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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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  • Spartan_cops_max50

    Lawful_Blue

    over 3 years ago

    1184 Comments

    Pathetic, now that she's in college she can finally take a course on "Common Sense."

  • America_s_future_max50

    Ghostwriter2012

    over 3 years ago

    70 Comments

    Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers (adminstrators) too plainly proves a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing us to slavery.

  • America_s_future_max50

    Ghostwriter2012

    over 3 years ago

    70 Comments

    We may not like it but we don't live in Russia, people have rights. And the Law is on their side. A statute known as Section 1983 is the primary civil rights law victims of police misconduct rely upon. This law was originally passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which was intended to curb oppressive conduct by government and private individuals participating in vigilante groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan. It is now called Section 1983 because that is where the law has been published, within Title 42, of the United States Code. Section 1983 makes it unlawful for anyone acting under the authority of state law to deprive another person of his or her rights under the Constitution or federal law. The most common claims brought against police officers are false arrest (or false imprisonment), malicious prosecution, and use of excessive or unreasonable force.

  • America_s_future_max50

    Ghostwriter2012

    over 3 years ago

    70 Comments

    We are not Thought Police, Yet! We are there to Protect ans Serve! Police officers generally have broad powers to carry out their duties. The Constitution and other laws, however, place limits on how far police can go in trying to enforce the law. As the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King, in Los Angeles and several recent cases in New York have illustrated, police officers sometimes go too far, violating the rights of citizens. When this happens, the victim of the misconduct may have recourse through federal and state laws. A primary purpose of the nation's civil rights laws is to protect citizens from abuses by government, including police misconduct. Civil rights laws allow attorney fees and compensatory and punitive damages as incentives for injured parties to enforce their rights.

  • America_s_future_max50

    Ghostwriter2012

    over 3 years ago

    70 Comments

    The Office for Civil Rights enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information; the HIPAA Security Rule, which sets national standards for the security of electronic protected health information; and the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Rule, which protect identifiable information being used to analyze patient safety events and improve patient safety. Has nothing to do with this case.

  • America_s_future_max50

    Ghostwriter2012

    over 3 years ago

    70 Comments

    I am with you JSO Brien, you have a good understanding of the topic!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    JSOBrien

    over 3 years ago

    8 Comments

    The underlying issue in all of this is whether the police are granted powers to make the law, enforce the law, and/or administer the law, acting as judge and jury. Or to put it another way, do the citizens of the United States grant powers to the police that allow them to do whatever they want, regardless of what the law states?

    Some of you seem to think that the answer is that police have unlimited powers to do whatever they like. Let me suggest to you that this is a dangerous opinion to hold, because the American public will not stand for it. Video has made the illegal actions many police officers have always engaged in evident to the public, and it is not surprising that Americans, many of whom always thought of the police as the 'good guys," are shocked to find that this is not the case ... or, at least, not always the case.

    Traditionally, Americans tend to hate those who assume they have unbridled, coercive power to do anything they like, ignoring laws as though they don't apply to them. We also tend to hate injustice, and abuse of the police power we the people grant them hits both those hot buttons. Police officers, and their unions, need to decide a very important issue: Is it better to continue to insist on making up laws to arrest law-abiding citizens, to lie in police reports in order to get law-abiding citizens into serious trouble, or to engage in unnecessarily violent behavior against citizens, or is it better to turn your line of work into one that attracts and retains people who take the law -- and obeying the law -- seriously?

    One path leads to respect from citizens; the other to disrespect and special laws, penalties, and investigatory bodies to protect us law-abiding people from ... you.

    Think about it. Decide what you want, and how you want people to treat you and your families. There is only one path that leads to respect for you and what you do.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    JustANEWGuy

    over 3 years ago

    4 Comments

    This is one of the most biased writeups I have ever seen. Utter nonsense.

