Earlier today, I posted another case out of Illinois where an officer arrested a citizen for recording him in public — only to have the charges later dropped without any disciplining of the officer. Now in New York city we have another alleged case where an officer detains a citizen over public videotaping — not of him, mind you, but of ground zero. Meredith Dodson of Georgia says that Officer Mark DeSimone not only detained her but became threatening with her and other citizens who objected to his arbitrary action over her taking a photo of the famous site.
Dodson visited ground zero on September 22nd and stopped to take a photo on the long pathway that leads in and out of the site.
Here is how she describes the encounter:
Immediately the officer called me over to him. He asked me why I would take a picture like that in a tone that was extremely aggressive. I responded as politely as possible: “because I am visiting the memorial and surrounding area.” He asked for my license and I promptly gave it to him. He began writing my personal information on a small very unofficial notepad. I asked why I was being detained. He would not answer my question, but only asked again why I would take a picture like that and demanded to see the photo. I showed him the image and responded again that I was visiting the memorial.
I said “I didn’t know that there were areas that photography was not allowed. I am still in the fenced-in area of the memorial. There are no signs posted that say no photography. If photography was not allowed in some of the areas that the tourists are allowed, there would be opaque fences instead of transparent mesh or signs posted saying no photography allowed. Most of the area is construction. I was exploring the memorial because I wanted to see how the site was transformed. I have great respect for the new construction of the memorial.” I then offered to delete the photo, however, the officer did not reply, but continued to act aggressively towards me.
She says the DeSimone became increasing loud and aggressive, particularly when a third party asked for his card and then, when refused, said he was going to take a picture of his badge and name tag. She said the officer then “yelled at my friend to stop taking his photo and that he would arrest us all for trespassing.” He then ordered the other individuals to leave or face arrest.
The officer continued to berate me and stood within inches of my face to yell at me and say how he had lost many friends on 911 and he just barely survived and how he was protecting the area from terrorists. He asked me where I was from (I said Georgia) and he said he was from Alabama and that I should know not to take pictures through a mesh. I said I didn’t know about a no photography rule for inside the area. I was crying by this point and asked why I was still being detained and was I begin charged with anything.
He did not answer my question and continued to threaten me by saying that he would do a background check and that he could arrest us and charge my friends and me with trespassing. He said that “my friends are assholes” and that if they came back there would be problems. I didn’t understand why he was continuing to be so aggressive towards me. My husband and friend had already left the area (about 50 feet away) and I was certainly not being anything but polite to him. I didn’t even know why he was threatening me with these things especially since I had already had the background check to be allowed into the area. I signed up for tickets two weeks prior and was still in the cordoned area where all the tourists were. I didn’t even attempt to go into an area that I wasn’t allowed. I took a picture from inside the visitor area.
It is an account that is all to familiar to people on this blog. Citizens are often detained or jailed only to have charges dropped. The message is the same: I can put you in jail or hold you if you dare videotape me or take pictures that I do not like. The result is the creation of an intentional chilling effect.
The Gothamist called a spokesman for the memorial who gave them the following mixed message: “There are no rules against photography on the site unless it poses some security risk.” So there are no rules against photography unless people like this officer view it as a security risk? What does that mean? What is the standard for citizens to use to determine if they will be detained? The statement seems calculated to leave uncertainty for citizens and, as a result, empower officers who arbitrary decide some photos or photographers are a risk. It is an invitation for abuses ranging from capricious harassment to profiling.