OPINION COLUMNS

When rights collide, come together

By Jimmy Alford | Published Saturday, October 18, 2014
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Still images and videos of confrontations between police officers and citizens flashed on the large projector screen Thursday night in Dallas, perfectly illustrating what not to do as a citizen and as law enforcement. Even more importantly, they started a much-needed conversation.

Jimmy Alford

Jimmy Alford

I’ve been on a protect-your-rights kick lately, and I’m not the only one, it seems.

Community members and police departments came together in Dallas Thursday night to discuss the right to photograph and record in public. The seminar was hosted by the Dallas Police Department, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Press Photographers Association.

Earlier Thursday, officers from departments across the Metroplex came together for education on their rights, the public’s rights, and how to handle tense situations.

Many of the DPD officers returned that evening to sit with journalists, concerned citizens and activists looking for information and guidance.

It’s a good thing, too. Many in the audience seemed to come armed with a certain animosity toward law enforcement that may or may not have been deserved. The distrust many of the citizens felt was palpable. One person even arrived wearing a T-shirt that said “CopBlock: A badge doesn’t give you extra rights.”

At the head of the panel was NPPA lawyer Mickey Osterreicher, a very knowledgeable man who has devoted much of his time studying copyrights and people’s right to photograph.

Commenting and answering the public questions were DPD Public Information Officer Major Max Geron, Dallas Police Association President Ron Pinkston, Vincent & Elkins attorney Marc Fuller, and Dallas Morning News photography editor Guy Reynolds.

After watching those videos and hearing stories about not only people’s First Amendment rights being trampled, but also their fourth, and 14th by various officials across the nation, I can honestly say I live a charmed life.

Working in Wise County, I have very little to complain about. Local law enforcement is easy to work with. Elsewhere, protecting your rights is a real concern, and you have to be vigilant.

Many of the anecdotes were about journalists being arrested or unduly harassed for doing their jobs, but others came from regular citizens.

In each instance, Geron criticized the actions of those in charge and said DPD works hard to make sure that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Dallas.

The discussion boiled down to the fact that police officers are people, and people make mistakes.

“Police officers see things no person should ever have to see,” Geron said.

He said sometimes it’s hard for them to remain detached. They do not like the idea of people photographing an accident or crime scene, but they have to separate their personal feelings from the situation.

There are some rights that truly set America apart from many other countries: The right to criticize those in power and have your say, practice religion as you see fit, and gather among like-minded people to do so. It’s integral to what it means to be a citizen of the United States.

By having these freedoms and staying vigilant, the rise of tyrants and the unscrupulous can be checked. We can ensure people are treated fairly.

Here are some quick guidelines:

  • There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in public.
  • Law enforcement officials cannot seize cameras, view or delete photos without either your consent or a subpoena or warrant.
  • You and journalists have the same rights.
  • First amendment rights only protect you from government intrusion. Private entities and individuals do not have to respect your right to photograph and can ask you to stop if you are on their property.
  • You can photograph police activity, but you must do so in a safe manner. If your actions can cause harm to you or others, you can be asked to move or stop. So don’t stand in the middle of the street or on the side of a busy highway to record a traffic stop.

For information, go to www.therighttophotographinpublic.com.

Jimmy Alford is a page designer, reporter and photographer for the Messenger.

One Response to “When rights collide, come together”

  1. Rusty White says:

    Jimmy,

    WELL DONE!
    Excellent article and information, as well. We as Americans, Texans and citizens of Wise County have a “duty” to protect what those before us sacrificed to gives us all! We were given these Freedoms and Liberties and Rights to be protected “IN FULL” not parts, to be passed down to those coming behind us!

    Sadly I feel we have “failed miserably” in protecting these gifts pass down to us. There is “NO WAY” those before me would accept the abuses being forced upon there loved ones and our citizens we “accept”, today! There is no way those before us would accept their homes being violated, their families being terrorized, maimed, or killed, FOR ANY REASON! Not only would they have stood up, but so would “ALL” their family, friends and neighbors! Why is it they never had to worry about the world we live in today?

    It is my belief through self serving agendas, fear mongering, and manipulation as well as “COWARDNESS”, those coming behind us are being cheated out of the “gifts” we were to protect! Those that sacrificed in the past, and those that are sacrificing today did “NOT” do so, so we could become a fear based people! Our laws, courts, enforcement and our system as a whole “should not” be based upon fear tactics! Nor should we accept “ANY” who put their beliefs, agendas or party before the well being of “ALL AMERICANS”, PERIOD!

    WE DESERVE THE ABUSE WE ACCEPT, “”BUT” those coming behind us do not deserve to lose what we as COWARDS failed to protect!!!

    STAND UP, SPEAK OUT, VOTE!!!!

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