    So what if she is immature, and not thoughtful. That is not against the law. She was breaking no laws. And she had constitutional right to film the scene. This article does nothing but show who the real bullies are -- the police.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Chloris

    over 3 years ago

    2 Comments

    Judging from the comments left on this article, I begin to understand why so many of your fellow civilians are wary of the police. And you all still remember that the police are civilians, also bound by the rule of law, yes?

    I begin to understand why so many people do not trust the police. We are frightened of you not because we are doing anything wrong, or fear getting "caught" red handed. We are frightened because we could be doing something that displeases you, something that annoys you. And we really have no recourse when we are. You have your "sacred" "authority" and you are not afraid to abuse it. As soon as you engage with us, we know that you can destroy our lives. And you know it as well.

    Oh, you might have some additional and annoying paperwork to do but we know that our lives might never be the same. Simply because we refuse to "obey" a whim. And it seems that so many of you have forgotten that obeying your whims is not the same as obeying the law. So many officers have confused the enforcement of law with that what they want someone to do or stop doing.

    Reading these responses has been eye opening and frankly reinforces what I already felt about a large portion of officers. That you are simply bullies with badges. Thank you, I think?

  • Blue_line_decal_max50

    crlittle554

    over 3 years ago

    506 Comments

    I haven't seen her videotape, so it's hard to say whether she was actually interfering with the officers on scene. Assuming she was interfering, I would have arrested for the obstruction, not just detained. Since no charges were filed, it almost seems like they didn't have any reason to detain her, just that they didn't want her videoing, which, unfortunately, is something she's allowed to do. It was a public space. HIPPAA wouldn't cover this particular case due to it being in public. If they're administering first aid in public it can be videoed, unless they've established some sort of perimeter around the scene and this young lady violated that.
    I think the PD just needs to suck it up and realize that we live in a digital age. People are going to video us doing our jobs. That's life. We video them while we do our jobs; they can video us while we do our jobs.

  • June2010_013_max50

    RnG78

    over 3 years ago

    104 Comments

    well people if that is the case, the media infringe on our rights to privacy. If the media get to a scene or get information about a case, that is release faster than you can blink without anyone conscent.

  • June2010_013_max50

    RnG78

    over 3 years ago

    104 Comments

    and as i look on in the comment box, Wartiming2 explains. Isn't that something?

  • June2010_013_max50

    RnG78

    over 3 years ago

    104 Comments

    I am sure there is more to this story that is not presented to this article.

  • Dad_20sc_20shooting_1__max50

    wolfe834

    over 3 years ago

    6 Comments

    If police were administering medical care, then would not HIPPA regulations on privacy apply? Just saying.....

  • Photo_user_banned_big

    Wartiming2

    over 3 years ago

    4 Comments

    You should read the original article on the star ledger, this article leaves out a lot of facts the author considers inconvenient. She was in a bus seat someone on the bus was having an unspecified medical emergency. The cops show up and she starts filming, she cant move past or shove them as that would be assault and she cant kick out a window to leave. She is stuck there and in her seat filming them, the cops give her an unlawful order to stop and she ignores them as it was an unlawful order. The cops feel slighted because she was ignoring them so they kind of arrest her by handcuffing her, taking her cell phone and deleting the video on that and holding her for several hours. They eventually release her to her mom with no charges as she did not break any law. Then the ACLU gets involved because of the obvious problems with unlawful orders and detentions. Beeguy... the framers of our constitution included the 1st amendment for a reason. So that there could be a freedom of speech and press without fear of reprisal from the government. There is nothing in the constitution about the right to privacy only against unreasonable search and seizures. In public you have no expectation of privacy and hence can be filmed. You might not like that fact but I do. the flip-side of that is police can attach a GPS tracking device on your car with no search warrant (court fights still ongoing about that) because the car is traveling in public. I don't like that but it is the law for now. If you think police should not be able to filmed there is a way around it. Get 2/3s of the people in 2/3s of the states to pass a new amendment standing as such. Till then that is well settled law and it cost the 2 PA trooper roughly 18K each in the link to the case law I provide below.

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