Something bizarre happened in a Pennsylvania district court last week, with Judge Mark Kearney ruling that filming the cops is illegal… if you stay silent.
As Bonnie Kristian noted at The Week:
[A] Pennsylvania district court judge ruled against two people who were arrested while attempting to record police activity. One of the two plaintiffs took a photo of a group of officers outside a house party,and the other filmed cops arresting fracking protesters.
Judge Mark Kearney determined that because they were documenting cops “without any challenge or criticism,” the plaintiffs were not engaging in “expressive conduct” and thus do not receive First Amendment protection.
So, apparently, if you respectfully film the cops from a distance without trying to rile anyone up, it isn’t speech and won’t be protected under the First Amendment. But if you were to recite the lyrics to an infamously vulgar song about the cops by rap group N.W.A., you would be good to go?
If this seems strange, that’s because it is. As Radley Balko explained at The Washington Post:
[T]his is the first time a federal court has not found that recording cops while on duty and in a public setting is protected by the First Amendment. Two federal appeals courts, at least two state supreme courts and a few other federal circuit court judges have all determined otherwise.
Currently, the American Civil Liberties Union is working to make sure this strange ruling doesn’t stand.
Said Kristian, “The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) plans to challenge the ruling, because, ‘Without a protected right to film officers, the ability of the public to monitor police activity is really reduced.’”
In the meantime, if you’re filming police activity, be sure to say something at least vaguely incendiary that’s loud enough to be caught on tape.