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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 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.

  • America_s_future_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Wow may be I missed something here or this is a poorly defended article. California: Journalist arrested for attempting to videotape public meeting on marine life protection, possible violating the The Brown Act, officially known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, was an act of the California State Legislature, authored by Assembly member Ralph M. Brown and passed in 1953, that guaranteed the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.The Brown Act, originally a 686 word statute that has grown substantially over the years, was enacted in response to mounting public concerns over informal, undisclosed meetings held by local elected officials. City councils, county boards, and other local government bodies were avoiding public scrutiny by holding secret "workshops" and "study sessions." The Brown Act solely applies to California city and county government agencies, boards, and councils. The comparable Bagley-Keane Act mandates open meetings for State government agencies. Now if the video can be seized and used in an investigation is one thing, but to just think we own the world is another. When we protect their rights we protect our own.

  • Don_27t_20tred_20on_20me_max50


    over 3 years ago


    *no comment*

    Article too biased.

  • Newyork_max50


    over 3 years ago


    This could be a case of a HIPAA violation, as the teen was video taping a person receiving medical care.. A stretch, but so is the teens case.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    MidnightMike, I agree with you that she should learn from the experience and be more thoughtful in the future. But if she was detained unlawfully she has a legitimate claim. I don't feel she is entitled to any money or compensation regardless of whether an "unlawful detention" took place or not; it happens, and as long as no one gets hurt LEOs should be able to learn from these incident's without it costing them their jobs. We work in a profession that is constantly changing and evolving and need leeway in situations such as this so that we have the opportunity to become better officers. If everyone who ever messed up on this job was fired or sued, none of us would be employed! I think this should be handled in "roll-call training" to prevent officers from reacting outside the bounds of their legal ability. This is a new issue for LEO's and we need to be educated on how to handle such encounters.

    Sorry but I don't know who to tell whether something is article or column. I know the Star-Leger is the local paper there but I have no idea what via- YellowBrix means. Maybe this is a blogger's response to some other original coverage of the story. Dear PoliceLink, please include links to original articles if you are going to post columns in response to those articles. I'm not sure how this site works really. Is there someone (or a team) that picks these stories to post or can any user post a story???

  • Pug_max600_max50


    over 3 years ago


    The key was to help a man fighting for his survival where even second can have a detrimental effect. Not the time to ask for directions or an autograph. It's not about you, it's about him. We can not claim Miss Fitchette was not intelligent, however we can claim the lack of common sense and basic courtesy. Simply put, "Not her show."

  • Police_car_max50


    over 3 years ago


    SigZero, this looks more like a column than a newspaper article.
    One would HOPE that this "demure" teenager would learn from this experiene, but obviously she has not.

  • Angel_kincaid_park_2014_max50


    over 3 years ago


    UGG! I have to be careful posting on this subject, A lot of emotion on incidents as this and don't want to get into trouble on here, I will just say what a load of ?

    The Police have a job to do, Helping People and Saving Lives is part of that job.....

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    I guess I'm going to play Devil's advocate here. This article seems to be rather lacking in facts from the situation. Was the girl actually "interfering" with the Officer's investigation or was she simply videoing from a safe distance. Now before you make any assumptions I am a Police Officer myself. That being said, I don't like being video taped while on a call any more than the next officer but it's becoming something we have to deal with more and more. Secondly, I feel for the gentleman who officers were helping but I haven't found any literature that states he can't be video taped in public even if he's incapacitated. I would love to be able to enforce COMMON DECENCY, however the law does not allow me to do so! All this being said, if the girl was actually "INTERFERING" with the police officer's providing assistance or conducting an investigation I agree with their detaining of the girl. But this article provides no such information, only allegations and assumptions that WE would all be infuriated with had they been aimed at us. If I were an outsider (not an Officer) I would view this article (which simply seems to bash the ACLU) with the same reverence as I would an article that simply bashes police.

    P.S.- I can't stand the ACLU any more than the next officer and feel they jump at any chance to be involved in a Law Suite against the police without questioning the facts first. But... The author of this article seems to have taken the same approach as the ACLU. I unlike the ACLU and the author of this article am more apt to give an opinion based of FACTS from the case and not let my emotions control my reactions over my intelligence. I'm sure I'm going to get plenty of flack for this comment but if you view the article OBJECTIVELY (which is how we should view all articles whether for or against police) you should agree.

  • Gods_team_max50


    over 3 years ago


    What a waste of funds and resources. ACLU, you FAILED AGAIN!!!

  • Pic-0246_max50


    over 3 years ago


    if the man that police were trying to help is okay, he should file a lawsuit against her for violating his rights

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago

    There are some things you just don't do whether or not its on the books or not. Shame on the young women for taping the incident. Shame on her mother for enabling her and shame on ACLU for going to such low depths as this..

  • Lapd_detective_badge_max50


    over 3 years ago


    lets play devils advocate. Would the same action been taken if the camera was a news camera and the teanager was a reporter that just happen to be covering something else? Just thinking?

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Would she have wanted someone interfering if the officers were trying to assist her mother while having a medical emer? Do I need to be on alert for some snot nose kid with a camera each time I'm being wheeled into an operating room to make sure my procedure doesn't end up on youtube? Where does her right to film end and my right to privacy begin! Wartiming needs to take his troll behind back under the bridge with all the other slimeballs!

  • 309


    over 3 years ago


    You can't say this girl didn't know any better. Any decent human being with the slightest bit of morals would have put the camera down. I'm not a religious man but I pray that the judge tosses this case out before it goes to trial.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Wartiming you do not belong on this site and I hope Retleo is right that you are in the dumpster, and I agree with Donnal-ynn.

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