approached him aggressively demanding he stop taking pictures. Van Kuyk stated he politely told the officer he was a Temple University photojournalism student, and within his rights to be taking photos on a public street.

Van Kuyk alleges that without provocation, the officer began pushing and shoving him. Responding to Van Kuyk’s statement that his rights were being violated in a public domain, the officer is alleged to have responded “Public domain, yeah we’ve heard that before!” According to Van Kuyk, the police officer threw him to the ground and pushed his face into the sidewalk. His girlfriend, Ms. Feighan, attempted to retrieve his camera to avoid having it damaged, as it was Temple University property (which Van Kuyk had announced, but she was taken to the ground by another officer. They were then both handcuffed and placed in patrol cars.

Van Kuyk is charged with Obstructing Justice, Resisting Arrest, Hindering Apprehension and two counts of Disorderly Conduct. Ms. Feighan's charges are similar. Neither were told the names of the officers involved, nor did they receive a copy of an accusatory instrument when they were eventually released.

Van Kuyk was held for almost twenty-four hours before being released on his own recognizance. He was denied permission to make a telephone call for nearly eight hours after being taken to the police station.

The National Press Photographers Association sent a letter to Philadelphia Police Commissioner, Charles H. Ramsey seeking dismissal of all charges and that the incident “be fully investigated with commensurate disciplinary measures for the officers involved.” While that's good, it's about time incidents like this one, are no longer repeated.

A Philadelphia Police Department memorandum, dated September 23, 2011, almost six months before the incident, states in part,
“To remove any confusion as to the duties and responsibilities of sworn personnel when being photographed, videotaped or audibly recorded while conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space…
…police personnel shall not interfere with any member of the general public or individuals temporarily detained from photographing, videotaping, or audibly recording police personnel while conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space.”
The police officers involved did not follow their Department's directive, and ignored Mr. Van Kuyk's and Ms. Feighan's First Amendment rights, guaranteed under the US Constitution.

This, frankly, could happen to anyone, including travelers, who come upon the police working on the public thoroughfares of Philadelphia, and countless other locations in the US, as I've written in the past, who attempt to photograph them in action.

It is important that photographers, travelers, and the general public let their mayors, governors, and other elected and appointed officials know that the American public expects and demands our Constitutional rights be protected, and definitely not violated by the very governments sworn to protect us and our rights as citizens and visitors.

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