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ACLU Wrong, Police Right In Holding of Videotaping Teen

ACLU Wrong, Police Right In Holding of Videotaping Teen

Khaliah Fitchette tells reporters her side of the story

The Star-Leger via YellowBrix

March 30, 2011

NEWARK – Khaliah Fitchette better hope she never trips and falls on a public sidewalk when somebody is walking nearby with a cell phone. I’m sure the “fotog” would love to record the embarrassing event – and maybe even put the video on YouTube.

It would be the passerby’s way of exercising his “First Amendment” rights.

Fitchette is the Newark teenager who got into trouble last March for taking a video of Newark police trying to help a man suffering from a medical emergency on a city bus. Police asked her to stop taping, and when she refused, they took her into custody.

The student was handcuffed, but not arrested. Police released her to her mother several hours later without pressing charges.

A thoughtful student would have realized that, “Hey, I really shouldn’t have videotaped that man in distress.” (The man had collapsed, and was unconscious.)

A thoughtful person would have reasoned, “Sure, it’s a public place, and like many teenagers, I like to tape my friends doing funny things. But if I fell on my face on a sidewalk or collapsed in a medical emergency, I sure would not want somebody taping me.” (Unlike my opening example, Fitchette did not put the video on YouTube.)

A thoughtful person would have further realized that, on reflection, “I wasn’t being very bright in defying the cops when they asked me to stop taping. The police have their job, and they’re mostly doing their best. They usually ask people to stand back, and I was interfering. Getting good pictures wasn’t the most important thing that day.”

It would have dawned on a thoughtful person that, “The cops understood – as I did not – that they were trying to protect the man’s privacy and save him from further embarrassment.”

A thoughtful person would have realized, “Now I understand why the police, angered by my defiance expressed by my refusal to stop taping, would have handcuffed me. I certainly did not enjoy being handcuffed and being held in custody for several hours. But,” a thoughtful person would have concluded, “I certainly brought that unpleasantness upon myself.”

Yes, a thoughtful person, upon reflection, would have understood all of that.

But Fitchette, now 17, is apparently not a thoughtful person. Instead of chalking it up as a lesson in maturity, the teenager sought revenge against the Newark police. Looking around for somebody to help her beat up on the Newark police, she and her mother found the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. (But it’s always possible that the ACLU found her.)

And so, the state chapter of the ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit on her behalf against the city police, accusing them of illegally detaining her. The lawsuit was reported Tuesday on nj.com and in The Star-Ledger.

For the ACLU, this student’s wanting to get back at the police was like manna from heaven. Last September, the ACLU filed an earlier lawsuit (or here) against the Newark police, alleging all manner of police misconduct and calling for federal monitoring of the city police department.

But the ACLU’s earlier lawsuit has been out of the news recently, and what better way to revive public interest than Fitchette’s tale of woe. She’s the perfect foil to the police. Recently accepted to Cornell University, she’s looks like a nice girl. Reporters covering the press conference that announced the lawsuit described her as speaking in “a hushed tone” – obviously a modest, brilliant student being picked on by the police.

The ACLU, naturally, knows the “bash the cops” script well. A Seton Hall law professor working with the ACLU and the university’s Center for Social Justice, leveled the charge: “This is part of a fairly pervasive pattern and practice by the Newark Police Department,” said Baher Azmy, “to retaliate against individuals’ assertion of their First Amendment rights.”

That is utter nonsense, as the law professor and anybody with a lick of common sense ought to know. Go look it up: the First Amendment guarantees the right to speak your mind, practice your religion, and peaceably assemble.

It’s a far stretch to say that the First Amendment gives you the right to videotape the police trying to help somebody in distress, particularly if that officer asks you not to interfere with their official duties.

To be fair to our student, it is not illegal to videotape somebody in public. But when police arrive to help somebody in distress, they routinely ask people to get back, and out of the way. Sometimes, police “order” people to do that. With rubberneckers out of the way, first responders can do their job.

But what happens if a bystander defiantly refuses to cooperate, as Fitchette refused? To hear the ACLU tell it, I guess the police should just let her have her way. No sanctions.

“I take pictures of everything,” the demure teenager told reporters. “I didn’t think it was like a big deal, I guess.”

I guess not.

So why was Fitchette held for nearly three hours? Well, police processing is not instantaneous. Or maybe it took her mother that long to show up to get her.

