By Chase Hunter
[ This essay means no harm and was not written to offend any policemen, policewomen, bloggers, real cowboys, fake cowboys, college aged males, any aged males, homeless people, or any type of official or unofficial journalists. There – that ought to cover everything. ]
‘Uh-Oh They’re Here’
A persistent blogger annoys police — and winds up in jail.
Monday, August 10, 2009
A 34-YEAR-OLD woman, the mother of a 12-year-old girl, has been locked up in a Virginia jail for three weeks and could remain there for at least another month. Her crime? Blogging about the police.
The tragic, yet somewhat comical news story linked illustrates a very valid point for bloggers who follow local police activity. The woman who was jailed for blogging about undercover drug enforcement officers in Charlottesville Virginia clearly had some real issues, possibly a romantic obsession with one or more of the officers, and lacked all common sense and respect for personal and professional privacy in her blog posts. For those who intend to blog and write citizen journalist news stories about local law enforcement, there should clearly be some protocols to follow in order to avoid the fate of the woman in this news story, who is still sitting in a jail cell as of the date of this article.
These are my own protocols. I offer them up for those who might be new to citizen journalism and who do not really know where the boundary line is between reporting, good reporting, no reporting – and just plain outright idiotic harassment. We live in an era where all intrinsic common sense seems to have flown out the window and many people literally do not know how to conduct themselves in the most basic and fundamental of circumstances. The woman in the news story linked is obviously one of those people. She needed to have someone sit her down and just talk some common sense to her. That did not happen so now she is sitting in jail.
I actually do not think the woman in the linked news story was actually doing any real “reporting” at all. I believe she had a personal issue with one of the undercover officers which may have been an obsessive romantic crush, and was acting out of a personal vendetta, which ended up getting her arrested, all her equipment and even her personal journals confiscated, and has ultimately landed her in a jail cell. A jail cell is the last place a real citizen journalist needs to be, because you cannot reflect and report on what is happening in media if you are locked up. You are silenced. This woman crossed all boundaries of common sense and she got herself silenced as a result.
=> First of all, harassment of any kind is NOT actually reporting at all. Obsessing on one or more individuals with repeatedly taking personal photos, following them in your car, photographing their home, publishing their home street address without their knowledge or consent violates their own rights to privacy, and is in total contradiction to the VERY REASONS that citizen journalism exists. We write to provide the point of view of someone who observes what is taking already taking place and we reflect back to the news reader what was seen and observed. If the event taking place is deemed to be of interest and concern to the general public it is worth recording and writing about. Here is an example. I enter a cafe and see a police officer talking to a waitress, just having a casual chat. That is not newsworthy.
On another day I enter a cafe and see a police officer slapping a patron in the face. Another officer covers up his actions and threatens observers if they report what they saw. THAT would be newsworthy, but I would discreetly step outside and find a way to make notes on what I saw unnoticed. If the slapping escalated into a beating, I would try to find a way to get photos or video without putting myself in the line of vision of the officers doing the beating.
The first thing they would do if they saw me shooting video is come for me and my camera. These kinds of things are happening now. I have several videos posted on alligatorfarm.wordpress.com under “Cops Gone Wild” of private citizens actually being arrested for taking photos or video of police officers.
There is a very fine line being drawn between news reporting, and recording routine police activities with no real reason or purpose. This is fuzzy territory and people like the woman in the linked story really crossed those fuzzy places with what she was doing. A journalist’s job is now more treacherous than ever in the USA, and a citizen journalist’s work in the present atmosphere can be quite nerve wracking.
=> Make your best judgment call on what is NEWS, what is NEWSWORTHY, and butt out of all the rest of it. I am tending towards being vigilant locally i.e. observing incidents of apparent police harassment of individuals who are doing nothing wrong in public places. However, many times there is a history behind what is being observed that would shed new light on what looks like harassment. Often it’s a policeman or policewoman who already knows the person and has had recent issues with that same person repeatedly. Unless you actually know the entire background on a situation, what you might observe in public and describe as harassment of a private individual by police is in fact an officer trying to move someone along in – without incident – order to avoid having an issue re-emerge which has taken place before.
9 times out of 10 these incidents have something to do with public drug use, public drunkenness, and / or publicly dealing drugs in plain sight. There is almost always a history behind situations where the same individual and the same police interaction take place over and over again.
=> Keep a safe distance away at least 15 to 20 yards distance when observing any event or potential altercation. Use your telephoto function discreetly for photo / video. Take cover behind a dense solid object like a concrete wall or a large tree if possible. Stay quiet and calm. Learn to become invisible as you observe and record. (It’s a shamanic thing.) This should not have to be explained, but for the record, all kinds of things can go horribly wrong for you if you are just standing too close to a police officer who is trying to deal with a person, an event, a situation or a potential situation.
