In response to reports of widespread interference with the right to observe and record police activity in New Orleans, today the ACLU of Louisiana released a report outlining the problem and calling on the New Orleans Police Department to conduct training in First Amendment rights. The report recounts fifteen episodes in which police stopped, and sometimes arrested, people simply for observing and recording what the police were doing. The incidents are those of a wide range of people, including Times-Picayune City Editor Gordon Russell, faith-based organization director Don Everard, lawyers and law students, and ordinary people simply seeking to record what they saw.
Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said: "For years, people have told us that the New Orleans Police Department has stopped them from recording police activity and misconduct. The police simply cannot be allowed to abuse their authority by denying observers the fundamental right to watch or to record what they see. A free society demands that private individuals must have the right to record police activity."
The stories, many of which were part of in-court testimony or sworn statements in the recent litigation involving the arrest of two men who filmed police officers, reflect a variety of fact situations in many different neighborhoods. They share a common pattern of police obstruction without provocation or justification.
Esman continued: "With a new Chief of Police, an independent Police Monitor, and impending oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice, now is the time to ensure that the police be trained on the public's First Amendment rights."
The report, entitled Observing, photographing, and filming the New Orleans Police Department, asks the police department to explain to officers the First Amendment right to observe, photograph, and film police officers; to include training in the police academy; and to impose discipline on officers who do not respect that fundamental right. It was prepared in conjunction with the Tulane Civil Litigation Clinic, which partnered with the ACLU in recent litigation about this serious problem.
The report is available online here.