But in the ACLU’s mind, any accusation of a violation of “First Amendment rights “ – no matter how frivolous – is always good theater.

It’s interesting to review the Star-Ledger videotape of Fitchette’s mother speaking at the press conference, available on YouTube. Nowhere does Kameelah Phillips mention the crucial point – that her daughter defiantly refused to stop taping, even after police asked her to stop.

I guess teenagers can do whatever they want. If the cops don’t like it – tough, we’ll call the ACLU.

Some have tried to cast this incident as so-called police misconduct, or else the police objecting to the public being a “watchdog” on their dealing with the public. But I keep thinking of that poor man on the bus, whose right to privacy in his moment of distress is more important than a teenager’s enthusiasm for taping “everything.”

So maybe there isn’t a universal “right” to videotape anything you feel like. Maybe Fitchette ought to re-think her actions. Maybe Fitchette ought to apologize to the Newark police. Maybe she ought to apologize to the man she videotaped.

Maybe the ACLU ought to forget their apparent vendetta against the Newark police.


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  • Winter_max50

    jaanp

    almost 2 years ago

    2 Comments

    Fitchette is the City teenager who got into problem unalterable Territory for action a recording of Newark police trying to improve a man unhappy from a medical emergency on a port bus love quotes.

  • Segway-police-unit-china_max50

    foxblood

    about 2 years ago

    396 Comments

    On top of it all, when a citizen has an issue with (bad) police conduct it will be your word against and officers and that will never win in court (and it shouldn’t). Not allowing people to see your badge number and not allowing people to video tape the job that’s being done to protect and serve.. beckons the question who are your protecting and severing? It used to say the public on the side of those cars I’m not sure why it was truncated.

  • Segway-police-unit-china_max50

    foxblood

    about 2 years ago

    396 Comments

    This gets back to the original public distrust of the police. Especially by blacks. Why? A few bad apples to ruin things for good Cops. Example, the case of Oscar Grant with Bart Police. This cop fatally shot an unarmed, detained, cuffed, black man on the ground at a train station. He was probably running his mouth, but didn’t deserve to die like that. Negligence or not. That cop got a mere two years. The public is afraid of the police and to be quite honest, if the camera’s weren’t rolling for Oscar Grant, the bad apple who did it might not of even seen any time at all. There have been plenty of cases where police have wrongfully told the public that it is illegal to video tape them doing police work. This is not the case at all. That’s probably why she refused.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    JSOBrien

    about 3 years ago

    8 Comments

    Buster:

    I'm not an attorney, and nothing that I said has much to do with legal theory. I did say much, however, having to do with cognitive mass psychology, which is a field tangential to mine, so I know a bit about it.

    I believe you missed the point. You postulated that there is a "letter" and "spirit" to the law, and that police officers get to decide when to apply one or the other. You have set police officers up as judges and juries, instead of enforcers, only. In an age before widespread video, police officers could get away with this behavior, which exceeds the considerable authority granted them, for two reasons:

    1. It was invisible to most of the public, and
    2. Too many other police officers refused to report the criminal police officers in their midst.

    Now that video is exposing so many police officers who are engaging in illegal practices, the police are well on their way to losing the public's support. Whether you want to think about that or not, or do something about it, the implications of losing the public's support can be profound. For instance, the public can decide not to vote tax funds for police pay increases or for newer, and perhaps more effective, police equipment. More likely, though (because the police unions can engage in "blue flu" and other forms of extortion), the public would simply increase penalties for officers caught abusing their authority, and become less tolerant even of honest mistakes. The intent would be to weed out the criminal, the incompetent, and those who cover for them.

    As an example of what public censure can do, I sent a letter to an old college friend yesterday, who is now a state senator in my state. I suggested to him that he get ahead of the curve by floating a trial balloon (not introducing a bill, because I think it's too early for that) that would double prison sentences for public officials who are sworn to uphold the law, but break it. I also suggested that the bill apply the same penalties to sworn public servants who observe criminal behavior among their colleagues, but don't report it.

    He may or may not act on this, of course (I'll probably find out this weekend when I see him), but if he gets enough letters like this from citizens, and other legislators do, as well, there will almost certainly be legislation that police officers won't like very much. Just having the opinion that police officers get to decide based on the "spirit" of a law is a dangerous and slippery road toward just such penalties.

    Believe it or not, I'm probably on your side (assuming you're as honest as you make yourself out to be).

