February 22, 2011
On January 25th, 2011 Berkeley Copwatch helped to file an amicus brief in Glik v. Cunniffe, et al. – a case in the US First Circuit Court of Appeals defending our right to record police as they conduct their duties in public.
In recent years, footage of police violence and misconduct has catalyzed social movement across the United States. The recording of Los Angeles Police beating Rodney King in 1991 ushered in a new wave of public scrutiny around police brutality and accountability. The caught-on-tape murder of Oscar Grant helped the public readdress these issues. Both cases revealed the power of recording technology in the hands and eyes of the people.
Against the backdrop of these monumental cases is persistent police monitoring of local groups and civilians who use grassroots organization to establish means to hold the police accountable. Law enforcement officers and police departments across the US, in cooperation with the courts, are responding to public scrutiny with harassment and repression. It is in this context that the amicus brief for Glik v. Cunniffe, et al. , a case of First Amendment rights and their necessary protection was filed by local groups across the nation and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Plaintiff-Appellee (and lawyer) Simon Glik was arrested in 2007 by the Boston Police Department (BPD) while filming an arrest with his cell phone. The charges were later dropped but Glik filed a lawsuit against the officers involved as well as the BPD and won in district court. The case is now in the First Circuit federal court of appeals where our collective amicus asserts that, “the right to photograph police activity in public places is a grassroots accountability mechanism [that] helps foster greater involvement and trust by the community in local law enforcement” (Glik, p. 9).
Battles in the field of civil liberties over the right to record are being fought across the US on a state-by-state basis and constitutional rights groups, community organizers, students, lawyers, and police departments, are watching these battles closely. Twelve states now have legislation to restrict people’s right to monitor police, mostly relying on wiretapping statutes or two-party consent laws to ban recording of police conduct in the streets, as well as at protests and parties, on highways and in parks. In other states police create a hostile environment by arresting, detaining, or threatening civilian witnessing through bogus charges including trespassing, loitering, obstructing justice or interfering with arrests. In some cases, the punitive retaliation is extreme, with citizens who record public officials facing sentences of up to 75 years. Homeland Security measures are often cited as justification for these arrests while – paradoxically – video surveillance of citizens under Homeland Security becomes ever more pervasive and intrusive.
Police monitoring groups and citizens continue to fight back. The ACLU in Pennsylvania reached a settlement with the East Vincent and Spring City police departments to adopt a written policy and require officer training to insure citizens’ right to record police under the First Amendment. Atlanta Police recently affirmed the people’s right-to-record thanks to the dedicated work of East Atlanta Copwatch. Berkeley Copwatch and other direct monitoring and police accountability groups continue to patrol the streets and develop effective community databases to deter abuse, hold individual officers and departments accountable, to impact practices and policies, and to work together to help empower our communities.
Other groups in the Glik brief included Communities United Against Police Brutality (Minnesota), Justice Committee (New York, New York), Milwaukee Police Accountability Coalition (Wisconsin), Nodutdol for Korean Community Development (New York, New York) and Portland Copwatch (Oregon). Several of the groups offered declarations, including a founding member of Berkeley Copwatch, Andrea Prichett.
We wish to thank the Center for Constitutional Rights – and all communities and individuals – for standing up to police misconduct and violence. Please see our website (www.BerkeleyCopwatch.org) under “Resources” for the full text of the Glik brief.
Berkeley Copwatch has been organizing street patrols and community outreach events for over 20 years. See our website for details on upcoming Know Your Rights Trainings or write to us at Berkeleycopwatch@yahoo.com. You can always drop by the office on Fridays between 2 and 7 at The Grassroots House, 2022 Blake Street, in Berkeley.