The urge to get right up in someone’s face to record video and watch something “go down” is asking for real trouble. I would add that in the present tense atmosphere it would be quite foolish to be seen in public anywhere pointing a camera or video unit at a police officer for no particular reason. The trick, is do this unseen if you want to capture events of real newsworthiness as they occur. An officer eating his doughnut is not newsworthy. Use some common sense.
=> Don’t try to be a “cowboy.” Be forewarned: If you march up to a police officer during a “situation” and “ask for his badge number” in the present mood and atmosphere of any town or city in America, you can expect to experience a surprising and legally unpleasant response. The police man you are addressing may just decide to “make your day”. Most often you are not going to get a badge number, instead you are going to get arrested or marked as a trouble making local for police. Think really hard before you choose to do this. People are being arrested, roughed up, handcuffed, interrogated, and even hauled away for “asking officers for their badge numbers”. I am not kidding. Better to cleverly stand behind a large tree, at a safe distance, get your video, post it to youtube.com for 2 billion people to have access to it, where it will make a bigger impact on reeling in out-of-control local law enforcement by public shaming, than to swagger up in the middle of a melee and demand the aggressing officer’s “badge number”.
=> Do not engage in public behaviors which will make you a “regular target” for aggressive, volatile, local police. This is kind of similar to the rule of thumb for people who drive sports cars. If you are going to own one, don’t own a red one. In other words, DON’T MAKE YOURSELF A TARGET. I am continuously astonished at the stupidity of the young people who live in the region where I travel frequently. As the months go by, each time I return I see the same young homeless vagrants doing the same public behaviors repeatedly which inevitably get them roughed up by police. It reminds me of the wild feral child who acts out to get attention, only to be put into “time-out” over and over again for the acting out.
Adults now do this same behavior: they “act out” in public to get attention. Apparently even really unwanted negative attention, like a 100 lb man being jumped on by 8 250 lb. police officers must constitute some kind of attention. I have seen this occur with the same man on several occasions. He is always doing the same negative behavior. He is an intellectually brilliant college aged man who has no common sense whatsoever. He will most likely be beaten to death by police officers one day. Which brings me to my next protocol:
=> Do not try to be a “bad ass” and brag that you intend to “take on the cops” in public the next time you see them.
This is the final and most utterly foolish behavior that I now watch young people doing in public (mostly men, but some young women too). It almost always begins with a young person being somewhat humiliated by several police officers in a public place, the person in question is either drunk, high, tipsy, mouthy, physically aggressive, and they get wheeled around, cuffed, pushed to the ground and wrestled into submission before they even realize they are out of line. They are too drunk or high TO BE COGNIZANT THAT THEY ARE OUT OF LINE. They end up being humiliated in front of their peers, and then vow to get back at the cops when they see them the next time. What do you suppose happens when “the next time” takes place?
Correct – they escalate sooner, more cops are called for backup, they are wrestled down faster, hauled away to jail – and now their face, name, behavior and where they live, and hang out are now WELL KNOWN to local police. Add to this the fact that during their drunken or high moment they actually vowed out loud to police and to other witnesses that they would “get back” at the cops who are restraining them, and they are actually stupid enough to VOW to fight back harder next time. This kind of talk in public is both a legal and potentially lethal nightmare for the braggart doing the “bad ass” talking. They have now talked their way into becoming HIGH visibility LOCAL TAREGTS FOR POLICE BRUTALITY AT A FUTURE TIME. That’s exactly how it starts. That is precisely what I observe taking place repeatedly which makes certain people stand out as potential targets for police to brutalize later. They taunt police, they swear revenge, they boast to their peers and even to strangers that they will beat the officers down “the next time” and so forth, and they may as well paint a red bull’s eye on their own backs and carry a sign that says: “I hate cops – come and beat me up now before I kill a cop.”
One would think that college males smart enough to attend classes and pass would be smart enough to know how to NOT become a police target. One would also assume that grown mature men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s would know how to NOT become a police target. One would be wrong. Failure to exercise common sense and good judgment in relation to local police law enforcement activities during any kind of encounter can now result in a lifetime of misery for locals who suddenly discover that they are now permanently unwanted HIGH PROFILE TARGETS OF THE LOCAL POLICE. Those who decide after an unhappy altercation that they want to “take on the law” the next time using their own foolish “cowboy style” acting out may end up ruining any peace they will ever have in their own local neighborhoods. Instead, exercising certain specific acts of restraint, remaining calm, refraining from excess verbosity, refusing to be provoked into vocal protests, refusing to be provoked into violent opposition, and choosing to NOT ENGAGE IN CERTAIN BEHAVIORS IN PUBLIC can save one’s reputation, privacy, peace, sanctity of person, even your job, and your future relations with everyone you know. Think before you act on impulse.
Perfect self control is the hallmark of the spiritually evolved human being. Jesus of Nazareth exercised perfect self control even when he was being absolutely brutalized by local authorities. He would expect no less from us. Absolute adherence to non-violence is the Way of the Path of the True Spiritual Warrior. it is also what Jesus would do.
Chase Hunter 8.19.2009