    My question for you is: Are you on your side?

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Buster10

    about 3 years ago

    258 Comments

    Hey JSOOBRIEN ," Ad Hominen Attack" ? ," Get More Political Support"? " Founding Fathers Made A Mistake"? And The Rest Of Your Legal Brief, My Comments Stated This Was A Questional Arrest And I Felt It Went Way Too Far. As In Any Profession There Are Good And Bad And My Experience Tells Me There Are More Good Than Bad. Rest Assured In The Last 20 Years I have Always Been Reasonable, Rational, And Compasionate And Will Continue To Be So. As For The ACLU Well They Can Find My Arse In Macys Window! Have A Nice Day COUNSELOR!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    JSOBrien

    about 3 years ago

    8 Comments

    Buster10:

    Your comments illustrate to those of us who are not police officers just how important it is to watch them very, very closely. "Spirit" and "letter" of the law? You, and other officers, don't get to decide when to make up new law and arrest someone for breaking it. We, the people, have not invested you with that power. You have the authority to use the power with which we HAVE invested you if you use it wisely and well. That is all the power you may legally exercise. All.

    I recognize that you will think this is one of the Founding Fathers' mistakes, but the police do not run the US. The people do. The police are our employees. They have a job to do, and we have given them more than adequate authority and coercive power to do so. The police may not decide to take more power for themselves. If they do, that makes them lawbreakers. Vigilantes. Criminals.

    Unfortunately, because some officers break the law, and too many other officers allow them to do so, we are faced with finding a way to rein in police abuse of power. Ideally, the police, themselves, would do this, cleaning their occupation of the miscreants, so that their reputations with the people would be enhanced. Or maybe just because they want to be honorable men and women. To the best of my knowledge, though, there is not a police union out there pushing honorable behavior. Instead, they defend dishonorable behavior.

    As for your comment to WatcingWatcher about kissing your "arse," I can assure you that reasonable people, who are trying very hard to see both the police and the non-police side (people like me), find this sort of ad hominem attack unimpressive. It would be best for you and your colleagues if you used reasoned, rational arguments to make your points. I strongly believe you'll get more political support that way.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Buster10

    about 3 years ago

    258 Comments

    Hey WatchingWatcher There are Things we do in life that define us as people and in the moment of some ones distress Catching it on video to post on UTUBE or your MY Space Page Certainly shows a Lack Of Morals and decency.Im sure you would be thrilled to see one of your love ones splashed all over the internet in their time of need, however most decent law abiding people would find it offensive, Just as people are apt to say theres the letter of the law and the spirit of the law when an officer decides to give a pass or a warning the same can be said when an officer asks you not to do something. As I said or implied what she did was not a crime and now the tax payers will likely pay for this "Questionalble" arrest. As for your comment "Simply Pathetic" Kiss My Arse In Macys Window!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    JustANEWGuy

    about 3 years ago

    4 Comments

    RIMROC said, "Another abuse of the tax payers money at work. ACLU you really need to get a life."

    That is so laughable.

    The ACLU is not funded by tax payers money. Man, how ignorant are some people out there.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Buster10

    about 3 years ago

    258 Comments

    There Is a Saying "You Cant Ligislate Morality" And This Young "Lady" Certainly Lacks Morals, However To follow The Constitution Its Not A Crime To Be Ignorant, Moronic or Even Disrespectful And It Seems She Po d Theses Officers. You Can Not Give The ACLU Reason To File Theses Type Of Suits, Especially When It Comes To Citizens Filming The Police, EMS Etc.. We Are In The Digital Age and Must accept That. This Got Out Of Hand And Now Guess Who Gets A Pay Day and Who Ends Up Paying ? We Have Ways Of Protecting Peoples Dignity And Every Officer, Paramedic, Fireman Etc Know This, Sometimes A Heart Felt "Please Do Not Do That" Goes A Long Way.. Sometimes Not. I Know ,It Works More Often Than Not. As For The Little Misses ? Well Its A Cruel World Out There And She Will Learn That The Police Are Not The Ones To Fear. As For The ACLU Morons ... Get A Life!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    WatchingWatcher

    about 3 years ago

    2 Comments

    Pathetic. Your justifications and attempts to conflate recording public employees in the act of doing their job with some kind of lack of morality or thought are simply pathetic. It is not illegal to videotape the police while performing their jobs. She did not interfere, did not create a hassle until given an UNLAWFUL order, and was not charged with anything, despite several attempts by the officers to do so, including fishing around for anybody who would help them charge her. Fortunately, no one would, but taking a 17-year old to an adult detention center to attempt to charge her is not only despicable, but easily the most thoughtless and immoral thing the officers attempted to do. If you want to understand why many people have bad opinions of police officers, look no further. It's not just that this happened, its that people like the author of this drivel will attempt to defend obviously thuggish, poorly trained officers.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    JSOBrien

    about 3 years ago

    8 Comments

    ssu459 said: "If ever anybody wants to do an in depth study of the A.C.L.U. they would find these freaks haven't EVER gotton anything right."

    Well, I don't claim to have done an "in-depth" study like ssu459 has, but a cursory study surfaced the following cases in which the ACLU has been active. It says a lot about ssu459 that he doesn't think the ACLU got these cases "right."

    1932 Powell v. Alabama ;1935 Patterson v. Alabama: Aided the ridiculous railroading of the Scottsboro boys, who were quite certainly innocent.

    1944 Smith v. Allwright Black people can vote in primaries

    1948 Shelley v. Kraemer Black people can't be excluded from buying homes in white neighborhoods

    1954 Brown v. Board of Education Ended legal basis for segregation by race

    1961 Poe v. Ullman People are allowed to buy contraceptives

    1964 Reynolds v. Sims One person, one vote

    1967 Loving v. Virginia You can marry people of another race

    1968 Levy v. Louisiana Just because you were born out of wedlock, it doesn't mean you don't have a right to recover damages for a parent's death

    1971 Reed v. Reed Men no longer have automatic preference over women for administering estates

    1972 Eisenstadt v. Baird Unmarried people may use contraception

    1974 U.S. v. Nixon No elected official is above the law

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    Anonymous

    about 3 years ago

    If ever anybody wants to do an in depth study of the A.C.L.U. they would find these freaks haven't EVER gotton anything right.They were founded by an avowed Communist attorney some 80 plus years ago and have since worked day and night toward the utter destruction of Democracy,as we know it.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    CitizenDoubleZero

    about 3 years ago

    2 Comments

    This article is wrong. The author is wrong. But most importantly, the police officers who are commenting here are WRONG! You are NOT above the law. You are NOT the embodiment of the law, either. Whatever you say is NOT the law. Aside from the fact that the law itself, as Mr. Bumble said in Oliver Twist, "is an ass," your job is NOT to make it up as you go along and arrest people for doing things you don't like. Cops and the government have cameras EVERYWHERE. They always say, "if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide, " and "this recording is for your safety." Well, Fitchette was recording for her safety and that of the man on the bus who was being handled by the cops. What she did was simply fill the role of the cop's dashboard camera, which was not able to record in the bus. In fact, I'd be surprised if the bus itself didn't have a camera or two. Citizens have every right to film public officers, who are paid with public money, out in public, ostensibly fulfilling their public duties. No, she did NOT "bring this on herself," two grossly out of line police officers who thoroughly violated their oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution illegally brought this on her, unjustly and without any basis in law or reason, and they should pay for this violation of the public's trust with their jobs, their Peace Officer's certifications, and their own money when this is finally settled, as it should be, against them and their department. The taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for their egregious misconduct, and anyone who is here supporting these officers should be ashamed of themselves. This is a disgusting episode, but sadly, it is just one more in a long line of "isolated incidents" wherein police are waging an impromptu war on citizens who record their actions. Their "War on Cameras" is both unfortunate and unlawful. See more here:

    http://www.copblock.org/cameramap/

  • Ohio_deputy_1__max50

    WCSO_DeputySheriff

    about 3 years ago

    54 Comments

    It's very hard to take either side on this whole situation. From a personal view, she should not be video taping something of that nature. From a legal view, she was well within her rights as long as she held true to what crlittle554 said below me here.

    So on that note: Bump crlittle554

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Dutch5187

    about 3 years ago

    12 Comments

    This article is too biased. If I was on the scene, and she wasn't getting in the way, I wouldn't care what the hell she filmed, what difference does it make. Was the policeman worried about the ill man's dignity? Who the hell cares. Sounds like a run in with a cop on a power trip to me, assuming the girl was not in the way of medical personnel. By the way, I am a 6 year army veteran, and a current police officer, we are not all bullies with badges

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